‘Being Queer’ vs. ‘Doing Queer’

In my previous post , in which I attempted a clear and accessible definition of ‘queer,’ I noted that:

“Some people argue that people who are basically heterosexual can indeed identify as ‘queer.’ For example, if you subvert our strong cultural associations with straight sexuality – by having same-sex fantasies, engaging in anal penetration as a straight man, or by being straight but not having relationships at all, for some examples – then you could argue you are ‘queer.’ However, other people say that this is an example of straight people appropriating a word or idea which has nothing much to do with them.”

This weekend, I went to a talk about gay/queer identity, part of the Science of Sex programme hosted by Brighton Science Festival. The speaker, Charlie Bauer, defined ‘queer’ as anything outside of that core nexus of identities that constitutes ‘the norm’: white, male, middle-class, able-bodied, cisgender, straight etc.

This provoked mixed reactions from the friends I was with, some of whom would feel uncomfortable if a straight guy identified as ‘queer’ because he was subverting some other norm, for example, by being voluntarily celibate (which we don’t expect men to be) or happy and fat (which we don’t expect overweight people to be.

I think in light of this understandable discomfort, there’s an important nuance to be teased out between ‘being queer’ and ‘doing queer.’ There are some people who I consider to be ‘queering’ something, whilst not identifying as queer. If you’re queering something, you’re challenging a binary, questioning a norm, or rejecting an expectation. My northern, male, broad, rugby-playing partner is queering certain norms by being a vegan and proudly identifying as feminist. But he wouldn’t identify as queer.

Identifying as queer is heavily caught up with
sexuality and gender, after all, and my partner is cis and straight. But what about straight men who like anal sex, fantasise about same-sex encounters, and like to wear women’s underwear in bed? Are they queer, or are they queering aspects of their identities?

The obvious answer is: it depends how they feel! Allowing people to self-identify is an integral part of repecting people’s sexualities and their experiences, so if those men say they’re queer, I’m down with that. I know, however, there would be a point where I’d think, “This straight, cis person is appropriating a label that doesn’t belong to them.” So how do we respect self-identification whilst being free to criticise appropriation?

I have no clear answer to this (maybe you can all help me out in the comments.) Do you feel queer, or do you queer aspects of your identity? How do heterosexual people saying they are queer make you feel?