I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about queer ‘mavericks’ lately – people like Azealia Banks, Bret Easton Ellis and Caitlyn Jenner. People who by various turns are othered by or other themselves from the “LGBT community,” and my thoughts keep returning to a common theme:
that the LGBT community itself may be mythological.
To wit: if you can be othered by or othered from an identity-based community despite having that identity, can that community be said to exist?
I will make the perhaps bold claim that there exists no organization or group which itself claims to represent the LGBT community, and will state with even more confidence that there exists no organization or group of which the same could be said.
This is perhaps both to our credit and our detriment. No organization or group could represent the LGBT community because it is so diverse.
For some reason, we understand this plainly when we say something like “the gay community” or “the transgender community.” For some reason, it is very easy for us to understand that these must almost necessarily be understood in the plural – “gay communities,” “transgender communities.” For what could be stated so facilely as to include all gay people? All bisexuals? All transgender people?
And yet because an umbrella community might be imagined, we seem to share the common illusion that such a community exists.
One needn’t argue about whether or not an umbrella community should or should not exist, but one may very well need to consider that it simply does not.
What has ever been meant by “LGBT community?” It is most easily imagined as a contrastive collective identity.
It is very easy to argue that all people who are not exclusively heterosexual and/or cisgender and who do not comply with all social mandates therein have enough in common with each other to combine forces to fight certain elemental oppressions.
One may – and indeed I have – argued that things could or indeed ought to be this way until any manner of ungulates come home. But continuing to traffic in the idea of an LGBT community would seem to imply a belief that things are that way, which is a very hard belief to defend.
I contend that a more descriptive evaluation of reality leads to the conclusion that there are instead largely independent communities trafficking alternatively in money and/or limited ideologies, none of which are interested in representing or, moreover, even could represent something like an “LGBT community.”
This is not in itself an inherently bad or harmful thing. But continuing to ignore this reality is.
Instead of actively engaging in coalition-building, the mythological concept of an LGBT community continually enforces and reinforces the seemingly completely false idea that the coalition has existed, exists, and, a priori, must necessarily continue to exist.
And yet ask even two LGBT people what the LGBT community believes, needs, wants, or envisages, and the cracks in the argument are as plain as day.
Again, this is not inherently bad. In fact, I would argue that it’s fucking spectacular. But as a shared illusion, we have not as yet dreamt up a means of accepting a diversity of belief.
And so, what the notion of community lacks in objective reality is made up by dialectical reasoning.
[In fact: I would argue that most any conception of an “LGBT community” has been coerced into existence via dialectical reasoning.]
One of my treasured quotes in life stems ultimately from Terence, who wrote: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”
A lot can be and has been gleaned from this. I personally first encountered this quote in a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Zombie – a book in which a young man commits a number of gruesome murders in his attempt to create an idealized sex slave.
Where am I going? Somewhere, I promise.
By obliquely referencing this line from Terence, the reviewer invoked – in me, at least – the chilling knowledge that one could not simply other this murderer as something other than human. Different as he might be from me, I could not simply expel him from the human community. His actions were part of the possible actions of the human community, and as such reflected back at us all.
If you’ll pardon the extreme example, this thought has nevertheless had a huge impact on my beliefs about inclusion and belonging.
This is not the kind of inclusivity you get through dialectical reasoning.
In failing to wish an LGBT community into existence, the dialectic – or indeed dialectics – create the infallible and yet ephemeral bylaws of particular LGBT communities.
The money one makes. The books and think pieces one has read. The strict adherence to this platform or that.
The LGBT community could be an HRC dinner or a Gay Shame cabaret show – or for that matter, literally anything manifested by LGBT people.
But in failing to recognize our own virtually limitless variety, the “LGBT community” is argued out of existence. Either there is a correct way to be LGBT or the LGBT community exists, but you can’t have both.
I mean, you could. But this presupposes a world in which a transgender republican is left to her own wildly misguided devices. I mean, of course I’m editorializing. But I don’t have to like Caitlyn Jenner’s politics to see that they in a perverse way mean something wonderful about our so-called community:
I’d rather see a famous trans republican than live in a world where one pretends to be liberal because one is trans.
Likewise, I thrill to live in a world where Azealia Banks and Bret Easton Ellis take to Twitter to say bizarrely, wildly, perhaps ironically hypocritical and terrible things about gay people, because the alternative implies coercive silencing of LGBT voices.
On a personal level, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to genuinely consider oneself a part of this “LGBT” or “queer” or whatever community. As I’ve discussed at length in the past, I don’t feel like I’m represented by either the mainstream gay rights movement or by ivory-tower queerness, and I likewise refuse to represent the ideology of either.
Of course, I’m much closer to one than the other, but the passage of time doesn’t shrink my conviction that I am not merely a collection of the books and think pieces I have read, the slogans I have learned and the pins I have sported.
I am a person, goddammit.
And any notion of an LGBT community that I could really get behind would extend that opportunity to every person. There is no talking cure for the queer condition, because the queer condition is infinite.
The LGBT community could be a broad and deep coalition of people who stand opposed to a myriad of oppressions. But just saying it exists does not make it so.