Upon waking, I look at my skin, observing scattered tattoos that have helped me feel more euphoric in my body. Euphoria has helped me feel less indebted to my assigned sex at birth and brings me closer to what feels true to myself, utilizing feeling in a communal sense when meeting new people — to those who might teach me more about queerness, decolonization, activism for community and more. It’s this openness that helps us realize that adapting our own personal relationships to queer theory, we’re able to fully live within a realm of authenticity. That is what “queer theory” has been to me.
So I’ve challenged myself to properly explain the theory, and in doing so, I have found myself stumped by the task of defining what queerness actually is. I have come to the conclusion that queerness exists in multitudes. Defining the term can be complicated, there’s no true way to define it. We can recall at one point in time “queer” had been a word that added insult to identity. However, now we who identify underneath its umbrella term have found reclamation. For the purpose of this column I want to identify queer theory as a perception in which we question the standards of heterosexuality and realize it is not the only one to exist. Once we undergo those perceptions we then begin to identify queer relationality to the world — finding new avenues where we are able to exist.
I will be focusing on my own personal experience with queer theory. Living by this theory has allowed me to approach life with intentionality. I’ve often asked myself how my outward expressions, relationships, topics I pursue in stories and my own social activism stems from the belief that heteronormativity is not the only standard. For when our queer bodies root ourselves in heterosexual standards we become limited. It’s within queerness where our evidential truths become limitless possibilities.
I compare this theory to a passage written by Audre Lorde in her life-changing essay “Uses of the Erotic.” She centers the erotic as not something interwoven to the pornographic but rather the boundless joys we find within ourselves and community. She writes, “the aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision — a longed for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.”
Empowerment within this theory is embedded into our lives as each queer individual reframes the infrastructure that is the self. Deconstructing any heteronormative standards that may have been conditioned into us gives room to rebuild a system that aligns closely to our own truths.
I will be investigating my relationship between queerness and rituals with the goal of finding helpful practices that ignite joy. As a queer, nonbinary person of color I see my oppression, but I am also able to quickly locate my areas of privilege and use that to give my community power. Ocean Vuong, a queer Vietnamese writer, said it best. “Being queer saved my life. Often we see queerness as deprivation. But when I look at my life, I saw that queerness demanded an alternative innovation from me. I had to make alternative routes; it made me curious; it made me ask, “‘Is this enough for me?’”
I hope that in blossoming through queerness you are able to discover mountains of joy that exist within. May you find pleasure in building your community and protecting the sacredness that is your queerness.
JayAre Orlando is a freelance writer currently attending the University of Washington as an English major. Their writing tends to focus on queer joy, identity and how that is in relation to the world.
Read more of the Jan. 17–24, 2024 issue.