That Queer Feeling in Your Gut

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I don’t get why people think “queer” is advanced or privileged politics. As if it’s difficult theory or something so complicated that people can’t understand. I guess that must only be evoked by a fundamental misunderstanding of queer and its attribution only to academics. Every theory has roots on the ground. And every lived experience has a theory to explain it. Millions of books have been written about socialism, but anyone who’s been hungry and broke will understand unfair distribution of wealth. Millions of books have been written about feminism, but any woman who’s felt silenced by a man will understand gender oppression. Likewise, queerness is not just for academics nor did it start with the academics. It started right there, in your gut.

It is impossible that you spend time working with women of diverse sexualities and don’t develop a gut understanding of queerness. It is impossible that you not find a problem with LGBT frameworks and politics. Something gnarls at your throat and you are made to think: is this about her being a “lesbian” or is this something inextricable from a thousand other socio-politico-economic systems of oppression?

If you work with queer kids, it is impossible not to understand how suffocating LGBT boxes are. If you work with transgenders, it’s even worse, there is no way you can still think the acronym LGBT even makes sense. It is impossible to go visit a young woman in a village forced to stay at home by her parents for suspicion that she is doing immoral things, that you don’t contextualize the intersection of oppressions, the influence of culture and traditions, from the most private and personal to the most public and political.

And it’s not just because you are the activist with the assumption that only activists think about these things. What is a queer activist anyway? Every one of us is an activist – we wear our causes on our sleeves, on our chests, in our voices, every day we walk out the door. Everyone understands what it means to be queer. But when we, as organizers, push them into identity boxes or train them into thinking of their problems as homophobia or transphobia, we’re the ones imposing limiting frameworks. You will tell me “queer politics is a framework too,” and I will say yes, but some frameworks are liberating and others are suffocating. And often, the most liberating frameworks are dismissed as chaotic, elitist, minority, lewd: anarchism, radical feminism, queerness.

Fact: The majority of women who have sought counseling services from Meem over the past 4 years have wanted to discuss issues of identity. Am I really gay? What are these feelings I am having? I can’t call myself a lesbian. Am I bisexual? Fuck these boxes. Fuck the dominant discourse that forces us into these boxes and forces the agony of fitting into them. Relax. You’re alright. If you’re confused or can’t fit in or can’t adopt a sexual identity, fuck it. You don’t have to.

What is common to us in Meem – what has always been – is not identity. No, it is not identity, has never been identity, and will never be identity. I have screened over 300 members who joined Meem and not once have I asked the question: “So, are you gay?” Not because I had any politics about it, in fact, I knew very little about queer politics back in 2007 and 2008. But it’s because I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the question. I had a gut feeling.

To bring people together on the basis of identity is to box them, to force them to adopt something for the sake of fitting in. It is to leave people out. It is to create hierarchy among those “who have it okay” and those “who are victims.” Fuck the word “victim,” never use it, never ever use it. You are a survivor and it is our job as activists to celebrate your survival. Even if you have been killed, it is our job to celebrate that your legacy survives. To say anyone is a victim is to strip them of their agency, to transform them from subjects to objects, to take away their voice. And what is an activist’s job besides amplifying the people’s voices?

What is common to us is that we understand a certain form of oppression. We understand the common feeling. That condemnation that we don’t look like normal women or men, that we don’t love like normal women or men, that we don’t fuck like normal women or men. Normal in quotation marks. That feeling that everywhere we look, nobody represents us or addresses us or knows who we are. That realization that history has intentionally forgotten us and that art has intentionally left us out. That oppression of any alternative sexuality – sexuality being the sum of a thousand different things about us. We can relate to it, many of us, tens of thousands of us, in different, complex ways. And if there’s anything we should and do organize around, it is that feeling.

What is it about queer theory that is complicated or alien? That the binary of gay / straight is false? Anyone who’s struggled with their sexuality can relate to that and feels the liberation it brings. That forms of oppression are intersectional and we must resist all of them? Anyone who’s thought a little bit about their lives can understand that. It is impossible for you to be working on radical, revolutionary change without it hitting you at some point – years into it maybe – but surely, at some point, that the LGBT framework does not work. Tolerance of diversity, pride in identity, the most useless concepts in social change history.

We should never think about what would make people accept us, no. It is not us who must adjust to their structures. We are here to bend their structures, to contaminate them, to queer them up, to bring them down to their knees. It is our responsibility as the people who get it. Big responsibility, I know, my friends ask me why should we be the ones who undertake this massive mission? It’s precisely because we’re queer and our queerness is about a lot more than who we sleep with or the gender we carry around on our bodies. Because it’s about resisting the systems. It is the inevitable burden of queer. Because we get it. Because the underdogs must always fight.

