Queer is radical, assimilating and party lines are not

When first published in 1968, The UK’s Gay Times reviewed the first memoir of Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, their reviewer scathingly citing Crisp as a “bad example”, stating the book “should have been published posthumously”.

Crisp’s crime?

He was a high femme gender-bender.

When the UK’s Stonewall group launched in the 1980s, Derek Jarman had some words about its organisers and supporters, folks like Ian McKellan, who kept their sexuality closeted until it couldn’t hurt their careers (I imagine he, like myself, would have made more than a few words about George Takei’s opportunistic reinvention of himself as THE Gay of B-list celebs at a time when it actually could, and did, give his career a boost). In fact, I’ll reprint some:

THE PEACE OF ANONYMITY – STONEWALL WAS A RIOT

The queers of the sixties, like those since, have connived with their repression under a veneer of respectability. Good mannered city queers in suits and pinstripes, so busy establishing themselves, were useless at changing anything.

To be Queer was never respectable – even though you wore a suit. The more conventional, the more desperate the hidden life. Pushed to the fringes, our world existed in the twilight of Heterosoc1reality. and if anyone raised their voice in protest they were accused of endangering the peace of anonymity. A demonstration was likely to frighten the closeted, their inactivity reproached.

Stonewall was a RIOT which occurred in the summer of 1969 in Christopher Street, New York, outside a bar of the same name. For the first time Queers fought back with bricks and bottles and empty beer glasses and burned cars. The best fighters were the trannies2 – a dress was a badge of courage. The riot sparked a revolution in our consciousness. A community of interest was established and a debate was entered. The harder it was fought the more our case was furthered.

Everything that made our world visible reproached the closeted. One day it might be as silly as moaning about Quentin Crisp’s blue rinse as a BAD ROLE MODEL, or, on another, complaining of a rowdy Gay Liberation Front meeting. For them, we were not them. They took everything and did nothing, sat in their interior decoration, attended the opera and did fuck all to help change; their minds as starched as their shirts.

Twenty years later, Stonewall – the self-elected and self-congratulating parliamentary lobbying group – have made more than enough compromise with convention. Did those who rioted at the Stonewall bar fightso that we could so easily be co-opted by a gay establishment? Do they represent our best interests in Heterosoc?

Do they represent us?

Why did one man go to Downing Street to put our case? Why were there no women? Weren’t the rest of us acceptable? It was as if no Queer had ever been in number 10 before, the fuss everyone made.

…..

Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys emasculation.
So they 0 Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogenity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.

— Derek Jarman, At Your Own Rish: A Saint’s Testament, 1992

By forcing a homogenous narrative onto the trans community —by insisting that there’s no difference between us and cis people, by discouraging a plurality of thoughts and experiences and ideas of individual trans people— we are expecting anti-radicalism of the worst kind in our community. By telling us, explicitly or even implicitly, that those of us who are simultaneously a binary and non-binary gender that we’re somehow only really the latter is to throw us under the bus for the sake of respectability.

Furthermore, believe it or not, it is entirely possible to say “we have a fundamentally unique experience of our genders as trans women and trans men from that of cis people, but that does not automatically exclude us from deserving the same rights to space.

The fact that I have pretty much always stated that we trans people have a fundamentally different experience from cis people has never been a secret [1], [2], now has it perplexing me that I’ve been implicitly accused of making ideological bedfellows with some of the most despicable characters in the pagan and polytheist communities. Of course, I also really enjoy Raven Kaldera’s Hermaphrodeities, and it is not at all hard to find pseudo-radical assimilationist trans kids on Tumblr bitching about how the regular reminders throughout that, as trans and other gender-variant people, we have spiritual obligations, as least to ourselves, because of this, hurts pweshuss fee-fees because why can’t we all just be the same???

Sexuality is a plurality, and so is gender. Equal rights and equal access does not and should not erase differences for an assimilationist narrative of trans experience.

I’m really tired of white cis people cissplaining my transgender politics to me. This is something I have been working on within myself, constantly evaluating and re-assessing, exploring, debating, and meditating on for going on twenty years!

