Ethos, or Get Used to It



Now that the homosexual is a much more visible subject, one who is, at times, allowed to speak, then what kind of ethos is that queer allowed? We all know the “acceptable” queer, the “right kind” of gay and lesbian: the faggots and dykes that keep to themselves, that don’t throw it in other people’s faces, that want to be married and serve in the military—discreetly. The assimilated queer—the queer who is not queer—is the good queer.

Grindstaff explores the kinds of rhetorical moves that have both enabled and constrained the emergence of positive gay identities in the last one hundred years. Most notably, he underscores how, “[u]pon entering public discourse, the queer subject is required to make an assertion of universality” (153)—universality about our right not only to have rights but our right to exist: for instance, we are a minority, we have always been around, we are everywhere. But queerness in its contemporary form is, well, contemporary, so these gestures toward the universal are theoretically suspect. Moreover, theories of intersectionality make them practically and materially suspect as well, in that we each experience our queerness differently, in different times, in different spaces, and at different points in our lives. The diversity of queerness gives the lie to our possible reduction to a universal narrative. And that’s the point: the queer is irreducible, uncontainable, itself defying the impoverished logics that reduce desire and intimacy to gay and straight, this or that, male and female, one or the other.

What does such queer irreducibility look like rhetorically? We take a cue from some recent college students at Smith College who, in April of 2008, protested an on-campus appearance by right-wing activist and homophobe Ryan Sorba, author of The Born Gay Hoax. Smith College queers disrupted Sorba’s talk with verbal protests, ranging from “I’m not BORN a bigot; I CHOSE to be a bigot,” to the anthem of many a queer activist gathering: “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” (Smith).
We claim this as a queer ethos because it eschews the call to universal identity, to being a certain kind of acceptable queer. Indeed, the “we” here is not quite the universal “we” that Grindstaff worries about; it is rather a “we” that gestures to our particularity, to our individuality, to our collective specificities. This ethos emerges not from identity

ABOVE: Smith College kicks off Anti-Gay Hate Speaker Ryan Sorba.

—that is, identity to what you know as normal, or what you think you know as normal. It emerges, rather, from resistance to others defining our reality for us. This queerness says you might as well just get used to it. Don’t get us wrong: this queerness does not refuse to cooperate; it very well may. But that cooperation does not come hand-in-hand with the capitulation of our right to define ourselves.