For all the talk of queer solidarity, there sure seems to be a lot of cattiness and cliquishness in the community. What’s that about?
Though I’ve never stood in a circle, holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” (OK, maybe once or twice at Girl Scout camp), I have always been that kid that asks, “Why can’t we all just get along?” My family valued being kind almost as much as it valued being smart. As a child, I was often distraught by the fact that my friends (I generally had two to three at a time) didn’t like each other and set out to play peacemaker. When I encountered the Bahá’í Faith in the midst of a middle school experience that saw me on the receiving end of some pretty intense cattiness by a group of former friends, its prohibition on backbiting (considered a sin on par with murder) was a major draw. I soon made a concerted effort to interrupt gossip at every opportunity and became practiced at seeing the good in everyone.
Why am I telling you all this? Because even a self-identified “nice” person like me gets sucked into petty gossip and shit talking sometimes, and because the closest I can come to truth is in speaking about my own experiences. Which brings me to my first point: Everyone is mean. It’s not just LGBTQ folks. One might argue that marginalized people should know better, and I’d agree. But knowing better and doing better are not the same thing.
The same history of oppression that ought to teach us the importance of being kind also leaves us with deep hurts that manifest in anti-social defense mechanisms. I’ve found that (sociopaths and psychopaths aside) mean people are typically hurt people. This doesn’t excuse the meanness, but it can provide perspective. This reality is compounded when a queer person (who has already been rejected by mainstream society) feels rejected by their chosen community. We seem to develop a PTSD-like hyper vigilance to attacks (real or perceived) — an inheritance of the cultural trauma of being queer.
There’s also an element of competition born out of a fear of there not being enough romantic options. When you’re queer, your pool of potential mates is considerably smaller than the average non-queer person’s. That’s not to say there isn’t enough love to go around, but the size of our community’s “pond” does seem to promote concepts such as “butch scarcity.” It also means there are fewer queer friends to be had, fewer queer cliques to “fit in” to. Our small world also makes it easier to find out that someone’s been talking trash.
All that said, it also seems worth pointing out the role of perception. That is, sometimes we think someone is being catty or cliquey when they’re not. We misinterpret people’s actions to see what we expect (or fear). Queer folks are so used to getting the short end of the stick that we sometimes assume that’s what we have, without even bothering to measure it.
I am not immune to that sinking “nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” feeling. I don’t think any of us are (some are just better at faking it). Which brings me to my preferred coping mechanism: I like to imagine that everyone (at the party, on Facebook, whatever) is awkward and insecure. I figure this is just as likely (if not more) to be true as the assumption that everyone is socially adept and confident. If I believe that people’s cliquishness is a result of their fear of straying from the safety their group (rather than their desire to avoid me), that their rude comments are born of insecurity about themselves rather than hatred of me, it’s easier to either brush my shoulders off or kill ’em with kindness.
Michelle Tea wrote about this in “What I now know about … Mean Dykes,” a piece for the June 27, 2002, issue of The Stranger. She ended by identifying the ways she can stop being one of those mean dykes:
“I know I can shut my trap when the urge to talk trash flares hot and ugly inside me, and ask myself what exactly about this person, so like me, threatens me, pushes all my many buttons. I can stick up for queers when I hear their names rolled through the mud by someone who, in all likelihood, doesn’t really know them. I can offer a good quality about a girl to offset the rotten ones being discussed, making her human, not a monster-dyke we can relieve our insecurities with through hating. I can stop bolstering my fragile identity by criticizing all in my community I imagine I’m not. I can catch a gaze and hold it.”
‘Cause let’s be real, we’re all fragile. If we give each other the benefit of the doubt a little more often, we can focus on holding each other up instead of tearing each other down.
-Erin Rook, PQ Monthly staff writer
Are you a lesbian puzzled by gay men? A transgender person pondering bisexuality? A straight person perplexed by queers of all stripes? PQ is here to help you through your “questioning” period. Send your questions to [email protected] and put Query a Queer in the subject line.