Queer in Canberra
“QUEER” IS NOT A WORD THAT IS UNIVERSALLY RECOGNISED OR UNDERSTOOD; SO, I’D LIKE TO EXPLORE WHAT IT IS TO BE A QUEER WOMAN IN CANBERRA AND WHY THIS 50-SOMETHING, MOTHER OF TWO HAS EMBRACED THE TERM.
I am old enough to remember when queer was used pejoratively to mean “strange” or “peculiar”. The word was reclaimed in the eighties as a deliberately provocative, or political, term for people who identified with the LGBT community, but saw themselves as maybe more, or other, than the initialism represented.
Queer can be used to describe someone’s sexual orientation, gender identification, political position, a general resistance against structural rigidity, or just a strange sensation or state of being. Given the varied and diverse usage, queer isn’t a word that many people clearly understand when you use it to describe yourself. As queer means different things to different people, allow me to elaborate what being queer means to me.
I lived a heteronormative life until I was 30-something. When I came out, and found myself in a same-sex relationship, I couldn’t even say my name and the word ‘lesbian’ in the same sentence. The word was abhorrent to me. I felt I was so much more because of my past life experience, yet so much less because of my lack of experience. I was—and am—more.
For me, the act of reclaiming my identity has been transformational, providing healing and empowerment. I also love the notion that this reclamation can weld solidarity within a community. Instead of passively accepting the negative connotative meanings of the label ‘queer’, we can choose to reject the damaging associations, and through re-appropriation, imbue the label with positive connotations.
For me, ‘queer’ embraces and validates all the unique, unconventional ways that I express myself. It means ceasing to think in binaries like heterosexual/homosexual, male/female, gay/straight, monogamous/non-monogamous, polyamorous/asexual—it acknowledges there are more than two sides to every person and every context.
Queer is about acknowledging the infinite number of complex, fluid identities that exist outside the few limited, dualistic categories considered legitimate by wider society.
Being queer can mean you are attracted to someone, regardless of their gender or sex; or attracted to more than one gender, or more than two genders.
Being queer can mean you like what you like and you accept that your desires are dynamic and you are open to change.
Being queer can mean being sex-positive and recognising that sex is good and everyone has the right to have as much or as little of it as suits them—or none at all if that suits them.
To me, being queer means constantly looking for ways to be inclusive in order to create a world where everyone feels safe and accepted; where there is true equality for every person.
It is important to note that not all of the queer community has embraced intersectional queer politics and that simply placing everything under a queer umbrella does not immediately elicit utopia. Intolerance within the queer community exists and is referred to as lateral violence.
The concept of lateral violence is used to explain minority-on-minority violence within developed nations; displaced violence that is directed at one’s peers. It hurts the community in a way that ‘other’ people can’t, because it comes from within. Intolerance and discrimination divides a community, pitting members against each other.
For me, Canberra, like the notion of queer, embraces difference and the intersections of people and identities. We are a liberal and accepting community—appreciating and celebrating diversity, and striving for constructive, fair and happy ways to coexist with each other. With guidance, education, patience and understanding we can overcome any lateral violence that may exist. Canberra has the potential to sustain a strong, supportive and healthy queer community.