Queer and Poly and Ally, oh my!

I won’t tell you that I’m “queer”.

I won’t tell you that I’m NOT either.

Who is Queer?

You get a lot of feedback if you ask if cisgendered straight heterosexual polyamorous people are included in the term “queer”. A lot of really, really strongly felt feedback.

The terms alone are problematic. What do you mean when you say “polyamorous”? Are you talking about people who are solo poly? What about swingers? And what do you mean by queer, anyway? When I asked this question of a local polyamorous group on Facebook, I had one person insist that “queer” only referred to deviations in gender (such as trans* or non-binary folks) and another person insist, equally emphatically, that “queer” only referred to sexual orientation.

But a lot of people – especially those who are already part of the LGBTQ umbrella – would not count polyamorous people (regardless of how you define it) as part of “queer”. Often the reasons centered around the idea – and I’m quoting, here – that “Most of you will never be oppressed for being non-monogamous like we are and have been.” The ramifications of that argument are…distasteful. It implies that there’s a required level of suffering to be acceptable as “queer”. Does this mean that LGBTQ folks in the United States are less deserving of being “queer” than those in, say, Russia? (ugh, what a horrible idea.)

The next two sentences in that article highlight the other rationale I heard:

“There’s a reason it’s more acceptable to be non-monogamous now, and that’s mostly because the main stories are those of cishets like you. The queer stories have been washed away, considered too much to take in, and too transgressive.”

I’ll definitely agree that cishet folks can definitely – and without any ill intent – override and erase the stories of minorities of any type. I’ve also heard this same argument leveled during the fight for marriage equality – that the only acceptable way to be gay-married was to do so in the same way as heterosexual folks. Yet does that mean the monogamous gay couple who has been together forever are less deserving of being “queer”?

Both arguments are reminiscent of the differences between second-wave and third-wave feminism and the acceptance of some women to choose whatever role and life they may want for themselves. I suspect that we’ll see a similar sort of change as the environment around acceptance of LGBTQ people changes and continues to change, just as it has for women.

But, those arguments aside, I don’t think polyamorous folk should identify as “queer”. There’s one simple and straightforward argument that persuaded me. Polyamorous (and non-monogamous) are umbrella terms themselves, and you can find a non-trivial number of people in those groups who are anti-LGBTQ. Look at the guidelines for most swingers clubs and how heteronormative they are, for example. While I might be super-supportive, that’s not an assumption that is safe to make. And I mean that both in the “safe environment” sense and quite literally “not physically safe”; despite the Russia hypothetical question above, it’s still dangerous to be queer in the United States.


Why not just be an “ally”?

There’s three incidents that pushed me to not “just” be an ally.

The first was my insistence (a decade ago) of being clearly marked as an “ally” in bars or with protests and the like. Thankfully, an ex pulled me aside and pointed out how that insistence was fueled by internalized homophobia. I was spending so much time and so much energy making sure that I wasn’t mis-labeled as a gay person that I’m embarrassed by it now.

The second was during an interview with a transgender student on campus. At one point, she looked at me and said, “You realize that you’re kind of trans too, right?” At my puzzled “wha?” face, she laughed and said, “You’ve got really long hair.” (It was down past my shoulders at the time.) “That’s traditionally something only women do. So that makes you a little bit trans.”

The third was Kate Bornstein.

I didn’t know who she was before I saw her talk at WSU, but I immediately became a fan. And she said something that really challenged me. (I’m paraphrasing below; she’s since said to me that perhaps the below was off the cuff, and I may have misunderstood it, so don’t hold her to my misunderstanding.)

We have a big tent. A giant tent, that includes all the freaks and the wierdos and the strange people.

But I don’t like “allies”.

Because you can walk away from being an “ally”. You can stop being an “ally”.

And when you say that you’re an “ally”, you are automatically saying “I’m not one of them.”

That shook me. And I began to realize that the fight for gender identity and freedom of sexual orientation also included me, a straight white cisgendered heterosexual (cishet) dude. And when I began to identify as polyamorous as well, that was a moment where I started thinking that my deviance meant that I was under Auntie Kate’s big “queer” tent too.

The Arguing Begins

At the beginning of Pride Month, a friend of mine posted an innocuous “Happy Pride Month to all my queer friends, no matter how you identify!”

The comment that Facebook decided to share with me was the response: “But not cishet polyamorous people. They aren’t queer.”

I decided to try to find out where these lines of “queer” and “not queer” were. What “counted” and what didn’t.

And I’ve thought about it for nearly a month. And I’ve decided that it really doesn’t matter.

The eventual resolution

I totally understand why someone who is a part of a group which has undergone both structural and personal discrimination (let alone those who have dealt with those things personally) would be upset that someone who hasn’t dealt with that might want to call themselves “queer”.

And because I do have that privilege, it’s not important that I claim the title “queer”.

At the same time, I am mindful of the (perhaps unintentional) lesson that Auntie Kate taught me.

I may not claim the title “queer”.

But I am also not going to deny it, either.

I am not merely an “ally” who can put down that label when it’s inconvenient.

I am not separate from those who are “queer”.

The rights of queer people are my rights. They are the rights of all people.

And I will fight to defend our rights, no matter what label you want to put on me.

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