PRIDE: Voices unheard.
24th of April 1993, 20,000 lesbians paraded throughout Washington DC and ate fire facing the Whitehouse.
They held no permit; it was illegal. Still, the police could do nothing to stop them.
"Their fire will not consume us; we take it and make it our own."
The 90s was a considerable time for LGBT activism, and academics are a bit like us bloggers; when they see things that get them a little bit excited, like a new Netflix show or 20,000 lesbians, they have to write about it.
‘If nothing was learned, nothing was taught.’
Now, just because something has been taught in a university doesn't mean that it is authoritative. Plenty of things taught in universities are complete nonsense, like humans evolving from apes or Business Studies...
Early queer theorists weren't your standard elbow patched tweed jacket academics; many of them were out on the streets protesting. Queer theory was and is queer people writing a dissertation about themselves; it emerged when it did because that was when the meaning of queerness was evolving.
Not so long ago, many people used the word lesbian to mean a woman who was unfeminine, frigid, 'a tomboy in need of a good f*ck'. Male politicians even used it as an insult if their female colleagues stood up for themselves.
But in 1992, an activist group called the Lesbian Avengers exploded onto the scene, whose speciality was theatrical, edgy, humorous, political messaging.
The Avengers were also unapologetically sexy, partly because it was fun and attention-grabbing, but also a critical point. When participating in a discussion, people are often required to act in a pleasant, rational way. Still, lesbians were stereotyped as shrill emotional man-haters. Hence, no matter how serious they worked, it was a game they were never going to win. Therefore, the Avengers said, 'F*ck your standards! Public conversation is sexy now.'
~A conversation takes at least two people~
"When a lesbian walks into a room of gay men, it's the same as when she walks into a room of heterosexual men ... You're listened to and then politely ignored."
Many people assume that the discussion was open to everybody. But the Lesbian Avengers showed that wasn't true; to be noticed, they had to do things differently. So, they exposed the conversation as really just for 'the straights'. - And the queer theorists found the same thing with philosophy.
Philosophy is supposed to be about the orderly and critical study of fundamental questions that arise both in daily life and in other disciplines.
Still, this extraordinary, critically thinking French philosopher Michel Foucault (a personal favourite) realised in the 70s that the questions able to be asked are affected by those in charge.
So, the queer theorists tried to ask questions that philosophy had previously ignored. If you're talking about the philosophy of knowledge and how knowledge comes from experience, don't you think it's worth bringing up the fact that some knowledge is forbidden?
Prevented from learning about gay and lesbian families, some kids who grow up queer have to know what that means through unofficial channels and different experiences. Queer Theorists noticed this.
They wrote about everything—language, film, sexuality, gender, fashion, politics, time...
...TIME!? Isn't time the same for everyone?
It's not like there is: a Mayan calendar, Gregorian calendar, Hebrew calendar, and the Gay calendar. - Einstein did prove that time is relative, but not that relative!
What I’m trying to say is that not everybody has the same perspective on time.
Life's calendar typically goes:
Queer people in the closet can feel like they’re living a double life, so their relationships with the past, present and future can be different.
Some trans people say that gender transition is like going through a second puberty; going backwards in time to experience something again that you usually only experience once in a lifetime. If your transition involves surgery or hormones, then there's often a lot of waiting to access those resources, with no idea how long you'll be waiting. The future can weigh heavily on the present; there can be a sense of lost time, a childhood that you never got to have.
A different form of life means different ways of thinking about the significant events that divide life up; queer time, as opposed to straight time.
The Lesbian Avengers became hugely popular; they were young, cool, funny, and sexy. They weren't just doing stylish activism, they were doing style as activism, and queer academics and the mainstream media jumped on it. Still, it turned out it was a double-edged sword. For one thing, comedy is subjective; the purpose of edgy comedy is to gesture at what you can't say.
The problem is they were always at risk of being misinterpreted by the mainstream or cancelled by their side. But also, by changing the meaning of what it meant to be a lesbian in public, they accidentally made lesbianism trendy. Many articles about the Avengers mentioned their appearance and clothing choices; how hot, funny, and cool they were without really talking about their political goals. In approximately 1993, a new trend emerged in fashion and advertising called lesbian chic.
This happened just one year after a woman burned to death in a hate crime, and the government were still ignoring the AIDS crisis. But the best the media could do was "Lesbians are fashionable now".
None of this was the Lesbian Avenger's fault; they weren't doing a bad job - they just didn't own the media. Like many advertising trends, lesbian chic was aimed towards young, white, primarily progressive, urban people with money. So, other ways of being queer that didn't fit the model got left out, and some queer theorists worried that young people growing up would see this and think that they had to look that way to be authentic.
Many discussions the 90s activists were having about the pros and cons of suddenly getting more representation are being had again now by trans and non-binary people. Not so long ago, if a trans or non-binary person was in the news, it was because they were the topic of a joke, or they were murdered, but now, they can be for anything!... As long as it is profitable.
But that's not an option available to everybody -
Being cool or marketable is not the same as having rights.
Whilst UK laws continue to move slowly to protect trans people from discrimination, in 2019, hate crimes against transgender people recorded by police rose by an insane 81%.
LGBTQ+ rights have never been a sprint but a marathon; join the race.
I grew up believing there was only one meaning of straight, bi, queer, cis, trans and I mentally compartmentalised those meanings into neat little boxes. The reason I thought that was until I came out to myself, I was alone in it - I only had myself for reference.
But queer has never been a particular political trend or a perceptive aesthetic. It's about family, not membership; it's that nature of ambiguity and being full-bodied that makes it revolutionary.
I think there's something you should know
I think it's time I stopped the show
There's something deep inside of me
There's someone I forgot to be
Take back your picture in a frame
Don't think that I'll be back again
I just hope you understand
Sometimes the clothes do not make the man
Now, pass me my appletini.
Joshua Lines, Cohort 29, Junior Content Producer Apprentice at STS UK