Thriving Outside of The Norm
Defining the word "queer"
First off, let’s define queer. Right off the bat, to me, queer signifies difference. A difference or way of being that resists societal standards of hegemonic heteronormativity. Yes, pretentious, yucky words. Let’s break it down.
Hegemonic, simply means the current societal standard. One, that is most often represented as the “right” way of being, and thus a way of being we are subconsciously trained to believe we must strive to achieve. Hegemony is defined by the dominant group—those in power.
While, heteronormativity describes our culture’s impulse to push heterosexuality down everyone’s throats. Heteronormativity is the assumption that to be straight is to be normal, or even still, that to be straight is preferred. Under heteronormative standards, those who are not straight are seen as deviant.
So, these terms put together then, imply that straightness is being upheld as the norm (the hegemony), and that those who aren’t straight are deviant. As with any dominant group, there must be a minority in order for the dominant group to define itself and source its power.
Now, let’s swing it all back around. In a society that places heteronormativity as the hegemony, to be queer is to operate outside of these societal norms and practices.
them., a community platform that reports on news, politics, and culture through the perspective of today’s LGBTQ community, asked nine LGBTQ+ people what the word queer means to them.
Jason Orne, an assistant professor of Sociology at Drexel University and author of Boyston: Sex and Community in Chicago offered a very interesting perspective. Stating that some activists try to define queer in a confining way, one that they believe to be “right,” or what we might call a stereotype of what they believe queer to be. He calls this “‘queernormativity.’” Orne goes on to say “Like heteronormativity, they identify a ‘right’ way to be queer and argue that everyone else is doing queerness incorrectly.”
Steven “Z” Patton, a community activist and public speaker, describes how the abstractness of the word “queer” provides a world of possibilities for those who exist outside of “societal mandates.”
That’s exactly where blackness comes in, or more specifically the queering of blackness.
I’ve written in a previous post how injuries of inequality facilitate the creation of new worlds for black people.
However, digging a little deeper here, the need for new worlds to be created is systematically by design. In a post-slavery world, black people still exist outside of the system. In no way, in American culture, are black people centered as normal, or the ideal (the hegemony).
And, for this reason, black bodies, lives, experiences, and culture are deviant, but also queered.
Within the assumed non-value of black people, black bodies are written out of societal narratives, and must create new worlds in which they are included. It is this departure from hegemonic standards where queer black worlds emerge.
Queering Blackness: State Violence and Resistance
Dr. Jeffrey Q. McCune, an associate professor of Women Gender, Sexuality Studies and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, has written on issues regarding masculinity, especially black masculinity, as well as queer studies, and more.
Dr. McCune writes on the queering of blackness in his piece The Queerness of Blackness.
Here, he posits the idea that black people are queered in the way they are made vulnerable by the state.
His piece focuses on the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri, and the communal response that grew to a nationwide protest.
McCune analyzes the way that Wilson describes Brown in court, recalling Wilson describing Brown as a “demon” and like “Hulk Hogan.” McCune picks up on the racialized tone of these words. As McCune describes, Wilson draws on animalistic depictions of black men so as to characterize them as “dangerous,” “uncivilized,” and “something to fear.”
McCune goes on to say that,
It is in the otherizing of Michael Brown that McCune cites queerness as being evoked. The racist, social scripts too available for Wilson to call upon provide evidence of the perceived deviancy in black bodies.
Yet the communal response—the Black Lives Matter movement, scholarship, and other activism—represent the queer response to create new worlds in which black people can thrive. As McCune writes, it represents a communal determination of “reshaping…the dark American landscape.”