It evokes a lot: things old, things new- all things different- and not just sexually. I’m not sure of my first encounter with the word Queer, but I certainly remember my first impressionable moment with the word, it lingers in crevices I’m still trying to clear out today.
In 6th grade a fellow classmate named Peter was placed next to me in the cafeteria as we were awkwardly queued up for a field trip to Old Salem, Historic Bethabara, the Asheboro Zoo, or whatever local North Carolina staple they planned to swing us by that particular day.
As 6th graders, we were all gangly limbs and muddled words, but the two of us looked particularly eccentric standing next to each other, me a very cherubby and gay Black 11-year-old, Peter a white, six-foot redhead stand-out, whose facial hair held no regard for age appropriateness, sprouting out this way and that across his top lip and jowl a few years prior to curtain call.
We were each the Other, and I think Peter could feel the weight of our difference- side-by-side, compounding and reverberating off the lunch room walls. He seemed a little tense when he finally turned to me and spoke.
“Are you Queer or something?”
I didn’t think too long about it before simply answering, “Yes.”
After all, I’d watched a LOT of Nick-at-Nite, and knew that Dobie Gillis from Dobie Gillis, Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, and Uncle Arthur from Bewitched (straddling both definitions of “Queer”…) were all called that word at some point in time, and each application seemed apt: left of center, a little bit quirky–basically interesting. Hell, at the time I had been wearing three watches on my left arm and was heavy into childhood witchcraft with three or four other oddball 6th graders. If I wasn’t queer, nobody was.
Peter was annoyed by my matter-of-fact response. He shook his head in pity, looking down at me and impatient with my obliviousness.
“No, are you Queer, like GAY?”
My mouth sealed and my heart jumped about 11 feet, almost Peter’s height back then. Decades later I’d look back at this moment as not only one of my first moments experiencing discrimination, but also the profundity of semiotics.
“No,” I said bluntly. It was apparent that I had never really considered it out loud before, but I was firm on the fact that moment, with sarcastic, furry, and bitter Peter was absolutely not the place where I was going to hash out that little conundrum.
He stared at me a second before rolling his eyes, sucking his teeth, and turning on the spot away from me and toward the front, saying, “Right.”
It would be only two short years after that encounter that I would come out to my mother and classmates as bisexual, a couple more years later as gay, and eventually answering yes to the question, “Are you Queer?”
It’s funny, in New York City and at The New School, my definition of Queer has both infinitely expanded and reverted back to its original meaning: different. Everyone here is quirky, kinky, and a tad freaky to whatever degree and in whatever capacity. I often run the risk of being one of five people like myself, or even the blandest person in the room. It’s excellent.
So, for me, anyone stating and lamenting the otherness of another is a trite endeavor that only underscores their lack of exposure to the world, their own self-awareness, and general imagination. Queer is normal. Get the memo, and stop having your mind blown so openly in public- it’s crass.
I know now for certain that Peter was Queer, not because he did or does desire to wear leather, or is into feet and whips or anything, but because I could tell that as someone who himself stood outside of the normative, he felt compelled to expose my otherness, to grant himself the illusion of normalcy at my expense. It’s the hallmark of any put upon minority group- from white and Black gays, to gays and lesbians, to gays and trans populations and so on- to set themselves outside a certain light in order to spotlight another group. It’s way too knee-jerk a response to be anything close to a real solution to separateness.
What’s likely a better response, a more acceptable way to go forward in any community, in the world, is to assume that in some way or another everyone is Queer- different from yourself. To do so is to treat everyone with equal value, so that once your own Otherness is finally revealed to you, you’re not dying of shock, but welcomed to the party- albeit late.
By Ricky Tucker
Goldsmiths, University of London: M.A Creative Writing/Education candidate