The Future is Queer
“Take my picture!” I yelled, shoving my phone into my partner’s hands. I planted myself in front of a church on Peachtree Street where I used to work, thrust my hands into the air, and smiled giddily. It’s one of my favorite pictures of myself: “The Future is Queer” t-shirt, rainbow make up, rainbow tutu. It was my first Pride since wakling out of the closet, but, even within my excitement, I felt a measure of guilt. Guilt that I wasn’t queer enough because my partner is a cisgender man, guilt that I had taken so long to come out because I didn’t necessarily have to, worry that I would be mistaken for an overzealous straight girl co-opting gay culture. At every opportunity, I announced loudly that I was bisexual, literally waving my pink, purple, and blue flag, so that my presence and my enthusiasm could be justified.
Even in one of the proudest moments of my queer life, I needed to explain what exactly I was doing there.
Because I spent the first 27 years of my life in the closet, I find myself defensive when I am assumed to be straight. Often, this assumption doesn’t come from a bigoted place; it’s just what seems obvious. I am a cisgender woman dating a cisgender man; it seems like an everyday, heterosexual relationship. But I’ve also seen the faces of fabulous gay men drop upon finding out that I am not, in fact, dating my best friend Kelly who came to the drag show with me, and am, instead, dating a man who’s at home taking care of my cats.
It’s as though my queer card is instantly revoked in these moments no matter how I actually identify.
So, I find myself consistently needing to be as queer as possible: loving musicals, having a rainbow flag on my desk at work, growing out my body hair, standing in front of a church with my hands in the air proclaiming that “The Future is Queer.”
I’m not claiming that these things are not authentic to who I am - they are. I’ve been in love with musicals since the age of 14, and when my parents realized that they were all mainly about sex and had the word “fuck” in them, they threatened to remove them from my blue iPod classic. I love having armpit hair. My armpits are healthier, I don’t have to worry about shaving, and I don’t have to waste plastic on products I’ve been conditioned to believe are necessary. It’s because of the natural invisibility of a bi person in a hetero-passing relationship that I feel compelled to make these attributes overly visible in queer circles.
A few years ago, a church friend and her wife were discussing on Facebook how much they loved a pair of rainbow chacos. I commented on the post, stating that they were great and they should definitely buy them. Another friend facetiously asked if straight people were allowed to buy them too. My friend commented back, “of course! Right, Brenna?” This was the first time I could remember being specifically referred to as straight by a fellow member of the queer community. Of course, it wasn’t her fault. I’d never come out to her and never displayed any specific reasons why I shouldn’t be assumed to be straight. But I remember that the comment came as a shock to me. It was one thing for straight people to assume I was straight. In many ways, this made me safe. It meant I was privy to conversations and spaces that queer people often were not. It meant I could trojan horse my way through the battle for inclusion. But to be so clearly identified as straight from a queer person whom I trusted and loved felt like I had disappointed myself in a whole new way. Somehow, I had always assumed that all queer people were walking around with an inner compass that told us when someone was queer, even if all the signs pointed to straight. Upon realizing that I was living my life in a way that led even the most kind lesbians I’ve ever known to assume I was straight was a big catalyst to my impending de-closeting.
After I came out, I received very few negative reactions, which shocked me. While this was, indeed, a great relief, I also continue to wonder if reactions would’ve been vastly different if I had come out as bisexual while dating a woman. I think that, for the particularly conservative people on my friends list, there is a certain level of half-assed-ness to my queerness. It appears that because I’m dating a man, I can still be convinced to not “act on” my “homosexual urges.” This viewpoint leads the closed-minded among us to not take my queerness seriously. So, not only do I have to fight to be seen as queer by other LGBTQ people but also by people who loathe the word queer. In some ways, this is absolutely a gift, and I don’t take it for granted. Because of our culture fraught with fragile masculinity, I will never have to deal with the heckling that drag queens, nonbinary folx, dykes, and others tolerate. I am high femme and I am dating a man. For all intents and purposes, I appear to be just another liberal feminist who doesn’t want to shave her armpits. While that’s also true, that’s not the limit of my identity. I am tired of being put in a box based on what my partner looks like, a whole side to my identity being ignored.
I once overheard a previous roommate of mine claim that she was fine with gay people but thought that all bisexual people were just “looking for attention.” I’m not exactly sure what she meant by that, but I assume she meant that she didn’t think she was homophobic but also didn’t think bisexuality was a real identity. She thought it was an identity for women who still wanted to date men but also wanted people to congratulate them for no reason because they were suddenly a part of an oppressed community. It’s views like these that frustrate me the most. It’s views like these that I came out to overcome. I sometimes get asked why I bothered to come out at all, both by fellow queers and by confused conservatives. Why would you leave the closet if you could stay there, be safe, and still date the person you love? Why would you tell people this terrible, sinful thing about yourself when you could’ve just stayed quiet? These questions are exactly why I left the closet. I left the closet to do the work of inclusion that my white, cisgender, straight-passing privilege allows me to do. I left the closet to finally tell people something about me that I’ve been hiding for over two decades.
I left the closet to explode stereotypes about what it means to be queer. I left the closet to stand in front of a church with my hands in the air, covered in rainbows, yelling, “the future is queer!”
Brenna Lakeson is a queer feminist pastor and social activist living in Atlanta, GA. Born and raised in North Carolina, she has a BA in Music from Elon University, with minors in Spanish and Latin American studies. She has an MDiv from Candler School of Theology at Emory University with particular interests in feminist theology, Hebrew Bible, and apocalyptic literature. She is provisonally commissioned as a United Methodist pastor by the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. You can read her story here.