I am not alphabet soup

“That’s just Identity politics” is a card pulled, almost inevitably, by people with power in a particular context who don’t want to share.  It is dismissive and often used to shut down complexity, implying that the person raising the original issue is reducing progressive political struggles to “this is what I want to focus on”.

I’ll be honest, whenever I see it being used to shut down debate, I perk up, knowing I’m getting to see who sets the agenda in that group.

It’s no secret the queer community has issues around power and representation.  Even the term “queer” is contested.  In the early 1990s, I attended a Wellington City Council meeting, with another member of the Bisexual Women’s Group, to ask that bisexual people’s experiences be included in the drafting of anti-discrimination policy.  We said we’d be happy to work with the just formed lesbian and gay group; or happy to draft our own, but believed there were many areas of common discrimination based on “shared experiences of being queer.”  The lesbian representative got to her feet and said “That’s the problem – we are not queer.”

We wrote our own policy.

So in a way, the fact that Out in the Square – the “annual Wellington event that’s been running for more 25 years for queer people, family and friends” is having a public discussion about why the tagline continues to call it “Wellington’s Gay and Lesbian Fair” is just business as usual.  If an event is supposed to be for all queer identified people, is it really ok to reduce it down to just gay men and lesbians?

Unsuprisingly, this bisexual woman thinks not.  Leaving out trans folk, intersex people, bisexual people, genderqueer people, to borrow another overused dismissive tool, is so 1980s.  Especially when there are so many beautiful alternative and inclusive options to choose from.

The public discussion is essentially some people asking how this tagline can change to be more inclusive, and one commenter, who it seems is an ex-chair of the Out in the Square board, repeatedly dismissing the need for change.  He says:

GLBT-WXYZ I think covers everything with a bit of humour. Sheesh, where does it end? It can never end if you try and include everyone…..

This debate has gone on for many years, especially in terms of the fair. Do you think it hasn’t been discussed at length?….

GLBT-WXYZ is meant to be facetious because it really is becoming a joke how this whole queer umbrella/alphabet soup thing is going. We are aiming to include everyone while excluding ourselves at the same time. Identity politics is so boring and tedious.

I have been going to this fair for years.  So have lots of my queer friends who don’t identify as lesbian or gay.  We hold stalls, speak, sing, provide entertainment, distribute information, feel safe for the day kissing our lovers in Civic Square, enjoy looking at other gorgeous queer people in the sun.  Just like all the other queer people there.  The tagline should reflect who our community includes, and it shouldn’t provoke such a terrified reaction when we ask that the name not explicitly exclude us.

The luxury of dismissing everyone who isn’t you as “joke identity politics” is only possible if you think you get to decide who belongs.  It’s shameful, bigoted and ignorant.  It reduces people other than yourself to annoying, nagging voices that do not need to be heeded.

So it’s good to see Out in the Square are promising to hold a vote on the tagline at the event itself.  It’s a sign of some kind of movement.  But will it be enough?  The power of naming always belongs to those with most power.  “Holding a vote” assumes we all come from the same power base.  On this issue, within the queer community, we don’t.

So my challenge to Out in the Square – ask the groups not currently included in the name.  Like Agender and Tranzform, the Intersex Trust and the Bisexual Women’s Group.  Deliberately canvas all the queer youth groups – Rainbow Youth, School’s Out, UniQ – all of whom take a very inclusive approach to naming, to make sure everyone they are working with is welcome.

Then hold a vote based on the options those groups offer.  Off the top of my head, I’ll be campaigning for “Our Queer Fair,” though if I can find some punning brilliance between now and January 19th, who knows?


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