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Queerer than thou

Amy Leibowitz awareness culture family issues life

Last week, I came across this info graphic posted by Robyn Ochs. Now, I should preface this by saying she is a thoughtful, genuine person with a passion for bisexual activism. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her, and she is truly kind. I’m grateful for her definition of bisexuality, especially because it knocks down a lot of the “bi vs. pan” debating (usually instigated and carried out by people who are neither bi nor pan).

That said, this particular quote really stuck in my craw.

Image description: A photo of two Black men and a young Black boy in a kitchen. White text on a gold background that reads:

“For queer spawn - kids who grew up with LGBTQ+ parents - queer culture is their native culture.

They’re not visitors.

In many respects, they’re queerer than those of us who grew up with straight parents and immigrated to the community as adults.

Queer spawn, no matter how they identify, are part of us."

There is so much to unpack here. I’ll start with the nit-picky detail “queer spawn.” It’s not a term I like. This is not Minecraft; my children are people, not “spawn.” I think the only term I like less is “crotch fruit.” I get that the term “gayby” is problematic, since many queer folk do not identify as gay and feel the term is erasure. But seriously, we can do better than “spawn."

The second issue is “their native culture.” Which queer culture are we talking about? Not all aspects are alike, and queer folk are not a monolith. There’s often a lot of side-eying of LGBTQ+ people who don’t participate in certain aspects of whatever some may consider queer culture. Parenting itself is sometimes seen as being not particularly queer. It would help to have the terms defined here.

Third, straight is not the opposite of queer. I know most people mean “allosexual, alloromantic, cisgender, heterosexual” when they say straight. However, language evolves, and straight is simply another term for orientation that may be used by queer folk to describe theirs. In this case, it’s explicitly being used to imply allocishet children of LGBTQ+ people are “queer,” since “non-queer” is really the easiest shorthand for people whose identity isn’t LGBTQ+.

Finally, the big one: “queerer.” There is so much wrong with that statement I’m not sure where to begin. There are exactly zero ways in which allocishet people are ever “queerer” than actual queer people. There aren’t degrees of queerness; it’s a yes/no option. One cannot “immigrate” into an identity, and participation in whatever is meant by “queer culture” doesn’t make anyone queerer than someone else.

Queerer Than Thou has been used endlessly by LGBTQ+ folks to bully and oppress one another for ages. It’s so disappointing to see it reincarnated here. Some people this has been used against:

  • Bisexual people who appear to have cishet relationships
  • Bi folks who are partnered with cishet folks
  • Asexual and aromantic people
  • Trans/nonbinary people for any number of reasons
  • People who came out later in life
  • Bi folk who haven’t dated or had sex with people of the same gender
  • LGBTQ+ people who either do or do not embody certain stereotypes
  • LGBTQ+ people who either do or do not enjoy certain aspects of queer community
  • LGBTQ+ folks with limited access to community

The list goes on. Queer folks are incredibly good at gatekeeping queerness, unfortunately. Even having children is often anathema. (Which I think is part of the point of the graphic, but gatekeeping is not the way to combat exclusion.)

I’ve seen this play out in the queer literature community as well. It astounds me how often allocishet authors are frequently considered “more queer” than actual LGBTQ+ folks simply by virtue of writing about us. And yes, I’ve seen those same people take advantage of this in-road. I’ve seen some go so far as to think they can “educate” newly out folk (or even not-so-newly out folk) on “queer life.”

There are some other issues here, such as what age a person must be in order to have “immigrated” to the community. Eighteen? Twenty-one? It does say adults, and teens (even if they are out) don’t always have access to the community. So are they less culturally queer? Is a “queer spawn” more queer than a kid who came out at age ten?

The graphic misses the mark on things like queer kids of queer parents, who are themselves actually part of the community. Or the children who reject their parents just as strongly as some parents reject their children. I have known a horrifying number of such people.

Lest anyone think I’m making this all about myself, I shared this with my children. These are kids who have grown up in a home with one queer parent and one non-queer parent, and both of them are part of the LGBTQ+ community. I have their permission to explain that my daughter is ace/aro and my son is bisexual.

My daughter was surprised to learn that the graphic was created by a bisexual person. She said, “They do realize allies exist, right? It’s low-key biphobic, especially toward people like our family.” She wanted to know how it’s possible to believe an allocishet child is “more queer” than a trans person who wasn’t able to be out until adulthood.

My son’s facial expression of disgust when reading it spoke volumes. He wasn’t pleased at being called “spawn” (he’s an avid gamer, and it’s a common term there). He felt the graphic ignored the fact that he and his sister are both part of the community as well as having a queer parent.

Do I believe there is something different about queer parenting? Yes, I do. But I don’t believe it’s found in something cultural, and I don’t think it’s something one can inherit passively. There is no such thing as “queer by association.” If there were, then parents and spouses and siblings of queer folk would be included as well.

I understand the sentiment here, that we need to make space for queer families. But that needs to then include those of us whose partners are allocishet. I don’t mean this to extend to queer safe spaces, of course, only when appropriate. After all, there are times and places children aren’t welcome even if they are themselves queer.

Supposedly these kids have “native” queer culture. But where did that culture come from? The many branches of queer culture have been, and continue to be, created by actual queer folks from many walks of life—whether they had queer parents themselves or came out as children or embraced their identity at age eighty. It’s a living, breathing community full of diverse people.

A better way forward is to understand that queerness, and queer culture, are not single entities. They are multifaceted. We can welcome the allocishet children of queer parents without making apples-to-oranges comparisons or implying degrees of queerness.

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