The Queer (An Explanation)

by Ethan Seavey

Photo taken by the author. Artist unknown.

On the night that I first told someone else that I was gay, the world was held together with a single phrase which was echoed from speaker to listener and back again. My friend and I were both queer but I was the first one saying it. So for us, it was healing to say and to hear: “It doesn’t mean anything. I (or you) won’t let it define me (or you).” We repeated this wish, that someone’s sexuality could be considered separate from their social identity. I decided to trust that I could be gay, but not this or that kind of gay, just myself. I used the phrase like a prayer and begged that I could exist in a straight-minded Catholic world. It worked for a few months. Then I started to tell more people. Two more friends and then my parents. Siblings and more friends. And finally, everyone. Most everyone was kind and most everyone said it didn’t change a thing. But it changed many things. I finally accepted that I was the Queer.

The Queer is a lonely identity. They are raised believing that they are and can be the same as everyone else, but as they grow up, they realize that they are The Queer in a space that is not made for them. They are The Only Queer in a class of three hundred, but they heard there’s another Queer in the grade above. They don’t speak to one another because they are afraid to be seen associating. They realize that they will never have the lives of their parents.

The Queer must reckon with the close-minded Gods that dominate the globe. They are born into a world that is not made for them and given an identity that defines them forever. This world is ruled by a strong God in the clouds who supports the structure that hurts them. With tall walls He puts each person in a room and investigates them. He studies the outliers; not to know them, but to find out ways to make them fit in.

The Queer finds themself in adulthood knowing that many of their neighbors hate them for being queer, and, as a result, many Gods do the same. A person is hard to fight alone but when they have a God on their side they’re nearly unstoppable. The human has a small sense of dignity and logic that they might appeal to. The God has no logic and very strong laws.

The Queer has been taught that there are many different Gods who exist, and certainly they do not get along, but they agree on one thing and that is hatred of queerness. In essence, a God is placed into the heart of a child it cannot love. As the child grows up, one has to buckle, one has to yield, in a long battle. For this Queer, the winner is the concrete loved person and not the abstract bundle of shapes in the clouds. For other Queers, the shapes win out.

The Queer doesn’t know any Queer Gods. They didn’t teach that in Catholic school. What they did teach was existentialism. It was by accident and probably by mistake. There was a new English teacher one year and the Queer was in his class. He was young and mousy and cute and he let pretty quotes fall from his mouth. He was vocally accepting of the hidden Queers in his classroom. He critiques the Church; he critiques the school.

One spring month he fed the Queer The Stranger by Albert Camus. He gave them a specific (albeit simplistic) definition which they were to commit to memory: “Absurdism is the conflict between the human search for meaning and a meaningless world; but, also, that the human must rebel against this meaninglessness and create meaning for themself.”

The Queer had to admit that that sounded pretty good. It was the first time that they were given a weapon to kill a God that does not lead to a blinding nihilistic void. They started calling themself an existentialist when prompted. It happened more than you would think at a Catholic school. “What do you believe in, then?” can be answered deftly with “Nothing, but make it spicy.”

In later classes, the Queer read The Outsider twice and L’Etranger once. Outside of classes, they re-read their original copy of The Stranger. It is not so much taking more away from the text as it is spending time with that tone. Meursault’s hollow voice lingers and lags as you read. He pulls you into a world where everything irrational makes sense. Somehow the hero of an epic can allow an old man to abuse his dog; and to allow his friend to physically abuse a woman; and to kill a man he defines by his race alone; and then to be executed under heavy external judgement but internally impervious. He receives no dignity in his death–he steals it for himself.

If the Queer first has the ability to create an entirely new God to believe in who affirms their Queerness, and second, has the power to choose that belief over all logical explanation, why wouldn’t they arm themself with a God that makes them powerful?

Why does a God need a hundred humans to make it powerful? Why can’t it take one Queer who has been shoved into a mold of button-down shirts and khakis and plaid neckties?

Sartre would call it bad faith (a concept from his “Being and Nothingness”). It’s a problem in existentialism because it denies one of the fundamental ideas—of course, that no God exists. The Queer and maybe just this one Queer in particular went through a whole cycle, from loving a God, to defeating that God and the very idea of Gods, to building and loving a new God. Something itches in the Queer’s brain until they start finding that freshly-made divine love.

The Queer’s mentor is Judith Butler. They’re in my ear telling me that gender is much more than our genitals and the clothing on our backs, but our entire social identity:

The human is understood differently depending on its race, the legibility of that race, its morphology, the recognizability of that morphology, its sex, the perceptual verifiability of that sex, its ethnicity, the categorical understanding of that ethnicity.

Butler (Undoing Gender, p. 2)

Those factors explain one’s social identity and change the perception of their gender. Gender theory must always be intersectional because not all people who identify as the same gender are of the same social status, or share the same ideas about their identity.

The Queer reads Butler in the subway and finds the door to ultimate freedom and expression, in the same spots where confusing gendered experiences left them wordless.

Why was the Queer always the first in the locker room and the first out? Why was there such heavy discomfort?

I think it was because I knew that I was gay and that I worried that other people would know and feel uncomfortable changing around me. But that doesn’t explain why I would always stay on the girls’ side of the gym until the teacher told me to join the boys. That doesn’t explain why I was so frozen in a locker room attached to a hot spring in Iceland, where it was required to shower nude in open showers with a handful of men nearby, why it felt like my penis had disappeared in that moment.

My gayness does not explain why I am going to the Bachelorette party and not the Bachelor party. Or my pretty painted nails and cutsie high voice along with my hypermasc Coca-Cola workshirt and white sleeveless wife-lover. Or why I have lived 23 years and can use my ten fingers to list all of the cis men I have felt truly comfortable around, with some pinkies and thumbs left over.

Confidence in my queerness is something new and so emboldening. In New York I walk fast, with determination. Before I would walk as a man, and feel angry all the time, all the time furious. Now I walk as the Queer and find my speed not in anger but genuine confidence and joy. I’m proud to show my gender; I’m walking with my God.

My Queer God has exactly as much power as I give them. Similarly, my queerness defines me infinitely but only as much as I feed it. As I grow, I became at my most comfortable in my space as a Queer who feels most comfortable in a space of other queer folx. In Queer spaces I am not [(adj.) strange; odd]; I am as queerly pretty as every other person in the bar–it’s usually in a bar, or a small apartment—and they look so different and they fumble over names and pronouns and they kiss and smoke and drink.

(Submitted to NYU as a preface to the author’s thesis project, a novel-in-progress titled The Queer.)