Introducing the conversation on experiences of QTPOC 50+ in 'Through The Lens' is Marcus, a punk rocker and former Go-Go dancer who reflects on realizing their identity as a newly out non-binary person and their coming of age experience in the 80’s SF punk scene.
What does “Queer” mean to you?
Queer to me means dining who you are on your terms, not allowing someone else to do that for you.
How has being a person of color shaped your experience as a Queer person?
Part of the definition of queer as I know it is someone who exists outside of the mainstream culture/society. I don't find that my being a person of color within a mostly White world to be much different. I am perceived as different than White folks and in some White circles, I am occasionally reminded of that fact. I find that there is a similarity in being both Queer and being a person of color. I’m doubly labeled as “other”. I’m ok with that. I am who I am. I don’t need the stamp of approval from others as to whom I should be.
How have these intersecting identities of being Queer and POC changed now that you are over 50?
As of May 2017, I’ve come out as gender-fluid. The response from friends to my coming out has been very supportive. However, I’m struggling to find my community as a 53 year old non-binary person of color. It is expected in our culture that you should have yourself “figured out” by the time you reach your 30’s. I’ve figured out that I don't subscribe to that idea. I feel That most people are constantly discovering things about themselves and changing. I believe that these changes are informed by new experiences and deep self-reflection. Unless your are living as a hermit, you are not immune to change. It is a constant. My studies of Buddhism, and meditation prove to me that this is true. That being said, I do have my moments of doubts, moments of “why now”? I’m also not afforded the luxuries of youth either. I’m an older person. Regardless, I try to stay grounded in who I am at this time and not get caught up in my self-doubt.
How have others helped you realize who you are today?
When I was in my 20’s I had a counselor who was Native American and identified as Two-Spirited. He told me that he could see that I was Two-Spirited as well. I never fully accepted the label as it felt like I was appropriating something from a culture that I don't belong to. Regardless, I used the term to describe myself for a number of years.
My God Mother also helped reaffirm my duality. She once told me that she could see "the woman who lives inside me." She said that she was my twin. I never forgot that.
I’ve recently also met a few Trans, Bi and Genderqueer people who supported me when I came out.
Additionally, I am still very much influenced by the punk culture of my youth. I will always self-identify, continue be involved in various forms of activism, and appreciate the creativity, freedom, and beauty of the counterculture.
Growth and Transformation In the Face Of Adversity
What, in your opinion, are the greatest issues affecting Queer communities?
A lack of inclusion of all types of people for sure. Gay men hang with gay men, lesbians hang with lesbians, Bi and Pan people are thought to be unicorns and Trans and Non-Binary people are sometimes viewed as the strange, yet fabulously entertaining, step-sibling to the rest of the community. I don't like this. We are all in this together. Sure, Gays and Lesbians are freer now than in the past; however, studies show that depression, addiction and suicide among Bisexual men and women are much higher than in the Gay community. The same is true for Trans and Non-Binary people. We all deserve a seat at the table. We all deserve the same protections and freedoms. So, it's not right to think, "I got mine so let them go get theirs." In the words of Martin Luther King, "No one is free until everyone is free.
There's also a shaming of feminine men in Gay culture, which is terrible. Masculinity is the preferred expression. I feel a lot of that comes from trying to escape the shame of being teased when they were young for being labeled, soft.
How has this realization shaped the person you are?
I’ve learned to speak up. Not just for me, but for any marginalized group; both in and out of our community. Regardless, I am sometimes suspicious of well-meaning White folks. Sometimes good intentions aren’t good enough. They have to be ale to truly reflect and acknowledge how their privilege affects people of color. Additionally, they need to be able to listen without having a knee-jerk reaction; responding defensively.
To clarify, I’m not saying everyone has ill intention or are not aware. I realize some White people do have the ability to empathize, listen and learn.
Do you feel welcomed by or a part of the Queer community?
