The use of queer (rather than lesbian and gay, or LGBT+) as the conceptual alternative to normative sexuality can facilitate a sort of unity of purpose in resisting the hegemony of normative sexuality. Gayle Rubin’s “charmed inner circle” suggests that the contrast between normative and “deviant” sexuality is often based on criteria other than just the sex of the partners that people prefer. In addition to the contrast between heterosexual and homosexual partnering, Rubin also acknowledges a contrast between sexual activity with a partner and sexual activity with oneself, between sexual activity with a single partner and sexual activity with multiple partners, between sexual activity as an expression of love and sexual activity in exchange for money, between sexual activity with bodies only and sexual activity aided by props, and so forth. Rubin represents this as a circle divided into multiple wedges, with each wedge representing various dimensions of sexual expression. The normative forms of expression occupy the innermost portion of the corresponding wedge, and the deviant forms are on the outer margin of the circle. Rubin included many other wedges, and could have included even more.
There is no limit to the number of different dimensions of sexuality about which there are, or even could be, distinctions regarding what is appropriate, acceptable, or normal, and what is inappropriate, unacceptable, or deviant. Rubin’s circle can be thought of as an infinitely divisible pie. Divided into enough slices, it is hard to imagine that there is anyone whose sexuality would not be situated on the crusty outer edge of at least some of those slices. Crusty is deviant. Edgy is queer.
In this sense, everyone is at least a little queer, even those who are further from the edgy crust and closer to the gooey center on that one slice of the sex pie that represents the contrast between heterosexual and homosexual pairing. To recast the oppression of lesbians and gays, or of LGBT+ communities, as attacks on sexual expression that occupies or approaches the crusty edge in any way at all is to recast all manner of sexual deviance as the target of that oppression, thereby transforming mere allies into stakeholders in their own right.
The point of this conceptual shift is not to deny that those who are queer in virtue of having same-sex inclinations often suffer greater oppression than those who are queer in virtue, for example, of having kinky inclinations.
Underpaid workers can agree that some positions are paid even more poorly than others without thereby denying that the low wages of those who are paid less poorly than others are a problem nonetheless. Moreover, they can use the recognition that, for instance, neither $9 nor $12 is a sufficient hourly wage as the basis for gaining the support of the less-underpaid $12 workers in seeking a wage increase that will offer a greater benefit to the more-underpaid $9 workers.
The point of this conceptual shift is likewise not to suggest that everyone will, or even should, begin identifying as queer in all situations. First, those who are vehemently opposed to LGBT+ people and communities are unlikely to acknowledge whatever forms of deviance they inevitably exhibit, particularly if they feel ashamed and their shame is what leads to the harsh indictment of other forms of deviance. The point of the conceptual shift is to trade the often fleeting concern displayed by mere allies for a deep and lasting solidarity with LGBT+ communities. The concept of straight allies inadvertently drives a wedge between allies and the communities they aim to support by reinforcing the distinction between those inside and outside the deviant category (and often asserting their own position outside of it). Queer identity, however, applies to so many people that it ultimately disempowers the normative category by revealing it to apply to only a small minority, if it applies to anyone at all.
This is an extract from the section “Queer Solidarity” in the second edition of Feminism is Queer, by Mimi Marinucci.