I was very apprehensive in trying this since I used to identify myself as a lesbian and anyone I told would most likely respond with a smart comment like “really, you don’t say”. However in the last several months I have had several conversations with friends on sexuality as being fluid. It is a topic that I have only recently changed my perspective on so I was interested in having the conversation.
The perfect scenario came about though just yesterday. I was having a discussion with an ex and she told me that she has feelings for a guy. She was very nervous telling me this information and disturbed with the idea of being with a male. She asked me if I thought she was crazy for having these feelings. My opinion really mattered to her and my response was “Well I am queer”. She asked me what I meant by that. I told her that I don’t think she is crazy. That having an attraction to a human whether male or female is about chemistry and connection, not merely physical make up. Being queer means having an open identification in terms of sexuality and that your sexuality is fluid. Having this discussion with someone I used to date was not what I had imagined however it was refreshing to share the “queer” ideology with someone who didn’t know it existed.
Students in the Sprin 2014 ANT:208 Anthropology of Sex class at The University of Alabama were tasked with a rather unusual and provocative social experiment as extra credit in the class: tell a close friend or family member that you are queer! What many people are not aware of, is that the LGBT community has re appropriated the term to basically say ” My sexuality cannot be placed in a box on a census form.” So, the word “queer” is slowly becoming to mean something other than “gay,” but rather closer to its original term suggesting something different. By this definition, those who identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender can all mutually identify as “queer.” It is acknowledging that sexuality is a spectrum and that one’s sexuality can slide along this spectrum throughout one’s life.
Students were tasked to tell someone close to them “I am queer” and to refrain from saying “this was just a part of a class experiment, I am not actually queer” for at least five minutes. This means that he or she has to endure and field any questions, accusations, or “Son/daughter, we’ve known” in order to educate the person with whom they are speaking. Selected students’ experiences will appear in subsequent posts.
For this activity I decided I wanted to tell my best friend that I was queer. I hadn’t seen her all semester and we were getting together to catch up, so I figured she was the best person I could tell since we hadn’t really talked about what this class and a person can change a lot in a semester. We spent most of the afternoon together but I was waiting for just the right time to spring it on her. We decided to go to dinner and I thought that would be a god time. We had just gotten our table and were talking about plans for the summer when I told her I was queer. She stopped in the middle of her sentence, asking me how and if my boyfriend knew about it. When I asked her if she understood what queer was, she told me that she thought queer meant gay. That’s when I explained to her that queer did not mean gay any more, the gay community took the word back and turned it into something positive. It actually meant that I didn’t want to be placed into a box regarding my sexuality. That today I might be heterosexual but in the future I might bisexual or a lesbian but I want the chance to choose freely and without judgment. When I finished explaining it to her, she thought about it and stating that she liked the idea professed that she was queer too. I never did mention that my being queer was for a class assignment and I don’t think I’m going to.
I did this activity with both of my parents, each separately because I know they would each have a very different reaction. I decided to do this on my dad first because he is usually very close-minded when it comes to these things. I called my dad after he got off work and told him that I was queer. My dad was quiet for about two minutes before he asked “Are you gay or just weird?” I responded back with “I’m weird” and then proceeded to tell him about the activity. We discussed how when people hear the word “queer” they automatically think someone is gay. As you can see, this didn’t go exactly how I thought it was going to, but I was shocked at how my dad responded. I thought for sure he was going start freaking out and not going to let me talk, but in the end we had a interesting discussion on how people react.
I then decided to do the exact same thing on my mom, who is more open-minded when it comes to these things. I told my dad not to mention anything to my mom so she would not have any prior knowledge. I waited to do this in person rather then on the phone so I could see my mom’s physical reaction. She arrived in Alabama this past Wednesday for A- Day. When we got back to my apartment I told her to sit down because I had something very important to tell her. My mom’s usually happy air about her soon disappeared as soon as I said “I’m queer.” It went completely silent and it was extremely awkward… for the both us I imagine! After about four or five minutes my mom finally spoke up. She asked what exactly did I mean. I explained to her that queer just meant I was weird/strange, not gay like what most people think. My mom found this to be interesting and it lead to us talking about how some people just assume things.
At first I was scared to do this activity, but I actually found it to be fun and it sparked an interesting conversation between both my parents and I. I think overall we both learned something from this activity.