The fact of the matter is, TERFs are the ones who’ve perverted our celebration of our differences for their own despicable purposes, as an act of terrorism against trans people, effectively forcing an anti-Queer assimilationist narrative onto the “Voices” of trans justice. I’m sorry-not-sorry, but I’m not going to sit on my hands and let those thumping an assimilationist party line at me, be they other trans people or (ostensibly well-meaning) cis people who want an ally badge, scare me into erasing my differences because Ruth Barrett and others can’t handle the existence of a paradox and the simple scientific fact that paradoxes are a part of nature.


1: Heterosexual society
2: At the time Derek Jarman wrote this, “tranny” was an acceptable term in the queer community as a term of camaraderie and empowerment amongst trans folk and gender-bending gays. This is not a slurred usage, this is historical.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Why “Queer”, but not “Pagan”?

I love etymology, and this leads me to often thinking of the words I use very carefully before using them. I don’t call heterosexual “straight” by default, because “straight” in this use does not simply mean heterosexual: It means “normal”, “not a criminal”, “sober”, and it evolved from criminal and drug subcultures. As homosexuality is no longer criminalised in the First World, to call heterosexuals “straight” is to reinforce homophobia, I dare say it is even an act of homophobia.

…but I digress.

First off, while I dislike the term “pagan” based on a loaded etymology, and I absolutely do not feel like it is the best word to describe my religion, I do occasionally resign to it out of convenience and knowing full well that even though it may be one of those instances where it’s simply easier than going on a long discussion I don’t want to be in (or I would have made that discussion happen and not said “I’m pagan”), I do so with the knowledge that I’m inviting in all of these assumptions people are going to make about me that are, by and large, not an accurate way to describe me or my religion at all.

While there is certainly a reinforcing etymology to these assumptions of others’, the major reason for these assumptions is the self-reinforcing stereotyping that runs rampant in the community of self-identified pagans. The fact of the matter is, the “mainstream” idea that pagans are nature-worshipping hippies dancing barefoot in the woods is because an overwhelming majority of self-identified pagans fit that description, and tend to be a bit less-than-accepting of anybody under the “pagan umbrella” who doesn’t fit that description. This is the primary reason for such a rift between the pagan community and polytheists of the recon method: A majority of “recons” are urban or at least non-rural in that they neither naturally feel nor feel any desire to need an especial spiritual connection with the rustic or even wild lands to properly practise their religion, whose who may identify as urban tend to have an especially spiritual connection to cities. A lot of “recons” are centrist, conservative, or are urban liberals who recognise that sustainable living is that of either the farm or the metropolis, the suburbs where many self-identified “pagans” actually live being an abomination.

I definitely see an emerging “post-reconstructionism” movement in the polytheist community, wherein people realise that the reconstructionist method, when applied strictly, can be limiting and allow for little (if anything) in the way of spirituality in tune with modern realities, but that does not necessarily mean that the community of self-identified “pagans” is necessarily going to be the best place for such people, especially those of us who neither have nor want nor need to have a deep spiritual void filled with the kind of minor (or major) woo that can only be found tilling the land of a homestead farm or deep in the woods and miles from civilisation.

Personally? I’ve had times where I’ve tried to get that, but I’m physically, emotionally, and spiritually allergic to the woods. One cannot make that connection happen if it’s not meant to, no matter how much one tries, no matter how much one has to fill oneself with antihistamine just to be clear-headed enough to not only be perceptive of that connection, if it’s to come, but make sure it’s meaningful. I mean, who knows? For all I know, maybe all that Zyrtec and Zatador drops and nasal sprays and various creams block that connection —but if being without all that antihistamine makes it hard to breathe in a rural place, then maybe I’m just not meant to have that sort of connection to nature? Maybe I really am better off without it, and the Theoi are just fine with that?

…but some-one recently asked me why I liberally self-aply the term “Queer”, but not pagan —after all, these two words both have virtually the same histories! Well, except that they don’t.

No, really. They don’t.