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23 Responses to “That Queer Feeling in Your Gut”

  1. mir

    Oct 19. 2011

    I have a small comment – ma ktir deep w ma ktir sure ano it applies – but it may add a bit – but here it is anyway:

    in each movement fi Avant-gardist people or “wing” and the more typical that reflects reality.

    You need avant-guardist to push the move forward and set higher objectvies – you need to stay connected to ppl life and have your activism built around it

    so i guess this debate can be viewed from this point of view

    Reply to this comment
  2. bambam

    Oct 19. 2011

    What you are calling for is a movement in the end, and if that movement is driven by individualistic believes rather than a common belief, lets say for example an identity, then it will no longer be a movement and be reduced to just individualist fits and fizzles.
    even outside the context of a movement, labels help! Having a label makes you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself, gives you a space and something that ties you to others as well. It also helps give you a heritage and allows to understand yourself better by scoping the dimensions of that box and how you fit within it. For most people they don’t want to bother building their own box, and for those who do, they usually start by understanding the dimensions and borders of that box before they tear and build a new one. So even if you want to be without a label you will still need to start with a label and that’s the whole purpose of coming out; the process of outgrowing your straight box and moving into a bigger and better fitting box. What you are calling for is not a path for a movement because unless you all agree to unify under a label, regardless whether you fully or partially subscribe to it, you will not be able to mobilize with any efficiency

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  3. Nadz

    Oct 17. 2011

    @gaybeirut you do not see it because you are not looking. Simply do a search of Helem on Bekhsoos: http://www.bekhsoos.com/web/?s=helem and see how many articles there are. You can also search for Bekhsoos on Helem’s website, see how many articles there are http://helem.net/search/node/bekhsoos

    Let’s also not get stuck in personal bickering between individuals that is many years old and that is not present anymore because people have moved on. I am debating ideas & if you read what I am saying as an honest attempt from someone who cares deeply about my community and movement, you will see that I am – like you are – pushing us to think and rethink. I’m not attacking you or Helem or your friends. Meem also fluctuates between an LBTQ support group and a queer women / trans folk movement. Kamein inta take it easy on me, no?

    Helem is a lot of people and I am sure you have your disagreements with other members, no? Wa illa, again, the work would never have evolved. I have always had debates there, in Helem meetings, in personal time with Helem friends, in work meetings with Helem people (I cannot put names), even in IDAHO, I spoke on a panel, we had this debate and followed up with more discussions, with the recent Helem board, and when I am not there (because I am not a member of Helem), I know people are talking about it because people tell me. Again, all good, all healthy.

    Reply to this comment
  4. wael

    Oct 17. 2011

    @Rik

    Quoting:
    [--]

    This surely is an unacceptable response, a simple and cheap personal attack. A mere disgrace to the idea of a debate and free speech.

    [Editor's Note: Sorry that comment slid through, it should have been censored by the administrators for being a cheap personal attack. We have removed it from the (otherwise still distasteful) comment].

    Reply to this comment
  5. gaybeirut

    Oct 17. 2011

    This discourse of openess should be reflected in bekhsoos and meem, honestly I do not see it, you should akhnoledge the relatively positive changes that happened in Lebanon. The batroun decision was defending by helem lawyer, the impact in universities, ministeries , police …. Instead of saying “fuck you” , discrediting idaho, making fun of people who are talking about their problems., judging them by their lifestyle … We all know how unrewarding financially activism is ! And how hard talking about sexuality issues in Lebanon. So let’s take it easy on each other. As for individuals , when was the last debate between these individuals other than on the net ? I am curious to know.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Nadz

    Oct 17. 2011

    The argument of political frameworks is ongoing in all the activist circles I am part of.. and it’s been ongoing on Bekhsoos for 2 years now. I am sure the debate happens within Helem and I know for certain active and board members who are continuously questioning the philosophy behind the activism. That’s how Helem grew over the years. And that is a great and healthy thing. When you joined Helem, I joined min ba3dak bi a few weeks, so I know the history and the evolution of the group and it is certainly something to be celebrated. For example, in 2006, IDAHO’s slogan was “meen shaz?” in which we were trying to say that we were normal and homophobia was shaz (queer). Fast forward to 2010, the slogan was “ana shazz” – which is a huge leap from LGBT discourse to queer discourse.

    So for sure, I do not attack Helem (because aslan it is a diverse group and I don’t believe that any group does or should have one group identity). I am debating a way of thinking which individuals from any organization could be adopting or using in Lebanon and across the Global South. Same thing within Meem, the debate is ongoing and will continue as we learn new things and meet new people and try to understand what is our vision of social justice, what does it look like, what is it about, etc. This is my opinion and it is not new, it changes kil fatra shwai, and becomes clearer to me the more I engage with lesbians and gay men and bisexuals and transgenders and queers and heterosexuals.