I chose to perform the queer experiment on my best friend and a male friend that I use to date. Out of the two, best friend had the most interesting response. Initially she began to act confused and shocked, and asked what I meant by statement. I avoided giving off any allusions to the word’s meaning, and simply told her that I sincerely meant that I was queer. Her response after this was to ask me if I knew her middle name. At first I was confused, and responded to her with her middle name. She told that she needed to know if I knew this information to make sure that my phone had not been hacked, and then asked me if I was making a confession about my sexuality. When I told my male friend that I was queer, he asked me to elaborate, and then immediately asked me if I was gay. Both friends believed that by stating that I was queer meant that I was a homosexual.
My first encounter was with a friend that I’m going to refer to as “Mark,” it was a normal weekend and we had gone out drinking at the Downtown Pub. I sat down across the booth from him and started the conversation off with a comment along the lines of women being the Bain of all men. From there the conversation became about the freedom to do whatever you want with whomever you want. Then I told him that I had “decided to give this queer thing a try,” and from that point on things went downhill. Not only did he not believe me, he even started asking me to prove it in ways that extra credit doesn’t cover. In the end I finally told him the truth, although he never believed it, we did have a rather spirited conversation about human sexuality.
The second encounter was with a friend I have known for a very long time now, for this description his name is going to be “Paul.” Once again we went to the Downtown Pub; once again we found an empty booth. This time I just came on out with it and told him I had something important to confide in him. Once I told him I was “queer” his first response was “does Kara know?!” (Kara is my girlfriend of five years) Paul then followed that statement up with a “oh. Well that’s cool” in an attempt to act normal, but I could tell that he was very uncomfortable due to the fact that he “sipped” on his drink for the next ten minutes, instead of drinking it like a normal person. Eventually he asked if it was anyone in particular who had “turned” me, at this point it was all I could do not to laugh, but with a straight face I told him that “Brad Pit is a very sexy man!” At the end of the night Paul tried to say that he had always had a suspicion, but it was at that point that I had to tell him the truth, even though he was very respectful when he thought I was a “queer.”
This past weekend I told my mom I was queer and the reaction was somewhat surprising, but not much. First, she asked me what the term “queer” even meant, noting that she had heard of it, but never really got a logical understanding of it. I gave her a few examples of what people associate queer with, including odd, weird, and added in gay. The word gay was all it took. She went into a little frenzy, asking me if I was really gay. I go on to tell her that I never said that I was gay, but that was what other people tend to associate the term with. She then goes on to state “Well, I know you’re not telling me you are weird, so what else do you want me to think? What made you turn gay?” I go on to tell her that she did exactly what most people do in situations like that and assume gay from the jump. I also tell her at the same time that it’s nothing wrong with being queer, especially if you are using the term in it’s correct meaning, which is not being gay, that’s only what it has evolved to. Finally after about talking for 20 minutes, I tell her that I’m not gay and It was for class. She says “Thank God because I didn’t know how to tell your dad.”
I told my grandma that I was queer. The reaction I got was not what I expected at all. However in hindsight I understand her reaction. When I told her I was queer she merely laughed and said that she already know that about me. So went on to say that all of her grandchildren were at least a little bit queer , and that she herself had queer things about her. She said that the world is full of queer people and that is what helps to make the world around us so interesting. That there really is no such thing as normal and that we should all imbrace our queerness. While all this is going on I realized that the cultural differences on how the word queer is used today verses when my grandmother was growing up give if very different meanings. So she didn’t think I was coming out, but rather coming to terms with the fact that I am a little bit weird. Since we were not suppose to say “but I am not gay” after telling the person we picked. My grandmother and I continued to have a conversation about just how “queer” the world around us is.
For this activity, I told my boyfriend that I was queer.
He gave me a compliment about my body; I gave him one too, and then he said jokingly: Him: “Yours is better”
Me: “I don’t think so”
Him: “Of course! You’re not a lesbian”
When he said that, I remembered about the activity and thought this was the perfect opportunity to do it.
Me: “I’m queer”
Awkward moment of silence
Him: “What?….I don’t believe that”
Me: “Why not?”
Him: “Because then you wouldn’t say no when I ask you if you want to have a threesome”
We were talking about this for a while, I told him that being queer does not necessarily mean that I am homosexual, that for me being queer is being anywhere in between of completely heterosexual and completely homosexual.
Saying I was queer definitely created conversation. When I said it, he immediately wanted me to explain what I meant, even though he thought that queer was the same as homosexual.