Clyde Smith, writing for the International Conference on Sexuality “Beyond Boundaries” in 1997:
This is the story of how I became a queer heterosexual. It begins in North Carolina where I spent most of my life till I was twenty-nine years old. There I developed a flexible conception of gender and an openness to others’ sexual orientation but held on to binaries of male and female, hetero and homo. The bulk of my story focuses on a three year period spent in San Francisco where I was immersed in a queer milieu. There I learned a great deal about further possibilities for sexual and gendered identity that went beyond rigid binaries. Much of this learning occurred in queer territory and led to my alignment with that identity yet my initial inability to claim such a title. I close with my experiences after leaving San Francisco and my eventual coming out as a queer heterosexual. Though this account follows a linear path through time, I know my development to be complex, unpredictable and not fully reproduceable. The story of how I came to claim the identity of a queer heterosexual, with its neatly fitted details, could only be written in retrospect.
As my story unfolds I will relate what a queer heterosexual might be but I must begin by clarifying my use of the word queer. I draw on Keith Hennessy’s definition from a pamphlet entitled, “Addressing the Queer Man’s Role in the New World Anarchy and the Future of the Men’s Movement in the dis/United States”:
Queer: an umbrella term which embraces the matrix of sexual preferences, orientations, and habits of the not-exclusively-heterosexual-and-monogamous majority. Queer includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transvestites/transgenders, the radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive (underworld) explorers.(1992, p. 11)
While I will not reveal my own practices, I include myself in this broad definition with the modifier of heterosexual following queer.
Though one might think of such a term as simply relating to sexuality, the emergent use of the term queer also indicates radical notions regarding gender. In both aspects, queer emerges from the opposition to and subversion of binaries of sexuality such as hetero/homo and of gender such as male/female. My understanding of queerness includes Kate Bornstein’s redefinition of transgender as “transgressively gendered” and her call for a gathering of queer forces “that would include anyone who cares to admit their own gender ambiguities . . . that includes all sexualities, races and ethnicities, religions, ages, classes and states of body” (1994, p. 98). This redefining of transgender is another articulation of queerness as it has emerged in the 1990’s. My story focuses on the experiences and encounters I had that formed a curriculum in queer identity encompassing both sexuality and gender.
In North Carolina I learned much that laid a foundation for my experiences in San Francisco. At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where I studied dance and theater arts, I encountered a wide variety of gay men yet also spent much time in dance classes where I was the only male. Most of my teachers at that time were either women or gay men. This experience resulted in my growing to accept homosexuality as a reasonable orientation and expanded my sense of gender possibilities in that movement choices did not have to align themselves with traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.
After college, in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina, I made art on a community level with a commitment to left political activism. I read about and discussed feminist theory and practice. This activity included dialogues with lesbian women and led me to a critique of male dominance, white supremacy and heterocentrism. Though earlier I approached sexuality and gender as personal choices within a restrictive social setting, at this point I began to recognize the political nature of such choices. However I also developed a politically correct attitude about gender and sexuality. This attitude required a rejection of what I considered traditionally masculine movement choices including strong, forceful action on my part. It also meant that certain forms of sexuality such as SM, even in consensual adult relationships, was simply wrong and reinforced dominant ideologies of oppression.
In the mid 80’s, during a year of movement studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, I began to reclaim aspects of my moving self that I had rejected as a form of machismo. This learning happened in a strong group of women where again I was the only male. There I regained a sense of the flexibility of gender and rejected the rigidity of both hegemonic and politically correct gender roles. Yet, for the rest of my time after my return to North Carolina, I held on to restricted notions of sexuality. My beliefs were to be radically altered in San Francisco.
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