    And in response to Myra’s first comment, of course, every person is free to choose and name themselves. There is certainly power in that (like for example, in the first story of Bareed Mista3jil when the woman finally says: I am a lesbian). That wasn’t the point I was making. I was talking rather about the bigger picture, the way we deal with these labels, and if it is at all possible that the most popular internationally recognized framework of LGBT rights is not the most liberating way to think about our everyday lives and the lives of our friends and loved ones.

    Reply to this comment
  7. عشتار

    Oct 17. 2011

    Very nicely written indeed, however, the “privilege” term should not be linked to “complication” of theory. When we as queer activists, point out the existence of certain privileges among some of us, this doesn’t mean the queer theory is complicated or “advanced”. It means we need to discuss how to practice what we believe in, so that our beliefs do not turn into “chaotic, elitist, minority” way of activism.
    Privileges do exist, many people can not read this very article because they are not English readers for example. That woman in the village that you mentioned is not privileged, because she does not have access to Meem. Many people were not introduced to gender/identity politics and many other politics, because they never got the chance to participate in international conferences for example. When we point out this, it is not to discredit each other, it is just to try to think it out, together, as queer activists, how to make our activism and struggle more relevant and practical.
    Queerness is definitely a personal state in the first place, it is not advanced politics, but the way sometimes we deal with it, and we look down to other frameworks, creates intellectual hierarchy against other frameworks and groups, as we claim to be the “liberating” while others are “suffocating”. When we make such statements, we should remember that only a couple of years ago, we ourselves as queer activists, used to identify as LGBT activists, who aim at gathering thousands of members, and then have a huge coming out ceremony, and we used to organize IDAHO and celebrate it. This is not to blame nor to shame, nor to defend nor to offend, it is just that I believe we as queer activists should be very true and real, to our past as to our present and future.

    Well done Nadz, it is always smart to raise such debate.

    Reply to this comment
  8. gaybeirut

    Oct 17. 2011

    Inno I do not understand , we all want to break the boxes, how are you breaking these boxes, by your sarcasm? By attacking other’s activities? By labelling people and judjing them (rik?)… Honestly I don’t see any argument around idea. I just see campaigns against other activists. It is about lifestye and nothing else ! And nadz if you consider that helem is using queer frame work , who are you arguing with in your article ? Since I joined helem I have never seen anyone from meem and bekhsous. All you are trying to prove is that you are the best and everyone else is stupid. Honestly that is just childish. I do not see any difference in the discourse, it is about setting the priorities.

    Reply to this comment
  9. S

    Oct 17. 2011

    Powerful! “We should never think about what would make people accept us, no. It is not us who must adjust to their structures. We are here to bend their structures, to contaminate them, to queer them up, to bring them down to their knees.”

    A la Arhundati Roy! <3

    Reply to this comment
  10. yacee

    Oct 17. 2011

    dear @gaybeirut
    i don’t think bekhsoos writers are haters and i don’t want to end up fighting or dealing with you
    i only want you to check the art work of last issue and the article written in this issue as a response to it
    bekhsoos publish all kind of articles and it proved that it is an open space for everyone to express her or himself
    second the writer didn’t mention helem at all so no need to open a debate based on no material
    third if you get it right the queer theory is about breaking all these boxes and to stop labelling people as black and white
    and it was the first movement to mention that sexuality is fluid and constructed so understand what you read and than comment
    peace

    Reply to this comment
  11. tea

    Oct 17. 2011

    Great article and for sure to some, it will reflect their truth and set them free in many ways!
    Many voices, many different aspects, angles and many individuals seeking their own truth! This is what democracy is all about and i love to see it in this great form! Others need boxes, others don’t fit in and do not want to and do not have to fit into them!

    The great though stops there that the people working for this project put a wonderful line in capitals right above this space that says :
    “LEAVE COMMENT – SPEAK YOUR MIND, BUT BE RESPECTFUL!”
    and the last comment has nothing of this spirit of freedom or respect.
    Sarcasm and such direct meanness is too “easy” and sadly some could easily say that it could even be perfectly matched to a certain groups characteristics.

    So id prompt you all to disagree and love the diversity but keep some class, for the rest would love to focus on the article and the productive comments not the bitterness of e.g. tea and rik and for sure not to the whole unethical gossip that is being produced when peoples names pop up out of nowhere without being asked and they are accused and judged like this.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Rik

    Oct 17. 2011

    but helem’s house is not yellow its red.
    and if it’s ridiculous why bother reading ?
    you have to know that people dont necessarily agree with your discourse and if so dont agree with them just respect their opinion, and if you think differently, why dont you write something to prove your point of view

    Reply to this comment
  13. Nadz

    Oct 17. 2011

    @Gay Beirut, but Helem does use queer politics and frameworks.

