Queerness can be defined as presence of non normative gender preference, presentation, or identity, as well as absence of normative ones. This word can be used in three somewhat distinct ways: 1) as a general umbrella term for all LGBT and adjacent identities, 2) as a personal label, either standalone or interchangeably with some sublabels, 3) as a political declaration of (sometimes conditional) unity with other gender/sexual minorities and anti-assimilationism.
Historically the second way to use this label was the earliest. It appeared as a term of self-identity of mlm in the beginning of the 20th century (needless to say, the term “mlm” did not exist back then, but neither did “gay” or “bi”). “Queer” specifically denoted men who wanted to identify with their attraction to other men, but not feminine gender expression, which was better described by words “faggot” or “fairy” that were considered more derogatory. By mid century it lost its popularity and was replaced by “gay”. It was brought back by the activism of the 1980s, and this is where the other two ways to use this label originate. The community united around this word as a symbol of fight for their rights, much of this meaning is still retained, and many people have a very personal and emotional attitude to “queer” as an identity.
Queerness as deviant
The kinds of self expression and identity, implied by being queer, are not included in the norm. The norm demands conforming to a range of roles, associated with your assigned gender, including experiencing an exclusive attraction to people assigned the “opposite” gender, with a preference for those of them that also conform. The exact nature of these roles may vary from place to place, and so may the amount of deviation permitted. As with other kinds of deviance, the higher your total deviance score (as in, the more roles you fail), the more the society wishes to correct or destroy you. For example, a family of two married, conventionally feminine, cisgender women will be accepted in more environments than a family of five transgender and gender non-conforming women. However, that does not mean that there is a way to be queer and still meet the society’s expectations and be safe from queermisia.
Most queer people as a whole and all trans people will never reach the standard of a man or a woman that the society set. Several years ago I already presented gender dynamics in the form of the following graphic, where higher position indicates the amount of social power the person has, and the highest tier trans and significantly gender-nonconforming people may achieve is “bad man”/”bad woman”:
This means lacking protections and privilege the society gives to men and women that correctly perform the gender roles. In a way, being transgender means getting the worst parts of manhood and womanhood at once and none, or very little, of the benefits. The specifics of how this happens with relation to the trans person’s gender identity are covered by terms “transmisogyny” (oppression primarily targeting transfeminine people), “transandrophobia” (transmasculine people), “exorsexism”/”enbyphobia” (unaligned and aligned nonbinary people). Transphobia as a whole is a complex overlap of these types of oppression. It’s important to note that no trans person is exempt from any type of transphobia, and that cis people may be victimized by transphobia too.
A special emphasis must be placed on absence of normative traits as a cause of marginalization. Just like presence of non-normative traits, it is unwanted and penalized. Sometimes the line between presence of unwanted and absence of wanted is blurry. The Asexual Manifesto, the first attempt to define and explore asexuality, was published via Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance. An unmanly man may be automatically read as womanly. When it comes to traits of a similar kind, it makes sense to regard presence of deviant/absence of normative as an experience that feels like a spectrum from the point of view of a participant and like a monolith from the point of view of a bigoted onlooker, rather than two completely separate axes of marginalization that add their individual points to the total marginalization score.
Absence of the normative is where the queer experience also heavily overlaps with the paraphiliac experience. Having an exclusive paraphilia, when it isn’t a heavily stigmatized one (e.g. objectophilia, fictophilia) may be regarded as something under the aspec umbrella. In addition to that, many exclusive paraphiliacs with more stigmatized paraphilias (mapness, zoophilia) still publicly identify as ace in response to invasive questions. These people are victimized by the same conversion therapy attempts that target aspec people.
Community response and conditional anti-assimilationism
Quite a few people who do fit any common definition of “queer”, including the one presented in this post, still object to being labeled as such, and especially object to having anything about their identities considered deviant. Their vision of progress and a better future is total acceptance of queerness into the norm. For that purpose they resort to mimicking the normative lifestyle and conforming to as many gender roles as they can. They also participate in queermisia against more visibly deviant queers, both to show the majority that they’re safe and assimilated and because they genuinely believe visible deviance is a threat to queer rights.
The majority of queers who do consciously group around the queer identity oppose to such assimilationism. They create an environment, accepting of more radical role breaking, such as atypical gender and sexuality labels (e.g. fagdyke, bi lesbian) and more critical attitude towards the society.
However, this anti-assimilationism is conditional, since, when it comes to paraphilias, these people tend to accept only the least stigmatized ones, such as sadomasochism or leather fetish. Even acceptance towards ageplay is more rare to come across. Mapness, zoophilia, and necrophilia are consistently and aggressively excluded from otherwise most accepting queer spaces, and queers who have these paraphilias are at risk of abuse or even death there. Their typical script for perceiving paraphilias includes denying them their status of an attraction and identity and instead pretending these are all types of abuse, mislabeled as attractions by homophobes who want to taint queerness by association.
This violent exclusion is one of the reasons why I do not consider it suitable to use “queer” as general umbrella term for non-normative identities and opt for “deviant” as something that includes both queerness and beyond. There exists an attempt to expand the meaning of queerness once more and include paraphilias and transids – some parts of the radqueer movement are doing that – but arguing that these identities are queer from the semantic point in absence of community support and material inclusion on any level is largely a waste of time and effort. Unlike “queer”, “deviant” as a political identity is just in the building stage, and we may avoid the mistakes made by the queer community.