Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Too Straight to be Queer, Too Queer to be Straight

Posted by Simon Halliday | Friday, March 21, 2008 | Category: |

Before getting on to this let me state the following for those of you who, for whatever reason, don't know it. I am (in no particular order and with no hierarchy of ranking) a 26-year-old, male, heterosexual, married, white, non-religious, South African man studying a PhD in Economics at the Università di Siena, Italy.

One of the things that I have wondered about for a significant period of time is exclusivity in movements. Specifically in activism surrounding race and issues of sexuality.

This morning I was reading this article from z-net about the LGBT movement and how young LGBT individuals see the movement and how they believe that it is misguided in its attempts (in the US) to be so continually focused on equal marriage rights for LGBT individuals. What immediately came to my mind is that, once again, I was reading an article about LGBT individuals, asking questions of LGBT individuals and why they thought that the LGBT movement was becoming unsustainable. There were no references whatsoever about recruiting non-LGBT individuals to the movement. None. Why?

In the article they also had this photo:
Subtitled: Queer youth march in Springfield, Massachusetts—photo from

From which the question, "Where are the non-queer youth?" follows. Where are the non-queers who could be marching in solidarity?

I have marched against discrimination towards PLWAs (People Living With Aids), for rights to medication, for gender and race equality, and against abuse of women and children. All of these movements have, to some greater or lesser extent, identified some salient descriptor of my identity (semi-summarized above) and allowed me access to fight for the movement, to be active on the movement's behalf. However, when it comes to sexuality I have often felt, validly or not, that there was some kind of exclusivity about sexuality that I, as a heterosexual male (and therefore as part of the oppressing class maybe?) could not understand, or to which I could not relate in the LGBT movement.

Before I get onto this, I am going to relate some personal anecdotes and experiences. When I was at high school (a traditional, religious, single sex college) I was continuously labeled as 'gay', 'fag' and 'queer' (whatever these terms mean to adolescent boys) on account of being different: enjoying acting, singing in the choir, being able to dance, being liberal, being non-religious. I questioned my sexuality and asked myself repeatedly 'Are they right? Am I confused about liking women? Am I meant to like men?' These may not seem relevant to many LGBT individuals who do actually prefer individuals of their sex, but to me it was particularly worrying, was I wrong about what I liked? Did a number of conservative, homophobic individuals have some insight into my personality that I did not? Was I too queer to be straight?

Luckily for me, I ended up in Drama School for my first year of university (after a gap year). But the people at Drama School were equally prejudiced towards me, in a way different to, but not unlike, people had behaved towards me at high school. Individual homosexual lecturers ridiculed me when I wanted to play a rugby match, other individuals tacitly excluded me from social interactions because I wasn't arty enough, I didn't smoke marijuana and I dressed too preppie (when I thought about what I dressed about at all) and I really, really liked women. I was too straight to be queer.

Whereas in high school my behaviour was sanctioned because it was labeled as 'gay'. In drama school it wasn't 'gay' (again in a very, very broad definition of gay) enough. Now, I understand in hindsight that for numerous individuals who had recently finished school and who had wanted to leave behind individuals who played rugby, who dressed preppie, who were tall & sporty, these were weird reminders of things away from which they wanted to move. I was as symbolic to them of things that they disliked, or which they feared as I had been to the conservative, homophobic individuals in my high school (who were a minority I must actually state).

What I wonder about though is that surely instead of alienating individuals like myself the LGBT movement should be embracing us. When I was at university during Orientation Week, I would always stop by the stall for the Rainbow Society, the 'Gay and Lesbian Society' on campus. I once asked one of the representatives, 'What about hetero people?' the reply was that 'Oh, they're welcome too.' I wondered though how we were meant to know that.

So, if the same position still stands, both nationally and internationally, with respect to LGBT movements, how are non-LGBT people meant to know that they can offer their services, not only that, but that LGBT individuals actually want them to do so. When are we going to be targeted by your media? When are you going to be asking us to help? LGBT issues comprise an area that still requires momentous amounts of activism and that will require more in the future. I want to ask, am I as a white, heterosexual, married, male welcome?

Post Script:
For anyone interested, I stopped doing drama. I picked up Economics, completed a Bachelor of Social Science in English Literature and Economics, completed my Masters in Economics, then a Masters in Creative Writing and, as I stated at the beginning, am now doing my PhD in Economics.

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