The History, Necessity, and Challenges of Queer Culture
LGBTQIAP+. That’s the new version of “LGBTQIA”, which is what we used to call “LGBT”, which was updated from the old umbrella term of “gay”. And no, I don’t know what it all stands for, neither do most. But these changes to the acronym are to make sure no one in the community is left out. Each adaptation has made sure to encompass more of the gender and sexuality spectrum as the research into these areas catch up with the reality of the human experience of sexuality and gender identity. So how did we get from “gay” to “LGBTQIAP+”? and what happens when someone feels like they don’t belong in this community? And if someone doesn’t belong, are they missing out?
Thanks to our ancestors’ passionate refusal to remain in the shadows, society has begun to become more receptive and open to people on the spectrum of sexuality that don’t identify as 100% heterosexual. Shows such as Modern Family, Will & Grace and RuPaul’s Drag Race have pushed gay culture (and I use that term because it is almost exclusively gay male culture) into the mainstream while other shows like Transparent, Orange is the New Black, Doctor Who, and The L Word have introduced us to other parts of LGBTQIAP+ culture. But it was only in the recent past that gay culture was looked down upon and all other aspects of LGBTQIAP+ culture were almost completely invisible.
In many people’s memories, being gay was illegal and a little further back than that, it would get you killed, either by the law or with mob justice. To remind you just how recent this kind of history is and how recently accepted homophobia is, think about that older person you know who’s just a little bit homophobic. We all know one. For me, that’s my Nonna; just like I’m somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of sexuality, she’s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of homophobia. My Nonna is 84 and has held these beliefs for her entire life. In her lifetime, it was perfectly acceptable to jail someone for the act of sodomy making love. In fact, sexual acts between two males in Tasmania was only decriminalized in 1997. Now, for some of you youngsters, that may seem like a long time ago, but for some of us, 1997 JUST HAPPENED. The effects of these kinds of laws still being in effect at such a time, along with public attitudes towards homosexuality meant that public attacks, humiliation, shame and being shunned from family and social circles was a reality. In fact, for some people, these things are still a reality. Here in South Australia, the gay panic defense is still part of the law. This is the legitimate excuse for killing a homosexual if you believe them to have been making unwanted sexual advances towards you. The defense states that this causes a temporary state of insanity where you can justifiably assault or murder a homosexual human being. The state government says this law will be repealed in 2020, but shouldn’t it have been repealed decades ago? So how far have we really come when same-sex couples can get married but can also be killed under the gay panic defense?
From events like these rose the necessity for LGBTQIAP+ culture, which will, from now, be referred to as “queer culture” in an attempt to encompass all those who fall under the LGBTQIAP+ umbrella. Queer people had to evade not only the law, but anyone who didn’t identify as part of their community in order to protect themselves. Queer culture was born out of a necessity to survive in a heteronormative-dominated world. In 19th Century UK, gay men invented their own language called Polari. Versions of this language were used by sailors, thieves and prostitutes, so they could talk about sex and their lives in public without being caught.
In the 70s, they created the handkerchief code, also known as the hanky code, flagging, or the bandana code. This code saw coloured bandanas placed into the back pocket, partly showing. Each colour, and depending in which pocket it was placed, signaled a particular sexual action that man was looking for and what role within that act he wanted to take. This language created a community who understood each other, while excluding those who threatened that community. While it may not have a fully-fledged language any longer, there are certain terms and places that still rely on queer culture.
Queer culture has come so far and for many, it’s still a necessity. Everyone grows up inducted into heterosexual culture but very few grow up understanding queer culture. Finally, when someone is able to control what they watch on TV over when they reach eighteen (in Australia at least), they’re able to set out on their own to find people like themselves. For most, this takes place within a gay club. It is a rite of passage, a safe space for all sorts of queer people to express themselves, to drink, dance, socialize, and hook up, without fear of prejudice or violence. Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re death-dropping at exactly the right moment in a song to remember that this freedom came out of so much sacrifice. But we have to remember that sacrifice and solidarity and community in order to accept one another. The community is important for so many people who feel they don’t fit into the dominant heterosexual culture, but what happens to those who don’t fit in? The women who don’t want to move in to your house a week after dating and purchase a Subaru. The men who don’t think drag queens are legitimate celebrities and that Beyonce’s face should be printed on our money and our currency converted from “dollars” to “Knowles”?
Queer culture is just a starting point; a ready-made community you may wish to try to fit into. Some people, after experiencing queer culture, don’t identify with it. They see it as an illusion of an accepting community; of people who think a shared sexual orientation or gender identity outside the heteronormative acceptability to be enough for the basis of a friendship. For those people, it’s often a sign to move on and find people they really connect with on other levels.
Therefore, it’s important to be accepting within the community because of the history and those who’ve come before us, but it’s also important to find people you have more substantial things in common with. After all, our ancestors didn’t fight just so we could segregate ourselves within our own community. They fought for acceptance and integration into mainstream society.
So whether you’re involved in queer culture or you don’t see a place for you there, that’s okay. It’s important to remember that your sexuality identity and/or gender identity does not define you, nor does it limit you. We must accept each other and understand how important community is—but remember, it doesn’t have to be this community where you find your place.