    Reply to this comment
  14. yacee

    Oct 17. 2011

    what a writer, what an article what a magazine !!!!!!
    amazing as usual
    nothing to add
    :) ))))))

    Reply to this comment
  15. Gay Beirut

    Oct 17. 2011

    i read very well most of bekhsoos articles , and it is getting sicker and sicker every week, you are a bunch of haters. ( at least a lot of you ), not only against helem but against any other LGBTQ activities. i think you need to review helem activities. and yes i named helem because it is about time you say things clearly instead of calling them once “the yellow house” , “lgbt activists” …..

    as for Gazzi, can’t stop laughing, is that your way of discrediting someone who is opposed to you, he is into wine and fancy restaurants? this way of intimidating people does not work anymore, so tell me what is the best way to be an activists ? Smoking brown hashish instead of white wine ?

    this is just ridiculous

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  16. Rik

    Oct 17. 2011

    Dear gay beirut, how about you get over it.
    it’s amazing the way you mentioned an organization or a support group that was not mentioned in this article.
    calling this article that is well written and supported by middle eastern people such as ourselves, calling it western is just plain dumb and ignorant.
    the article my friend if you read it well, which i doubt it, gave out an opinion shared by many, that it’s ok to be queer and it’s ok to feel like you don’t belong in a box, it’s ok to feel strong and not victimize yourself, and it’s fine if people dont get you, dont feel pressured to fit into other people structures and boxes, where as there are other people who choose to be in those boxes we are not forcing anything on them we are just saying its ok if you dont wish to belong or fall under pressure and structures.
    third my friend since you have mentioned “helem” and the LGBt world, i would like to speak out of a perspective of a person who worked with helem and with LGBt communities and yes i found out that all the LGBt world is focusing on is “sexuality” disconnecting it from other struggles thinking it will solve all matters from racism to sexism …..
    let’s talk about the lack of focus and self-centrism , have you been around an LGBt surrounding?
    and if so i want you to truly focus on the conversations and how they fit perfectly in this hetero-normative system.
    i thank you for your suggestion and that is one of the reasons i wanted to comment on your comment.
    i dont know if you are promoting his readership but i can assure you that this person doesnt know any better, and it’s obvious from his blog that he is only stating things, not dealing with it nor analyzing it

    [Editor's Note: personal attack has been removed - this is a warning to you that we will ban your IP if you make one again]

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  17. Gay Beirut

    Oct 17. 2011

    This article is written for western activists , again Nadz like many people in bekhsoos, have no idea what others are talking about.

    Helem was the first organization to fight boxes, and the first one to speack about the spectrum of sexuality. the only difference is that helem is focused when talking about sexuality without disconnecting the lgbtQQ cause from other issues.

    I have no idea what bekhsoos is about anymore , except launching campaign trying to discredit the work of others hiding the fact that you have not achieved anything with your lack of focus.

    i suggest you read http://gazzi.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/identity-debate/. to understand that things are not black or white ! get over it

    Reply to this comment
  18. SaltShaker

    Oct 17. 2011

    Jolly good polemic!

    Reply to this comment
  19. Aladdin

    Oct 17. 2011

    it’s amazing i love the energy and everything, i love the fact that all we need is to trust our gut :)

    Reply to this comment
  20. Tam

    Oct 17. 2011

    and I have a gut feeling that this article is effing phenomenal, and a mental one too. thank you, thank you a million times over for putting on paper so smartly and so sincerely ‘the inevitable burden of queer’. it was heartfelt. it spoke to my heart and the hearts of many others I’m sure. Now how many times can you say that about an article discussing the mind fuck world of queer theory? Not much. Although it is desperately needed.

    “I have screened over 300 members who joined Meem and not once have I asked the question: “So, are you gay?” Not because I had any politics about it, in fact, I knew very little about queer politics back in 2007 and 2008. But it’s because I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with the question. I had a gut feeling.” <–love and gratitude always for this.

    Reply to this comment
  21. the mug girl

    Oct 17. 2011

    =)

    Reply to this comment
  22. Phoenix

    Oct 17. 2011

    I’ve missed that spirit Nadz :) Kudos :) :) :) :) :)
    *chest bump*

    Reply to this comment
  23. Myrrha

    Oct 17. 2011

    Well, in theory i totally agree with you Nadz.. But I think that people who want to create an identity, to identify themselves as Lesbian or gay or bisexual (etc) have the right to do it.. Sometimes the queer’s theory application is intimidating people who desire to have a certain identity into deciding not to, just because being queer makes more sense, gets them fit in the group.

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