I am a queer founder.
Ashley Sumner struck out the “female” from her title as a founder, and everyone noticed.
How do you change the world?
There are two ways to approach change:
- Navigating the discourse, and engaging arguments directly
- Rejecting the discourse, and poking fun at it from the outside
What the hell does that mean?
Think of (1) as directly engaging the content of the 2-sided political debate. So, for example, if we’re going to engage the patriarchal discourse, we would point out the disadvantages and structural sexism that female founders face. We use the language of the discourse to try to make solid arguments for change.
On the other hand, with (2), you regard the existence of the discourse itself as problematic. You reject the labels the system produced because the label gives you a distinction of “the marked other.” As the “marked outsider” you are still that, an outsider, and on the defensive. And as such, you’ve already lost. You’re treated as special, something that warrants scientific investigation, something out of the norm. You are seen as an exception.
So you disengage. You walk away from the debate. Because it’s rigged. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter anyway. Ashley is right. Being “the marked other” is a complete distraction.
You reject the prescribed position that the discourse assigns to you. So you reject the entire discourse — both sides of it. And from a distance, you just poke fun at the whole thing.
This is precisely how I see Ashley Sumner striking out “female” as achieving and exactly why I stand with her as a queer founder.
The refusal to identify as “the marked outsider.”
You want your work to speak for itself. Being female has nothing to do with all that hard work and love you’ve poured into Quilt. The label adds nothing except affords the possibility of being labeled as the marked outsider.
By refusing to identify as a ‘female’ founder, you take it off the table.
In that same spirit, I use “queer” as a refusal to identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or straight founder
By refusing to identify, you are saying, “This discourse is rigged and not worth anyone’s time.” You discredit the entire discourse as problematic. It preserves your own autonomy and power. It’s like walking out of the audience mid-presentation, and it is incredibly potent if those on stage are experts. Just as you ignore the bum on the street corner shouting obscenities, so too do you ignore this nonsense. By engaging the discourse, you’re implicitly reinforcing the discourse itself is interesting.
Life is short. Don’t waste your time. :)
Is disengagement taking it too far?
One of the critiques of this type of disengagement is that it ignores today’s injustices and marginalization.
And this begs the question: “Is it enough to be the change we wish to see in the world, or must we do something more?”
Because we have a more significant influence on each other than most people realize, it’s actually a great way to change the world.
Females are easy to spot, but LGBTQ folks, not so much.
By glancing at someone’s name or photo, we often have some good hints about the person’s gender expression.
Visibility is crucial for marginalized groups. We signal to each other that it is possible to emerge successful despite the inequalities, structural sexism, homophobia, transphobia, heteronormativity, xenophobia, and so on. In some sense, females can not give that up. Photos and names give it away. The color of your skin, also a giveaway. So, visibility is always there. It’s something that women and people of color grew up dealing with. Maybe even with parental help in passing down wisdom on how to navigate that complex space of prejudices.
But for the LGBTQ crowd, this is almost always not the case. For the most part, we are raised by straight people. Even well-meaning straight parents have little to no experience navigating homophobia and heteronormativity. So, not only can LGBTQ be invisible, but we almost always do not grow up with a built-in support network in our families. So, we support each other. We actively signal to each other that we exist, that we are here, and that we are successful.
Since queer is specifically a refusal to identify, it accomplishes both. Identifying as queer signals to others that “it gets better,” while refusing to engage in the rigged homophobic and heteronormative discourse.