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Back You are here: Home Sex, Gender & Sexuality Diversity - [Archived] Queer For queer misfits who don’t belong to a community

For queer misfits who don’t belong to a community

Queer_misfitsTo outsiders, queer people can appear to belong to a strong community – or set of communities. But many queer people don’t feel part of said communities. Some even doubt that such communities exist. Peter Hackney speaks to three people in this position, and finds out how they cope without that sense of belonging.

13 March 2011

Queer communities from around the world recently came together for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, a huge celebration of queer pride.

To outsiders, the fabulous event – and others like it around the world – is indicative of a strong queer community, and many sub-communities within it.

But not all queer people feel like they have a place in the community, or said sub-communities.

Some don’t feel that real queer communities even exist. Others feel they do exist, but feel actively excluded from them.

46-year-old trans woman Mardi is one such person.

Mardi, who began transitioning in 2003, feels that there is no real, tangible trans community in her home city of Sydney. And while she says there’s a wider queer community of sorts – at least, in a loose, general way – she feels excluded from it.

“I don’t really think there’s a trans community to speak of here in Sydney or, I suspect, anywhere,” she tells The Scavenger.

“There’s a population of people who identify as trans but I doubt we have the numbers for a trans community. There’s no critical mass.

“We have some small groups of trans people who meet up for dinners and outings on a mainly informal basis, but I’m really not part of them either.”

Mardi cites competitiveness in the trans community as one of the main reasons for the situation.

“Trans people can be very competitive,” she says. “There’s a lot of pressure to look good and to ‘pass’. And if you don’t pass, many trans people don’t want you hanging around. It’s like you’re holding up a mirror to them, reminding them of their past.”

Then there’s the fact that a lot of trans people want to go under the radar.

“To pass successfully means that other people can’t tell; it means no-one else knows. So the very nature of being trans helps prevent a real trans community from forming, in my opinion.”

Mardi says that in addition to not feeling part of a trans community, she feels actively excluded from the wider queer community.

“I think there is a wider queer community, but I don’t feel I fit into it,” she explains.

“As a trans person, other queer groups aren’t very accepting,” she opines. “Especially gay men. Gay men will accept you and even celebrate you if you’re a male-to-female trans person who’s ‘fabulous’.

“Some trans people even become minor celebrities in the gay community by being showgirls at gay clubs. They’re celebrities in a very small pond, which I think is a very middle-class thing.

“But if you’re not a showgirl, forget it.”

The situation Mardi describes is perhaps unsurprising for the reasons she mentions – a lack of critical mass; a desire by many trans people to go under the radar – but her sense of exclusion is found in people from other queer groups.

Thirty-three-year-old lesbian Mei-Lin Seeto, from Australia’s Gold Coast, describes similar feelings to Mardi.

As an out-and-proud feminine lesbian, and a woman of Chinese descent, Mei-Lin feels excluded from the lesbian community on the basis of her femininity – and to some extent, her race.

“Most of my adult life, I’ve actively avoided the lesbian community because my first experiences with it were very hurtful,” she reveals.

“The first time I ever went to a lesbian event, which was a lesbian club night in Brisbane, two really butch women marched up to me and said, ‘You know this a lesbian event. You shouldn’t be here.’

“I just meekly mumbled something like ‘I am a lesbian’ and went to get a drink, but I only stayed about 15 minutes after that – and I never went back.

“That was more than 10 years ago. These days I would just go ‘Fuck you, and who are you to question me anyway?’ but back then I was really intimidated.

“It was depressing. My family were very homophobic, I didn’t have other dyke friends, and the one place where I thought I’d be accepted was a horrible experience.”

Things weren’t any better when, a few months later, Mei-Lin ventured to a lesbian social ‘coffee morning’, which operated on Sundays.

While she thought the welcome (or lack of) she encountered at the club night might have been restricted to that particular club, she was mistaken.

“I don’t know, I thought maybe the club scene was bitchier or something, and people would be nicer at this social group.”

But while she didn’t cop overt flak for being a femme lesbian, racism reared its ugly head.

“The organiser was really welcoming on the phone, but when I went along she wasn’t there, and I just found the other girls very unwelcoming. They just ignored me to the extent where it was like I just wasn’t there, except for a couple who were whispering and looking at me. It was even worse than the club night because everyone there – about 20 of them – was just pretending I didn’t exist.”

Mei-Lin surmised that cliquiness – and her shyness – were the main problems, but soon discovered another issue was also at play.

“After the coffee morning, some of the girls had this tradition of going out to a restaurant for lunch afterwards but when they were discussing where to go, one of the girls loudly said, ‘Well, we’re not going to any bloody Chinese restaurant’ and looked at me, and the others laughed. And I wasn’t invited anyway. I left that group feeling really, really depressed.”

Gay men are arguably the most visible and numerous part of the wider queer community, and probably have the most options for ‘belonging’ to a community or communities – but even then, some feel like a round peg in a square hole.