The word “queer” comes from German (versus “paganus” coming from Latin), meaning “oblique, off-centre” and has a possible relation to “quer”, meaning “odd”. The first recorded use of “queer” relating to homosexuality only dates to 1922 after the word “queer” was introduced to English around 1500, when “paganus” was first adopted as a slur against non-Christians during the Holy Roman empire!

Then there’s the fact that, based on etymology alone, I’m very Queer. Even amongst the subcultures I’ve found myself at home in, I’ve never epitomised any of them: Too dark for most Mods, too polished and classic for most Goths, too erudite for most punks, and too modern and urban for the overwhelming majority of pagans and polytheists. Even as a gay man, well, I’m of TS history, which makes me the sort of potential sexual partner many other gay men want nothing to do with. As a man of TS hostory, I’m enough of an effete that most of them will still call me “ma’am”, even after told that’s inappropriate. How any of this makes me unstrange, unqueer, seems rather, well, queer to me. If any-one has a right to re-claim “queer” from a status of slur (and a relatively new one —the term was rather benign prior to it’s GBLT associations), I think I can objectively say that I sure as hell do.

On the other hand, what right do I have to “pagan”? If this is a term that evolved from the Latin equivalent of “redneck” or “hillbilly” and now possesses a baggage that includes a highly implict and (very easily argued) enforced community meaning of “nature-worshipping”, then no, it doesn’t fit me in the slightest. A Google Image search for “pagan” or a perusal of Wikipedia’s article on Neopaganism and its contemporary photos reveals how deeply “nature religion” is synonymous with the contemporary pagan community, to the point that “urban paganism” is such a tiny niche market that only three books have ever been published on the suvject —one currently out-of-print (Patricia Telesco’s The Urban Pagan), and one is so lousy with a strong and unapologetic rural bias that, as I know my own spiritual realities, it’s riddled with fallacious misinformation (pretty much the entire Introduction to R. Kaldera & T. Schwartzstein’s The Urban Primitive is a biased screed hailing the woodlands and damning the urban lands as a bringer of doom and ailments both physical and spiritual, though it gets a little better, it’s not by much). I don’t even think the pagan community thinks they’re being as unwelcoming and prejudiced as, in practise, they really are, but when the reality of this not merely ostensible, but blatant and celebrated bias is something that one must deal with at every venture into the “pagan community”, hoping to touch based with co-religionists, other devotees of one’s patron, and those walking an otherwise similar spiritual path, then not only is it apparent that one’s spirituality is regarded as “queer and perverse” in the pre1922 sense, but also one that’s regarded as lesser and hollow, false and silly, then yes, I think I can say that I don’t have any incentive to try and rationalise any claim to the term “pagan”, as it’s being made abundantly clear that I only barely qualify —like the cisgender gay man who likes to make it perfectly clear that he’s normal, and not one of those icky fem gays or trannies, that he was in a fraternity in uni and captain of the gridiron team, and his name is Cleancut McNormaldude and just happens to be somehow “queer”. R~i~g~h~t…..

In fact, I roll my eyes at Cleancut McNormaldude attempting to claim he’s “queer” rather than “gay“, if not “homosexual” or “bisexual” are words he feels suit him, because that’s not a word that gives any accurate nuances that describe him outside of only one of the implied meanings, at best, that he’s practically watered-down the meaning of “queer” to strip it of all nuance and render it nothing more than a meaningless synonym.

When one truly loves vocabulary, it becomes apparent that even words that seem synonymous have these nuances that make their meanings truly different, even if in seemingly minor ways. These numances are important, as any Paganism & Witchcraft 101 book worth the paper they’re printed on have said before me. To say “crone” when “hag” is best can render a ritual or spell useless or change it completely, so why call myself “pagan” when it carries with it not only an etymology but a common, every-day use that implies so many things that I am not and only one thing that I am (polytheist, practising a pre-Christian religion)? Why should I not use Queer when it can easily cover all sorts of nuances about my personality and character in addition to my sexual predilections?

If you’re going to say anything at all, say it the best way that you can.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.