What Is It Like Being Queer?

Photo by Kristin Smith from FreeImages

The following is an excerpt from my debut novel, 99 Erics: a Kat Cataclysm faux novela silly, surreal, sex-positive story about a bisexual female absurdist short fiction writer who dates ninety-nine different people named Eric for literature’s sake. What follows is the first half of Chapter 16: “Posers,” wherein Kat tries to explain what being queer is like, in her estimation. A video of me reading the entire chapter can be found here).

These days, it’s really difficult to talk about being queer. Because there’s this popular presumption that society is now totally a-okay with same-sex relationships, which ignores the fact that this is far from the truth, plus most of us grew up during a time when it most definitely was not okay to be queer. And many people seem to have drunk the “we’re just like you except for our sexual orientation” kool-aid, so they don’t even consider the possibility that the experience of being queer might be considerably different from what straight people experience.

“So Kat, what is it like being queer?” some of you may now be asking. Well, I would say that it is kind of like bicycling to Alameda.

But not just any old bicycle trip to Alameda. You are going to the west side of Alameda, for some inexplicable reason. And people will argue over whether you felt the need to go to west Alameda because it’s in your genes, or poor parent-child dynamics, or because fetal hormones hardwired your brain that way. But you couldn’t care less about these debates. All you know is that you really need to get to west Alameda, and it doesn’t matter why! Plus to you, there’s a clear double standard at work here, as nobody would ever question you if you told them that you were bicycling to downtown Alameda instead.

Now if you were going to downtown Alameda (as everybody expects of you), you could simply bike over either the Park Street or Fruitvale bridges — both totally safe — and you’d arrive at your destination. Easy squeezy. But for west Alameda, the most direct route for you is the Posey Tube, which was built back in 1927, long before urban planners worried their pretty little heads about bike lanes. All they left you is a one-person-wide pathway perched on one side of the tunnel, just above the racing cars below, with only a guardrail separating you from your impending death.

The signs tell you to walk your bike, but if you did that, you’d be in the tube all day. So you precariously pedal your way across the Oakland Estuary, albeit way underneath all the water. And it’s outrageously loud in the tube due to the cavernous echoing of all the car and bus engines. And your eyes are peeled on the tight path that you are navigating, as one small slip-up could potentially cast you over the guardrail. So your senses are overloaded, and you are on the verge of freaking out, or screaming, or crying, or dying, or possibly some combination thereof. But you keep on going — not because you are brave or courageous (which I suppose are pretty much the same thing) — but because there is no other way to west Alameda. And that’s where you need to go!

But then lo and behold, you see someone approaching you from the other direction. You have to get off your bike, and they need to do the same, because the path is so narrow. And you’d think this would be a huge inconvenience, having lost all the momentum you had built up. But strangely it’s not. And as you squeeze past one another, the two of you make eye contact and smile — not the fake sorts of smiles that accompany the exchange of everyday pleasantries, but rather the genuine knowing smiles of people who share the same intense and potentially traumatic experience. And in that brief moment, the two of you make a profound human connection unlike anything you’ve felt before. Because only a moment ago, you were both completely alone in a dark tunnel, freaking out, and afraid of dying. But now you both realize that you’re not really alone after all. And it’s beautiful. But it’s also a little sad that you had to experience all that fear and loneliness in the first place.

So that’s what being queer is like. At least in my estimation.

Now queer communities are an entirely different thing. That would be like if you decided to round up all of the people who have ever bicycled through the Posey Tube and put them all in the same room together. At first, you would all bond over your shared experiences traversing and surviving the tunnel. There would be expressions of Posey Tube Pride abound, and it would no doubt be a wonderful affair. But fairly shortly after that, you would all start to realize that you have nothing in common with one another aside from this one thing. After all, you each come from different backgrounds and have different personal and political views. Not to mention different bicycles!

And factions would no doubt develop, for instance, between people who have bicycled through the tube in differing directions. Because let’s face it, while the mainstream majority doesn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would ride their bike through the Posey Tube, it is easier for them to accept people who desire to go to downtown Oakland than those who desire to go to west Alameda. Because why would you want to go to west Alameda?!

And people who cross the tube every day on their way to work would start to look down on the people who have only done it sporadically for occasional visits, or the people who used to do it all the time but no longer do so because they have since switched jobs or moved elsewhere. And of course, the former group would probably call these latter groups something demeaning yet pithy, like “Posers,” in order to invalidate their experiences. Even though they did have those experiences — those special moments of fear and recognition and intimacy amidst that precarious cacophonous tunnel.

A video of me reading this entire chapter (including what comes after this excerpt) can be found here. You can also read the book chapter that follows this one (Ethical Slut vs. Confused Slut), plus another another 99 Erics excerpt (Banana Slug of a Different Color), right here on Medium!

writes about gender, sexuality, social justice, & science. author of Whipping Girl, Excluded, Outspoken, & the unusually queer novel 99 Erics. juliaserano.com

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