Before I came out, I found my community in 80’s S.F. punk culture. I felt at home and supported
there both as a Queer person and a Person of Color. I was free to express myself without judgement. When I went to shows, I was usually one of two Black people at the show. The only other person of color I knew, within the scene, was well known in the punk community. He was in a popular punk band at the time, and was well respected. This Black man, and later other People of Color in the punk community showed me that there wasn't just one way to express Blackness. My Blackness, like my gender, was mine to define. I felt so free!
When I eventually moved to San Francisco, I immersed myself in the blossoming Queer culture of the early 90s. I became the first Go-Go dancer in the newly forming club scene. One night on a dare, my Lesbian roommate and I stripped down to our underwear and danced on a pool table next to the small dance-floor. The crowd and the promoter loved it! The club was called "Club Screw." Shortly after that, I was hired to dance for two other clubs, one of which was created
by the same people who created Club Screw. I danced for a few years and became a part of the political Queer scene, always on the dance floor, as well as advocating for those in the community who were suffering from AIDS.
Like the punk scene of the 80’s, I was defining and exploring on my terms. However, I eventually realized that there were some in the new subculture who tried to devalue me based on the color of my skin. This wasn't like the punk scene of my youth, it was very cliquish and in many ways judgmental. I felt like I was a subculture within a subculture of whiteness. I didn't find the mainstream gay culture to be much different. So I stuck with my close knit group of friends. I did however, find much love and respect amongst the drag queens and “gender benders" in the Queer community. I also had many Lesbian friends who were also
a part of the Queer scene.
I'm not sure that I feel 100% connected to the Queer community now. It's a different time, a different scene, and different values. At 53, I don't always feel seen or valued by the community.
Seeing that you do not feel welcome or validated by the Queer community, where do you seek and find community?
When I came out, I looked to the internet to find other Non-Binary folks. I didn't find much, as it relates to older non-binary folk. However, I was lucky enough to find a group on Facebook for older non-binary gems. The age ranges from 30 to 80 years old. It was so inspiring to have that kind of support available! The community I found there was priceless! However, most of the other Non-Binary folk who I met online tended to be much younger and whiter than me.
Some of my friends of color who don't identify as Non-Binary, denote the term "genderqueer" as Euro-centric. I don't see it that way. As stated earlier, “Queer” allows me to define myself, without the reliance on others to do it for me.
Youth and Relationships
How are you treated by Queer youth?
I don't always feel acknowledged by queer youth. Gay culture is very sexually and visually stimulated. So, a lot of gay men look at you and judge you as a possible fuck. Since many in the community worship the ideal of youth and beauty, I'm not always seen as desirable and so, in some situations, I'm not respected.
I’d like to clarify that while I don’t feel acknowledgment from Gay culture, I do feel acknowledged by Queer youth. I have recently met a few young Trans and Genderqueer people who truly see me and give me respect. I'm so grateful to have crossed paths with these people. I've also been acknowledged by several youth on the street who are trans or non-binary and have been greeted with a genuine and pleasant smile.
What is the relationship between Queer youth and elders?
I think that the relationship between Queer youth and elders is very sparse. It's not all youth, but when you walk down Castro st. you don't see many intergenerational interactions.
What should the relationship between Queer youth and elders look like?
I believe the relationship should be one of mentorship and an exchange of ideas on both sides. Conversations between both groups don't need to concern only the political and intellectual. Sometimes the conversation should just be light and funny. Laughter keeps us young and breaks down barriers. We all enjoy a good kiki every now and then.
What lessons from your youth can guide today’s youth in terms of activism, life, and community?
We didn't have cellphones and social media when I was young. So, you had to talk to people, listen and be open. Cell phones and social media are good tools to have. But they are just that, tools. Talk to people! Talk about, and exchange experiences and ideas. Then, get together in the “real world” and make it happen.
Lastly, don't be selfish. We're all in this together. Let's work together and show support for not only those in your “tribe”. Nothing can be gained through separatism. As an M.O. we need and depend on each other.
We'll return with more installments of Alex's ongoing project. Stay tuned.