While the current struggle for LGBT equality is taking place in the mainstream, the first soldiers in the battle for our rights weren’t paid political spokespeople, celebrities or even so-called respectable folks. They were trans people, sex workers and their johns—outright fruits and queers reviled by both homophobic mainstream society, who saw them as freaks, and the larger gay community, who resented them as “bad examples.”
It’s an important distinction to make, especially now when queer sexual identity (in its older political context) seems at odds with the larger LGBT equality movement. Queers question laws dictating sexual and gender norms; they seek to dismantle sex- and genderphobic institutions rather than just try to find a place for the LGBT community within such oppressive systems.
In the early 1970s, San Francisco’s The Society of Janus put it this way:
“All too often there is a tendency to be concerned with the rights of homosexuals as long as they somehow appear to be heterosexual, whatever that is. The masculine woman and the feminine man are looked down upon…but the Janus Society is concerned with the worth of the individual and the manner in which she or he comports himself.
What is offensive today we have seen become the style of tomorrow, and even if what is offensive today remains offensive to some persons tomorrow, there is no reason to penalize non-conformist behavior unless [there] is direct antisocial behavior connected with it.”
Even today, you needn’t look look any further at this divide than the spat between sex columnist Dan Savage and The New Civil Rights Movement’s David Badash to see the political and cultural differences between “queers” and LGBT activists.
Badash thinks that Savage aids our anti-gay foes and sets back the marriage-equality movement when he publicly endorses open relationships. But Savage refutes Badash by saying that the fight for marriage equality shouldn’t rest on whether or not non-promiscuous people deserve to get married, especially when many married straight and long-term gay couples participate in sex outside of their primary relationships.
Some trans people, sex workers and queers still have to resort to sex work after being disowned and denied housing and work. Rather than disparaging them, they have a lot to teach us about bravery, survival, and the willingness to fight for our own dignity. They’re very much a vital, resilient part of our community and deserve our recognition, support and respect.