I know they’re vocal, I know they’re angry, and I believe they’re a minority, though I can’t say how large or small.
They are the men who consistently challenge the word “queer” on our website, dailyxtra.com, and who often anger other readers with their vehement resistance.
They might easily be written off as cranky old men, as dinosaurs left behind by the evolution of our own community. But when did we decide to leave some of our own members behind, particularly the ones who feel abandoned?
About the same time that I noticed the recurring thread of discontent in the comments section of our website, Reg Manning began questioning Pride here, albeit less toxically. He may be a cranky old drag queen, but the Manning I finally met in person May 25 was completely willing to sacrifice a Sunday afternoon to take part in a warm and open discussion of our community’s differences, the words we use to identify ourselves, and why they matter.
The afternoon’s energy took me by surprise. When Xtra columnist Kevin Dale McKeown and I invited about 20 friends and strangers to contemplate community and listen to each other’s perspectives, I didn’t have the highest hopes. Having witnessed (and moderated) the vitriol online, I expected something less than a friendly and supportive discussion. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I didn’t initially put much stock in Chief Al Houston’s welcome. It’s nice to see a community that still cares enough to get together and talk, he said. In his culture, friendship is founded on discussion, on hearing each other with open hearts and open minds and welcoming each other’s words “with a warm embrace.”
Partway through the afternoon’s discussion, his words took on new meaning. As the members of each table shared their findings and others listened attentively, then added their own views, a new understanding began to grow. More than an understanding — a willingness to understand each other; a desire, even.
As participant Jen Sung observed, our community is quick to call each other out in anger, and possibly in fear. But this gathering felt more like calling each other in.
We didn’t come to a startling conclusion about what to call ourselves or our community. We didn’t erase the generational and cultural gaps that are perhaps inevitably emerging as our movement evolves. But we truly listened to each other and emerged, I think, with new appreciation for each other’s perspectives.
I don’t have a deep commitment to any particular term myself. I used “queer” as a baby dyke in the late 1990s, then shifted to “gay” when I joined Xtra in 2001, then warily tried on “bi” a few years ago when my life took an unexpected but equally beautiful swerve. Regardless, I don’t have a visceral opposition to “queer.” But some members of our community do.
“Are they feeling left out?” Paul Therien wondered with me after the discussion dispersed. “Or are they refusing to engage with change?”
Either way, he said, the question should be “Why don’t they like ‘queer’?” Their views are worth hearing, as are the views of those who embrace it. The younger generation may lack life experience, he said, but their views are no less valid.
No matter what term or terms we ultimately embrace as a community, I think a real discussion — where we stop dismissing each other and instead dare to listen — is overdue.
I hope you’ll join me June 18 for Xtra’s town hall on the words we use as a community and why they matter. I look forward to seeing you, and hearing your views, there.
Who’s Queer Now?
An Xtra town hall on identity, Wed, June 18, 6:30–8pm, Fountainhead Pub, 1025 Davie St.
Can’t join us in person? The town hall will also be simultaneously streamed live on dailyxtra.com from 6:30–8pm PST so viewers can watch and participate in real time, no matter where they are.
But you don’t have to wait until June 18. Start tweeting us now @dailyxtra or post a comment below to tell us what words you use and why. #xtraqueer