The Next Generation

In my work this summer at a queer youth center in San Francisco, I had my first experience with working among some older members of the queer community. Granted, most of them were still in their twenties and happily working for very little pay at a small nonprofit youth center, but still. I was hanging out with older queers for really the first time.

One of the things that came up a lot over the three months that I was working there was the gap between queer youth and the adult queer community. The youth center was in a house in the Castro (San Francisco's queer neighborhood), and nobody was allowed to hang out on the porch or in the back yard. According to the neighbors, the kids were too noisy and troublesome. One of the employees of the center complained to me that if there was any kind of problem in the neighborhood, the youth center always seemed to take the blame.

Now, of course sometimes teenagers are loud. But this center was a place of real productivity for a lot of these youth. It was a place where queer teens who might otherwise be at a true disadvantage (there were many homeless youth who came to the drop-in hours) could find a job for decent pay or be involved in an educational project. We played sports in the local parks, arranged field trips, and had some really intense group discussions in which I know all of us learned a lot.

And yet, to the older gay and lesbian families living around the center, we were a threat to the neighborhood. We were a pain in the ass. We were causing trouble, invading their Castro queer haven. The neighborhood association made countless restrictions on what, where, and when the youth center could do anything.

It made me wonder if the lack of continuity in the queer community isn't just the fault of disinterested youth. I have had a really hard time learning about queer history. I don't really know much about the queer activists who came before me. As the leader of a queer student group, I usually feel like the blind leading the blind. I'm really hungry for a sense of the past of our movement and the support of our predecessors.

But it's really not there. Of course I know a few older activists who have been truly supportive and helped me and my fellow youngsters learn a thing or two, but mostly it's radio silence from the older generation of gays. It's really quite disappointing.

I'd love to connect with older people, learn from their stories, soak up my history as part of a civil rights movement for people of varying sexual orientations. I really want a sense of that continuity. Maybe that's something I'll be able to work on: building a place, a group, where young and old people can connect over being somehow queer and working together for equality and respect.

Playing the Queer Card

I spend a lot of time with straight men. It's in my job description. I've experienced every pickup line, every little grope, every lean-in-too-close-and-breathe-on-my face. Granted, it's refreshing when I'm at work or even when I'm bumming around campus in street clothes and some immediately attractive guy surprises me with better conduct. I am not as jaded as some of the more experienced dancers; I don't think that all men are dirty pigs and that they're ultimately out for only one thing.

But. I've had to learn a lot of ways to fend off unwanted advances from men. My job, as I often tell my girlfriends, is really to reject a guy, make him like it, and furthermore make him pay me to continue rejecting him. It's a fine tightrope to walk.

I tell people all the time at work that I am bisexual. There, it works in my favor because of the prevalence of girl-on-girl porn and the lovely stereotype that any bisexual woman must want to have a threesome with the next available guy. I wear the label as something to make me attractive.

But outside of work I use my queerness in an entirely different way. When I dress myself in the morning, I half-consciously try to wear clothes that I know look a little gay. My pants are not quite as tight. I wear a bigger, thicker belt. I add a necktie randomly, or something with a subtle rainbow. I know that if I dress like a lesbian, if I present myself as queer, I'll be treated completely differently by straight men and everyone else.

Openly queer women are lucky in one sense. By broadcasting their sexual "deviance" to the world, they announce that they definitely are not a part of the heteronormative, sexist world that those who sleep with members of the opposite sex inhabit. If I cut all my hair off, I'm less likely to get stepped all over by a man in conversation. They assume I'll fight back because, of course, queer women are always strong and aggressive. If I have an eyebrow piercing, no man is going to come up to me and ask if I want him inside of me. He'll wait until I give some sign of interest because queer women aren't automatically into anyone who shows the slightest interest in them. If I wear combat boots, people who meet me are less likely to comment solely on my appearance and more likely to listen to what I say. Queer people don't care how they look, so their personality is more important.

Of course, I don't fit completely in the queer community. I do like sleeping with and having romantic relationships with men. I am not a lesbian. When I present myself as a Gay and then I tell some other lesbian that I'm actually bisexual, there's an immediate turning away. I am not really allowed to use a queer identity to protect myself, because according to many people I'm only queer half of the time.

This, of course, is confusing and really annoying. I am everything that I am all of the time, not straight half the time and gay half the time. I need some way to be, some public identity to claim for myself, that lets people know who I truly am. I wish I didn't have to hide in queerness to get away from little everyday sexisms. I wish I didn't have to play down my interest in men in order to participate in the gay community.

But then, I guess I'll have to carve out my own bisexual identity for myself.
On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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