LGBT+ identity is not a fashion statement
But equally, my hair is none of your fucking business
Back in Easter, I snagged a VIP ticket to Birmingham’s Pride weekend.
I had a whale of a time. Partly because I was happy-drunk on criminally expensive Rekordelig (the nearby Tesco’s hid all their booze before the festival set in, dammit) but partly because the festival itself is awe-inspiringly colourful and full of happy and expressive people.
From drag queens in implausible heels, to young couples with matching bracelets, to the 60-year-old hippie at her 20th Pride; it’s a communal celebration of what we have been through and what we have created, and it’s bright, colourful, and very, very visible.
LGBT+ people are no strangers to being visible – we’ve had the spotlights and searchlights on us for decades. This can be great; significant minority groups need proportional representation in media, and rainbow earrings are fun. LGBT+ identity is unusual enough – literally, ‘queer’ enough – to carry cultural visibility with it, which is often backed up by our aesthetics and the way we express ourselves.
While this is great (*Charles Wright’s ‘Express Yourself’ croons from hidden speakers*) the repercussions of our identity being attention-grabbing can be pretty serious.
Too many people treat our identities like the clothing we wear; something we ‘put on’ and can ‘take off’. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely heard murmurings to the extent of ‘you know, he can’t help that he’s gay, but does he have to be so flamboyant?’, i.e. ‘expressing yourself in a way relevant to your sexuality is a calculated choice to draw attention to yourself.’
And it’s possible that a small minority of the LGBT+ population does use it that way, but guess what? We are allowed to let our various labels (or just our identities, if labels aren’t your thing; just like the itchy tags at the back of shirt collars, labels can be a constant irritation) dictate our lives to exactly the degree we bloody well want, and for a lot of us, being LGBT+ does not just mean switching to Grindr and buying a token rainbow mug.
You’re LGBT+ and don’t give a shit and it doesn’t affect your identity at all? Great! Absolutely fine! You’re LGBT+ and centralise a lot of your social activities around LGBT+ groups, dye your hair crazy colours, have a proclivity for genderbending clothing and glitter? Great! Absolutely fine!
Why? Because how I dress is none of your business. Maybe I just like flannel shirts. Maybe I am wearing this flannel shirt with the express knowledge that it’s associated with a ‘lesbian’ aesthetic, but that feels closer to how I’m identifying today, and I like how I look to be concurrent with my mindset. Just like how you might wear your favourite band T-shirt if you’re happy, or wear a shirt saying ‘Sarcasm Loading: 90%’ if you’re mildly unoriginal.
How we act and our personal style is a perfectly normal way of expressing gender, so it’s natural that we’d use it to express LGBT+ identities, since they’re often very tied up in gender/experimenting with gender roles. Equally, if we don’t express ourselves that way, that doesn’t mean our identities don’t exist. The most visible LGBT+ groups in Cambridge are the literally most visible ones, with all the accompanying glitter, and that can be a problem when people who haven’t / don’t want to come out, can’t be too public with their identity for various reasons, or who just don’t link their identity to their behaviour, want to get involved in Cambridge’s LGBT+ scene.
I’m not saying anyone’s unwelcoming there to people without candy-coloured hair or piercings/tattoos, but let’s face it, not everyone’s going to be comfortable in Glitterbomb. It’s got a big drag presence, workers wearing inventive mesh creations, a dancefloor that somewhat resembles a meat-market (I’m not complaining, I’ve participated several times, but being sized up like a pork tenderloin is not everyone’s favourite Tuesday night) – it requires a certain type of identity and self-expression that does not gel with a lot of people’s identity and self-expression in the LGBT+ community. We need to work on that, since Glitterbomb is the token regular LGBT+ event in Cambridge. But I digress.
I’m sick of all of it; my bisexuality is not a fashion statement, I do not talk about it to say ‘look at meeee I’m unusual and in vogue’. (Definition of unwanted attention: be female, make out with a girl on the Cindies dancefloor. About 10 guys will surround you whooping and making entirely superfluous commentary). I talk about it when it’s relevant to the discussion and to how I perceive life, and because I want it to be normalised and for people to be able to ask questions about it, because Learning is Fun. Also, talking about it means I get to work out who’s biphobic pretty quickly, and Dickhead Detection is my favourite pastime.
I can’t speak for all identities, obviously, but a problem bisexuals get is a problem other queer people get in spades – we either ‘don’t look it’, or we ‘look it’ to an extent that we’re ‘stereotyping ourselves.’ I am exactly the same level of bisexual when I put the technicolour eyeshadow on, when I take it off, when I’m single, when I’m in a straight-presenting relationship, when I’m in the Glitterbomb queue preparing to sacrifice £6 and my self-esteem.
I’m sick of our happiness being politicised, and I’m sick of people being viewed as cardboard cutouts because they like a certain aesthetic.
We’re people. Stop turning us into metaphors.