New Publication in Queer/ish
"Gay men hate me because I'm a lesbian," a friend of mine said throughout our 20's. She identified as butch then, and wore men's polo shirts and plaid shorts. Together we tried skateboarding, played video games long into the night, and searched every Goodwill in town for cheap, androgynous clothing, like butch was something we could try on for size.
Her words confused me. I'd always had plenty of gay and bi male friends, from my closeted days to our grad school days of bonding as the only queer writers in our MFA program.
If anyone hated me for being a lesbian (which is such a weird thing to say anyway) it was homophobic straight people. They were the ones who made their disapproval known by yelling out of cars ("Fuckin dykes!" and by wondering aloud whether conversion therapy "could change that" about me.
A I wrote in Queer/ish, my first introduction to LGBT culture covered the broad spectrum of queer identities. In my suburban high school's fledgling gay-straight alliance,
We carried each other’s secrets, because school didn’t feel like a safe space to be open. In meetings we watched gay movies, talked about LGBT rights, and explored ways to be good support systems to closeted bi friends or gay siblings. Our politics were intersectional out of necessity: We were there for one another no matter how we identified, because if we weren’t, we stood alone.
In the years since, but's become so much safer to be gay in America (not that it's safe for everyone - up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ). But in my early 20's I carried the certainty that I'd be gay bashed one day. I stayed closeted at work, a choice 53 percent of queers still make. I looked around before reaching for my girlfriend's hand, or dragged her into an alleyway to share a kiss, even in liberal Massachusetts and hipster Brooklyn.
We visited Provincetown and marveled at the same-sex couples everywhere, going about their business, living lives that were ordinary and fabulous. Years later, I'd witness visiting gay couples pause in wonder to take in the Castro district and try to guess if they held hands back where they were from. I knew they envied the way we'd fled to the coasts and carved out gay havens.
Gay spaces connected me to my community, and to all the fierce queers who had gone before us to make the world safer for us than it had been for them, just as we were making it even safer for the young queers who didn't want to identify as simply gay, lesbian, or bi.
Whether we had a club night, a bar, or a neighborhood, these spaces bonded us in our struggles and in our victories. We came together to mourn, riot, and celebrate; we left strengthened that we were never as alone as we feared.
As we gained visibility, legal protection, and basic civil rights, our gay spaces vanished. We didn't notice until it reached critical mass. Or maybe we didn't care in the era of post-queer and fluid, of Grindr and Her, when any space could be queered.
In my upstate community, there are still spaces for LGBTQs, but they come with barriers. A binary choice is required to enter, and this costs us community.
Read the rest of my essay on queer community and safe spaces at Queer/ish.