Tommy Berne: Get in the Q
While a decision prohibiting a local polyamory group to march in Mardi Gras Parade was eventually overturned, that their exclusion was even considered raises questions about how we view the LGBTIQ community, writes Tommy Berne.
The organisers of the Mardi Gras parade split the parade entrants into two groups. One group is for LGBTIQ people expressing themselves, the other is for groups and organisations that are supporters of the LGBTIQ community. A local Polyamory group made an application for a float entry as an LGBTIQ group that was rejected on the grounds that Polyamory is not part of the LGBTIQ community. Mardi Gras has since retracted this decision and allowed them to run.
Mardi Gras’ initial reluctance to be inclusive of a float organised by a local Polyamorous network highlights a worrying division within our community. The letter ‘Q’ in the LGBTIQ acronym is often seen as an ‘umbrella term’ for the LGBTI and is not assessed on its own merits. It deserves some closer consideration in light of the recent discussion of whether or not to include Polyamory as part of our community.
The term ‘queer’ is one that I struggled with when I first came to university and began to get involved in LGBTIQ politics. It was initially explained to me as being a term ‘reclaiming’ insults that others had used towards this community. The more that I have engaged with queer theory, people and communities, the more I have discovered just how lacking this early description was. Queer is a term that celebrates diversity and is largely defined by what it’s not. It’s not hetero-normative. It’s not patriarchal. It defies attempts at gender normalisation and it often intentionally, or accidentally, allows itself to elude precise definitions. While it certainly is predominately made up of LGBTI people, it needn’t take that as its defining feature. You can be gay and heteronormative, patriarchal and unwilling to challenge the systemic and oppressive systems that serve to reinforce these norms. These are all things that the ‘queer’ identity struggles against.
However, there are a lot of things that it clearly does include. These are people who identify as polysexual, asexual, genderqueer, sex workers and practitioners of BDSM and polyamory – even if they are ‘heterosexual’.
They are part of the queer community because they also reject the dominant heteronormative and patriarchal paradigms and seek community to build their own desired relationships. ‘Queer’ is also an identity marker. You can be a polygamist and not be ‘queer.’ In order to be ‘queer’ you need to be similarly aligned to the values that I have outlined above. Cheating on your partner and breaking their trust in you is not a queer act – negotiating a relationship built on mutual trust and respect where you can sleep with other people is.
So firstly, any assertion that the Polyamory group does not fall under the LGBTIQ acronym is false. Secondly, not all the people in the group are heterosexual and we should be celebrating our diversity as a LGBTIQ group and this includes non-monogamous relationship structures. Thirdly, this group has applied for a float to express their sexuality – it seems to me that they self-identify as being part of the LGBTIQ community.
The distinction that Mardi Gras makes between having floats that are LGBTIQ people expressing themselves and other groups that support the LGBTIQ community is an important one to make. For example, a religious group represented by its LGBTIQ members should fall into the ‘supporter’ category. For while it is made up of LGBTIQ people, ‘being religious’ is not a LGBTIQ identity. The Polyamory float falls under LGBTIQ people expressing themselves because ‘being polyamorous’ is a ‘Queer’ identity. It is important that we get these distinctions right, and know the reasons for them.
I am disappointed by this trend towards what has been dubbed ‘homoconservatism’ within our community. The attempts to reinforce and normalise monogamous same-sex relationships as being the only acceptable form of partnership is a growing trend. Perhaps it’s an unintended consequence of the prevalence of the marriage campaign. The formally disenfranchised gay white men wanting to get their share of ‘normality’ and privilege by oppressing others.
If the tone of this article is harsh, it’s because I expect better treatment of others in our community. While Mardi Gras did back down and allow the polyamory float to enter the parade, their initial refusal to include polyamory as a LGBTIQ group is troubling. Given the recent dropping of “Gay and Lesbian” from the name of the event, and the controversy surrounding that decision, I have serious doubts over the legitimacy of the parade as a political act. I also am concerned for the future of our community as a whole. Will the marriage campaign further divide our community and split it between the privileged few who have the rights to live life as they choose and those who don’t? It’s really time for some more active queer radicalisation against the tides of growing conservatism. We can do better.