Nick Douglas, a 42-year-old filmmaker from Brisbane, is one of many who doesn’t gel with mainstream notions of ‘gay community’.

“I don’t really feel part of the gay community – or any gay community, whether it be leather men, clubbing queens or bears.

“I don’t know that a lot of people identify with any of it,” he says.

“A lot of what is considered to be – and delivered to us as – gay culture, I don’t find appealing.”

Nick puts his lack of identification the gay community partially down to his lifestyle preferences, which include the fact that he doesn’t drink.

“I don’t drink alcohol, and a huge part of the gay scene revolves around licensed venues, where the main form of entertainment is drinking,” he proffers.

“It’s not that I never go to gay venues or won’t go to them, but as a non-drinker, it lessens their appeal. The music played in gay clubs doesn’t appeal to me much either. And I guess I prefer to go somewhere that’s not really loud, where you can talk.”

Nick also feels that stereotypical gay culture, revolving around money as it does, is a very middle-class, capitalist edifice, which he finds unappealing.

“What we consider to be gay culture is very middle class,” he opines.

“It’s the nature of creating the culture that it requires businesses. Those businesses want to make money. Which means that gay culture as we know it sits on capitalist foundations.”

This middle-class gay culture has a number of other aspects that Nick doesn’t want to engage in, including peer pressure to be fashionable, and derision of disenfranchised people.

“Because gay culture is built on capitalist foundations, it’s very aspirational when it comes to material things.

“I admit I’m attracted to shiny things myself to an extent, but there’s a lot of emphasis in the gay community on keeping up with fashions. It’s difficult enough to keep up with mainstream fashion, let alone queer fashion!” he says.

“The aspirational aspect of gay culture also means there’s a lot of behaviour like making fun of poor people, looking down on the less fortunate, and welfare phobia, which I find immensely unappealing.”

So how do people cope with not feeling part of their community? Does it matter to them?

Nick Douglas says not.

“Not really. At least, not anymore. I guess it’s because of my own choices that I don’t identify so much with the gay community. I mean, I could engage a lot more with it if I want to, but I consciously choose to engage with the parts that interest me or when circumstances dictate,” he says.

Asked for examples, he offers: “I’ll go to events like the Brisbane Queer Film Festival, because I’m gay and happen to be interested in film.

“And I will go to gay venues if I’m meeting up with an old friend who’s back in town and wants to go to one.

“I tried to fit into the gay scene in the ’90s but found it didn’t really suit me and I guess today, I dip into it when it suits me – and I’m happy with that.”

Mei-Lin expresses similar sentiments, although expresses a strong desire for the mainstream lesbian community to be more accepting of diversity.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a part of the lesbian community but equally I’d say I don’t want to be,” she says.

“I think when you first come out you really want to belong and you imagine that you’ll find this fabulous Sapphic world where everyone loves you.

“I was disappointed when I didn’t find that, but at this stage of my life it’s not even something I want anymore. I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality, which a lot of girls who are really into the lesbian scene are.

“I’m happy having friends from all walks of life – dyke, straight, male, female, young, old, whatever – without confining myself to any one narrow community.”

Having said that, Mei-Lin feels it’s of the utmost importance that the lesbian community becomes more accommodating of difference.

“It matters because for the kids out there – or for anyone just coming out – you need that support at the beginning.

“I mean, a young girl who was really depressed and really needed support, who experienced rejection from her own community could end up killing herself, so it’s really important that people be less judgmental.

“I guess in the ideal world, there’d be a supportive lesbian community for when you first come out; kind of like a launching pad for your new life as an out and proud lesbian.”

As for the racism she encountered when first coming out: “I just think there’s always going to be dickheads and there’s not much you can do about it. But I do think the lesbian scene has improved a lot in that respect. Just 10 years ago it was OK to say stuff that just wouldn’t be acceptable today.”

Mardi, meanwhile, has also come to a resolution of sorts.

“I think the older I get, the less I need a community,” she reports.

“It would be great to have a strong, supportive trans base but I’ve kind of accepted that it doesn’t really exist – at least in the way I imaged it might – and that’s forced me to rely on myself more.

“I think I’m trying to find solidarity in other ways now – through friendships, mutual interests, and on the internet,” she says.

“I think the internet is a lifeline, actually. Without it, I’d feel much more isolated, and I’m grateful that we’re in the age of the internet where you can meet other people easily.

“But the older I get, the more I feel like I don’t necessarily need a tribe.”

Mei-Lin agrees.

“I guess if I could speak to that myself back then, that girl who felt so rejected, I would say ‘hang in there’. Because what’s important to you then won’t always be so important. And when you get a bit older and wiser you become more independent.

“At the end of the day, you make your own community, and that’s something that suits you much more than any ready-made community ever can.”

Peter Hackney is associate editor at The Scavenger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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