The Problem With Advancing Queer Voices in Media

This photo. You know this photo? I like the graphic. Also, it’s this article. Yeah.

It’s been three hours since Twitter blew up over an Xtra article hitting the web. The piece, written by Kate Raphael, details how quarantine has made her distanced from her queerness, a real thing most of the LGBTQ community most likely feels after having to give up Christmas in June (Pride). To recant these feelings of isolation, Kate turns to her boyfriend and asks for help reaffirming her queer identity. She asks for a haircut.

On paper, this diary entry/ think piece doesn’t sound too bad. It’s a nice re-telling of a cute moment in a relationship that might work well as a Medium Essay. However, given that a large publication with 23.4k followers picked it up, the air of visibility has opened up a wave of comments both good and bad. Biphobia runs rampant in the quote tweets and jabs at the writer have amassed in droves, causing a split down the middle between queers, bi people, and men who simply want to dunk on women because they’re misogynistic. Some people, though, make very credible and good points about what lens this article lends when reaffirming queerness.

If you’re not interested in reading it, I will basically sum it up here. Kate lets her cis-het boyfriend Cole give her a haircut described as a “Princess Diana-textured pixie meets retro ’80s mom-with-a-middle-part; short and edgy yet downy and messy.” She feels light, happier- closer to her queer roots than she has in the past yearlong hell time of quarantine. She explains how this invites queerness into their relationship, gushing over how Cole now sends her memes on doc martens and lesbian Tiktoks, a seemingly bare minimum effort but congratulatory one at best. The piece ends with a cute moment where her boyfriend calls her queer. Cute.

Bi-phobia is a huge problem in the queer community, everyone knows this. Personally, I don’t give a shit if someone is bi, straight, pan, or lesbian as long as they act like a decent human being. You have to be upfront about expectations and what you want from someone sexually and romantically and as long as you do that, you’re good. But something that Kate misses in her piece when she asserts that if you’re “dating a queer partner, you’re in a queer relationship” is that you’re actually not in a queer relationship. It doesn’t strip you of your identity at all hell, if you showed up to a party I might even call you a lesbian. I know you like girls and guys and everything in between, but if you’re dating someone who is the opposite sex of you, someone who is also cis- I’m sorry, but that is a straight relationship.

I was bi before realizing I was a lesbian and there are disctinvely different things you face when being in a relationship with someone who is same sex/trans. Think of it like a video game: you start at level one and that typically comes with accepting that oh, compulsive heteronormativity is a thing and maybe I’m not straight. Next comes the label or the intimate moment with someone of the opposite sex, very cute. But each level comes with a different undoing within and a different thing to open up to that is scarier than before.

The thing is, biphobia comes into play when queer people are frustrated at the level of privilege a cis-het relationship gives to a queer person. As long as bi people understand and recognize there are levels to the process of coming out, then people will ease up. Conflating a haircut as confirmation of your sexual identity to be more magnanimous than it is ignores the legitimate oppression and marginalization others face in the community.

Explaining to your boyfriend that you are attracted to girls or coming out to your parents that you are bi while being in a cishet relationship is nothing compared to bring your girlfriend or trans partner home for the holidays. Both are legitimate in their own ways, but the disconnect and miscommunication lies in pretending the two are the same, that all queer struggles are similar journeys. Bi-peoples struggles are legitimate. Their queer identity is legitimate. But to opt into conversations on experiences they may never face silences the stories of those actively undoing socialized ideas of gender, transphobia, and lesbian love.

Kate’s misstep, on top of this article, is likely the tweet accompanied with her piece that if you’re “dating someone queer, you’re in a queer relationship,” something many were quick to refute. There’s a huge level of comfort a cis-het relationship presents bi people. More likely than not, you will never face the same sort of discrimination lesbians or trans folks will feel when they are out with a partner. People smell it on you. It takes more than a haircut to be easily identifiable as gay and if you are in a cis-het relationship, people will leave it at that. They won’t make any jabs or weird jokes like trying to get your girlfriend and you to have a threesome or quips about your gender.

Almost none of the blame rests on Kate’s shoulders. Instead we should look at the publications greenlighting her piece and the discourse it causes. Though some have opened the floor for what could be a thought provoking and extremely progressive conversation in the thread on what queer relationships may look like, others have slammed the article, saying it is a “step back for the bi-community.” Pointing to the institutions feeding us narratives that do not move the conversation forward leaves us standing in the same place, either staying or pushing us back.

In this case, Xtra did nothing more than give a platform to someone knowing it would be of gain for them in the end.

Quite honestly, we all know why this article is floating around. Xtra most certainly published this to get hate clicks. As an established queer magazine with an audience deeply entrenched in the discourse, the editors knew what they were doing when they threw this author to the sharks but they did it anyway, stroking the flames of an already volatile fire. Driving conversations on queer culture, the people at the top were careless in how a piece like this may be misconstrued as anything other than someone extremely insecure about their queerness.

They threw someone finally confident in their identity to a willing crowd known for being biphobic without considering the consequences that would come with it.

These are incredibly intelligent people with years of journalism and queer writing under their belt who gave a fish to sharks saying “watch this girl write about her sensitivities and privilege so we get views while you rip her apart for her well-hearted intentions to connect with the LGBTQ community.”

Though comforting in their own ways, these pieces affirm to the wrong audience that queerness is a phase, that a haircut will solve it all and we can call it a day. I don’t care if you’re bisexual and you date a man. Hell, I don’t care if you’re bisexual and you never date a woman. You’re queer period. At the end of the day, you belong to this community and we should do everything to make you feel welcome because you are welcome. You are ours. All I ask is that you consider the protection your status provides when stacked up against others. It does not invalidate you to do so, it only mutes your ego and gives the floor to people who need it.

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