At Below the Belt, Someone (I’m sorry but I can’t find their name) posted an entry on class divisions and the invisible working-class in queer community. Granted, economic disparity within queer community, or at least gay community, isn’t really represented in the media or quite existent in our urban-washed cultural consciousness, and that’s a problem, no doubt. I, however, do not necessarily find it attractive to have scientific data covering those who do not fit with the stereotypic gay image.
There are so many reasons why some people’s faces do no appear in our vision. Like the original blogger says, some may find it impossible to come out at work or school or in their rural town where homophobia and transphobia prevail. Some may fear stigma and violence. Hence the original poster’s comment, “if the working class person does not live in an area that is accepting, s/he is more likely to not publicly identify, even if they privately do so.”
But there are dozens of other reasons, too. They may be too poor and thus busy to care in the first place. They may be happy enough in the closet. They may not identify as L or G or B or T or Q or anything that derives from the urban imaginary. They may cherish the local and choose it over things urban, thus not inclined to migrate to urban areas. They may find everyday negotiation with friends, families and colleagues more attractive, bringing richness to their life as a working-class person with working-class people surrounding them. Or they simply don’t like the gay culture at all and prefer more countryside-ish social occasions where homosociality does not always lead to homophobia (I guess we all know that, don’t we?).
I am not saying urban queer politics should not intervene in local struggles faced by queer people, but it seems very wrong to frame them in the urban imaginary where being out is a privilege and remaining in the closet is a sign of restriction or oppression. What underlies our struggles as queer individuals, rural or suburban or urban, is not that some of us cannot come out, but that we need to identify and come out as a comprehensible name in the first place to become visible and understandable. To me, that’s one of the big issues that we queers are collectively confronted with. If we fail to acknowledge this kind of collectivity that hovers over all of us, the term “queer” starts to seem meaningless, failing to bind together sexual/gender minority peoples coming from diverse economic/ethnic/disability/etc. backgrounds, because that’s how diverse we are.
So, while it’s important for some of us to attempt to take into account the invisible queers in our scientific research, which will richen the literature which people will have access to and learn from, we should nevertheless use our imagination to think about local contexts that shape the invisible queers’ identities, allows ways of negotiation that are different from urban ways of negotiation, and provides them with different ways of enjoying life. This of course has its own dangers, because it easily slips into mere cultural relativism and pluralism, making little room for understanding of inter-regional interactions. But my point is, it is precisely that very inter-regionality that we must look closely at as a site of construction of urban/rural dichotomy. Every time we say things like “queers in rural areas have less freedom,” and especially when we say them in the presence of rural audiences (e.g. on TV) i.e. at the site of inter-regional interaction, it becomes a part of the construction of urban/rural dichotomy. My point rejects both the idea that each region has its own context and the idea that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re queer. Refusing to go neither way, we should create a path that leads us to a kind of collectivity that works for everyone no matter where they are–and that “no matter where they are” doesn’t mean we’ll preserve and extend the urban framework to understand ourselves, but we’ll somehow undermine the urban imaginary itself, destroy it to some extent, to really account for our diverse experiences as queer–no matter how little “queer” means to us.