• Nikki Przasnyski

Queer as a Verb: 3 of 52

Occasionally, in the past, I’ve been asked why I identify more as ‘Queer,’ instead of bisexual or pansexual any of those other labels that technically accurately describe me. The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is that ‘Queer’ is a verb.

In college, I learned that to ‘queer a text’ involved interpreting a piece of literature beyond the normal confines of heteronormativity and traditional gender constructs. This could mean digging to the subtext around Holden Caulfield’s sexual identity in Catcher in the Rye, examining the overtly homosexual relationship of Idgie and Ruth in Fried Green Tomatoes, or dissecting how characters like Scout (from To Kill a Mockingbird) or Jo March (from Little Women) subvert their world’s gender expectations. In one particularly memorable presentation in my first Text Analysis class in undergrad, a group of students used clips from Top Gun to demonstrate how ‘traditional’ masculine behaviors, when pushed to their extremes, shift quite easily into the realm of gay camp. I mean. Volleyball scene, anyone?

In addition to queering literature and art, it’s my belief that we can (and should) queer the everyday systems, structures and hierarchies that make up the world that we live in.

One summer when I was about 13 or 14, a repairman came to fix our cable. Since both my parents were working and my brother had moved out the previous summer, it was my job to be home to let the repairman in and help him with anything he needed to find. After he took a look at the cable hookup and the cable boxes, he came to find me and asked,

“Where does your dad keep his tools?”

I suppressed a bit of involuntarily laughter at the idea of my dad using tools. Not that he couldn’t have used tools, mind you, but he was more of an…indoor guy. He was more likely to be inside creating organized lists for some collectible or other. I honestly have no memory of him with so much of a hammer in his hand. My mom, however, was constantly coming up with new projects in the house or the yard, and had a variety of tools that she kept in a messy blue tool box in the back left corner of the garage.

I think I said something along the lines of,

“My dad doesn’t keep his tools anywhere, but my mom keeps hers in the garage.”

I hadn’t even realized that it was a gender expectation for a man to be the ‘toolmaster’ of the house until that comment.

In middle school, if there was a person I liked (read: a boy, since I wasn’t aware of my bisexuality until much later), I asked him out. At one point in middle school a frenemy remarked, “Yeah, we were talking and couldn’t figure out why YOU of all people get all the cute boyfriends.” Simple, asshat, because I showed interest. And luckily I hadn’t yet been scared or shamed out of doing so out of a fear for my lost femininity.

Queer is a verb to me because I don’t just enjoy queering texts, but have always, in small (and admittedly privileged) ways, subverted gender expectations, and have a long history of powerful women and sensitive men in my family who have provided excellent examples of how to do so.

These days, after some rocky starts (continued massive apologies to friends with whom I argued that the singular ‘they’ didn’t make sense- you know who you are), I’m also more familiar with how gender itself is an unnatural binary and a social construct.

I recently married the love of my life, who happens to be a straight cis man. After years in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s still strange to be assumed straight when walking down the street with my partner. I enjoy a crap-load of privilege that just wasn’t there when I walked down the streets with a variety of butch ladies over the course of the last ten years or so. I also get a lot of strange, heteronormative assumptions. A little old lady at a restaurant might be quicker to seat me when I’m with my straight cis partner, but she’s also more likely to address me as “Mrs,” which makes me cringe. It’s a strange new world.

As I navigate my relationship with a cis man, I’m forced to examine and Queer my own limiting gender expectations: when I assume my partner is less sensitive to hurt feelings than I am, or unable to care-take at the level I can. Or, shamefully, when I assume that he can navigate tools and construction tasks easier than I can—alas, I did not inherit my mom’s handiness.

I try to examine my gender expectations when one of my nephews crashes into a table while playing, and my first instinct to tell him how “tough” he is.

I try to navigate my own femininity and masculinity and even as I think those words, it’s like the horizon receding on approach. The ideas become fuzzy and unreal, and I have no idea what they mean. I am incredibly imperfect at all of these things, but I’m committed to working on them.

The system is broken, the limit does not exist, and the future is Queer.

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