My friendships have always been very queer.
I wrote this one sentence like two months ago and then just left it in drafts. It is very hard to pinpoint but I’ve always had queerness in my friendships in one way or another.
I told my friend Emily and her wife that I was taking a queer memoir class and started going on about what queerness is or isn’t in terms of writing, and that my book was very queer, and that Aikido is queer in some ways as well (as my friend Paige Schilt pointed out after reading about it), and that I didn’t realize when I was writing it that it was queer.
Emily’s wife said, “Well, isn’t it queer because…you wrote it?”
It’s a fair question. And I don’t really know. I guess so. I know that’s not too satisfying.
Many people think of queerness as a refusal of the binary, this is actually a cornerstone of our culture, we are always digesting what is handed to us as queer people from our heteronormative “just choose for god’s sake” culture and responding with some degree of protest. Most queer people have at one point Bartleby’d the hetero expectations in one way or another.
In some ways, my queer friendships have been more meaningful than some of my romantic relationships. More than any other relationships, my queer relationships have investigated the notion of attachment in ways that were very profound. Because most of us have some kind of attachment pattern, generally from our family of origin, I’ll go ahead and tip my hand and say that my attachment style has historically been anxious/preoccupied.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I guess take a quiz. There are tons of them online, but I liked the one in Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. But I get it, not everyone is insane as me and reading about attachment all the livelong day, which, as it turns out, is a marker of my particular attachment style.
Queer friendships are a very rich territory not only for exploring attachment and reenactments from one’s family of origin, they can also be healing in ways that other friendships are not. I guess I need to consider what a queer friendship is. Perhaps in the spirit of Emily’s wife’s question, would it be a queer friendship because I’m in it?
No. This is my instinct to just say no, it’s not. I am thinking particularly of that element of longing that is part of attachment and how the dynamic exists in the relationship, and that is what feels most queer to me.
Queer adolescence and childhood is where longing lives.
It’s quiet and hidden because there is an intuition almost out of the gate that it’s a not-okay, not-belonging. I’m not talking just about our crushes (although those carry a particular type of pain), I’m talking about intimacy. The boundaries of our culture prevent meaningful intimacy for queer people, and although it is not healthy for non-queer people either, it carries a particular pain for queer folks.
Fred Rogers said once, “I think that those who would make you feel less than who you are, I think that’s the greatest evil.” And many times, the ones who are making this happen are unconscious of what they are doing, even if their conscience feels an inkling of it, it is almost immediately denied.
We’ve all had that friend, right? We have friends that are supportive of growth and change and then we have that one friend, the one we are inexplicably most interested in, who says, “Don’t change.” But that’s a kind of silencing and erasure, and for queer kids growing up, it is built in to the culture.
In high school, my first girlfriend came out to her best friend, and her friend said, “No. Don’t be gay. We can’t be friends if you’re gay.” It sounds harsh and terrible but it wasn’t that different than all of the messages we had received up until that point. All the books, all the movies, all the visible relationships we had by mature adults in our lives, said the exact same thing. This creates a sense of longing connected to our moral center that often goes unrealized for years.
Perhaps it has changed now, but judging by the elementary school experience for my children (who have told me themselves they are straight, which I’m taking at face value), it hasn’t changed enough to eradicate the sense of longing and less-than in queer youth. This makes queer kids extremely susceptible to “centering the other” in order to survive. Think of how powerful peer relationships are in adolescence. They trump nearly everything else.
When I was 15 my dad bought me a car. I was not allowed to drive it yet, but it was in the driveway. I had taken lessons. I knew how to drive. I started stealing the car in the middle of the night and heading down to Capitol Hill to be with queer people. The drive, so to speak, was that strong. My dad figured out what I was doing and said, “If you hit someone, we would lose everything we have, do you realize that?” But I still did it, over and over. I remember feeling at the time that nothing would be able to stop me, even though it was wrong and extremely risky.
Luckily nothing ever happened.
My friendships with girls were queer, and my friendships with boys were queer. It mattered not if I had a crush on them, or if they were queer as well, although truthfully I had crushes on most of my friends in one way or another. I wanted to sleep in bed with them, I wanted to eat meals with them, I wanted to read things they were reading, I wanted to be a couple with each and every one of them. This was not necessarily a sexual thing, although sometimes it was.
There are plenty of people who know how to play with this kind of energy simply so they can observe you wanting more of them. In her book, All About Love, bell hooks calls them “intimacy terrorists.” They know exactly how much to withhold, how to hook you again, and exactly how much rejection you can take. I used to be extremely susceptible to people with this psychology and I’m actually really grateful for that. It taught me a lot about differentiation as a path to healing.
In the past several years, I’ve developed existing relationships and have also started several new friendships that didn’t always work out. Eileen Myles said something along the lines of on a podcast I can’t quite recall: “You know, people come along, they show you something, and then they leave. The people I talk to in my head are always changing.” At this point in my life, some people whom I may have engaged in this dance with can recognize a kind of susceptibility, based on my queerness, whether they know it or not, and they sometimes make an effort to engage with it. But there’s no return energy, so they lose interest quickly. I might feel a bit of electricity but I actually couldn’t play even if I wanted to. I have healed that part of myself, so it’s just an old wound. Queerness is something I bring to my relationships in a more whole-hearted way. If you’re my friend, I might be a little bit in love with you, but I am okay with that. It’s not something to be played with and it’s actually not up for grabs anyway. It’s just a part of who I am, and the people I love now actually love that about me. It just is.