Who is oppressed enough to be "queer enough"?
While the power of queerness rests in its potential inclusivity and tremendous fluidity as an expansive term that may function to encapsulate the experiences of people who are not cisgender and/or not heterosexual, there remains much debate regarding who actually "deserves" access to queerness within some queer circles, especially online. These discussions operate through gatekeeping queerness, or the process of denying certain groups access to claiming queerness based on arbitrary distinctions. Gatekeeping functions as a constricting and silencing force to certain groups that may be perceived as on the "fringes" of queerness, such as people under the ace and bisexual umbrellas. Some have defined queerness using these limiting frameworks through a reliance on ideas of perceived oppression with the goal of excluding groups that they perceive to not be as oppressed as those who they would definitively define as queer. In essence, gatekeeping, as an exclusionary practice, seeks to omit groups who they determine to not be "queer enough" to be accepted through using oppression as a qualifier or prerequisite for queerness. This short article seeks to explore exclusionary understandings of queerness through questioning and challenging the utilization of oppression as a qualifier for queerness, especially in respect to people under the ace and bisexual umbrellas, and positing questions that seek to further the discussion of the connections between queerness and oppression.
"Queer enough" is now a notable phrase in some queer social media circles, often stemming from feelings of self-inferiority or incompleteness regarding one's own queerness, being especially prevalent for asexual/ace and bisexual people, as well as many others who frequently feel excluded from queer spaces. Exemplifying this, at least in regards to ace people, is a 2014 poll in which over ten-thousand asexual/ace people were asked a series of questions on various topics, including many regarding their own identity as well as its relationship to their own understandings of queerness and the LGBTQ+ community overall. In response to a question phrased "Do you feel welcome in the Queer/LGBTQ+ Community?" only 11.5% explicitly said yes, in an unconditional respect, with the majority being unsure, showing feelings of exclusion based on their ace identity. Asexual people are also be subject to sexual violence and "corrective" rape as well as heightened rates of suicide, with a 2014 study of queer people overall showing that 46% of asexual people (included in the study) had attempted suicide. Bisexual people have faced similar feelings of exclusion from queer/LGBTQ+ spaces and their daunting implications. Beth Sherouse, a bisexual woman, described bisexual erasure and its consequences profoundly in a recent article featured in The Huffington Post entitled "Dear Lesbians And Gays — I’m Bisexual And You Treated Me Like Crap: I’m done with you," in which Sherouse powerfully states "you have shown me time and again that you are not here for me or my community" in response to the erasure she has felt as a bisexual woman, particularly in spaces dominated by the presence of lesbian and gay people. Sherouse further highlights the damaging realities of exclusion by emphasizing disparities in health that bisexual people face as well as heightened rates of suicide and experiences of "corrective" rape and sexual assault, stating in regards to the latter, that 61% of bisexual women "will be raped, beaten or stalked by our intimate partners."
And yet, despite these dangerous and daunting realities, erasing the realities of asexual/ace and bisexual people through gatekeeping and exclusion frequently rests on flawed assumptions that these groups do not experience oppression comparable to groups that definitively consider themselves queer. Of course, the practice of attempting to compare the oppression of various groups is flawed in itself, as the multiplicity of queer experiences means that everyone is going to endure oppression, marginalization, and other forms of invalidation and/or denial differently. Still, to many who uphold these arbitrary distinctions, is it true that oppression must be present as a qualification prior to the existence of queerness? Well, for those who detest the inclusion of asexuality and/or bisexuality from inclusion, the answer would be yes. And so, to them, oppression has become incredibly central in their considerations of whether someone is to be considered queer or not. Is one only queer if they are also oppressed? Who is oppressed enough to be queer enough? And where does the slippery slope end or begin? And, for that matter, who actually has the power and agency to make these utterly critical determinations? Should they have that power? While some or all of these questions must be explored in-depth in separate or perhaps intersecting manners, their basic presence may or should destabilize or, at least, question the damaging practice of gatekeeping queerness. As long as gatekeeping and exclusion remain prevalent for people under the ace and bisexual umbrellas, among others, the potential power of queerness, resting in its inclusivity and fluidity, will never be realized.