42 Comments
Apr 7Liked by Katherine Dee

Thank you K, for pivoting back to this gem. I also appreciated the sharp note in it on Rachel Donezal and Hilaria Baldwin. There's a big category difference btwn domains where affinity is enough or almost enough for identity, and ones where affinity isn't enough, and the word "charlatan" marks that difference, sharply.

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Apr 4·edited Apr 4

Hello :D I'm a young queer person in my twenties, and living in a country that scores towards the center of queer friendliness in Europe (https://www.rainbow-europe.org/).

There has been a significant cultural shift regarding public opinion and perception of queer people from "queerness is something you should hide" to "queerness is something you can tell other people about but don't be too proud of it" in the age group 25+, and either strong acceptance or strong disapproval of LGBTQ from younger people.

I personally attribute this mostly to the Internet and its effects on gradually homogenizing the customs of different countries into one large culture, particularily influenced by an american way of thinking - Older generations who are only lightly influenced by the internet have their opinion slowly shifted one way or another, while younger generations growing up with the LGBTQ as a fixed talking point in their lives have had more time forming an opinion of it.

As a result, I can confirm there's a significant cultural difference between people who are queer and people who are queer. Queer people older than me tend to be more reserved about their sexuality, are more reluctant to identify themselves with the label "queer", and tend to treat their queerness as something that does not define them. Queer people younger than me are more inclined to associate themselves with more labels, dress more in a manner not conforming to cultural and societal expectations, have their culture more influenced by Tumblr and other queer communities, and tend to treat their queerness as an intrinsic value of who they are.

In response to the question raised in the article, mostly summarized as "Why is new queer so different from old queer?", I can raise three possible options:

1. Due to queerness becoming more and more prevalent, people are now more willing to associate themselves with the LGBTQ then before. This particularily favours teenagers and young adults, as they are less penalized by society in announcing to the world "This is who I am!" than a person in their mid thirties in an established job/marriage. Also, switching labels doesn't make much sense for people in stable relationships - A lesbian happily married to another lesbian is probably not suddenly going to identify as bisexual and upend her whole life if she discovers she is also slightly attracted to certain men.

2. Labels like "gay" or "lesbian" have shifted from their usage as a label used to describe others to a label used to describe yourself. In ye olden days, "gay" or "lesbian" was used more to describe (or even insult) people living in a way that differs from societal conventions. Nowadays, teenagers are happily identifying themselves as "bi/trans/asexual/aromantic/poly". I can certainly see that are you much more likely to describe yourself with a label if it hasn't been used to insult you before.

3. Or maybe young people who identify as queer are constantly switching labels because they are being young and figuring themselves out. They want to experience multiple different lifestyles to find one they like. They want to test out who they are attracted to, and who they aren't. They might identify as lesbian after dating men and not being satisfied with that experience. Some of them will find happiness in a community that accepts them regardless if they choose to conform to society's dress code or not (like the punk or emo movement), and others will perhaps just spend their teenage years commenting on all issues LGBTQ on the internet and then settle down with a partner in a little chalet on the edge of the woods later - Maybe the "new queer" prevalent in youth now is just going to become the "old queer" later in life.

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"But don't be too proud of it"? *That* is what you think it has shifted *to* most recently?

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Apr 4Liked by Katherine Dee

> I can confirm there's a significant cultural difference between people who are queer and people who are queer.

Now you’re just trolling us.

Question: can you name a single person in history, anywhere in the world, who is/was not “queer”? This will tell you whether that label has any semantic content.

Look, every generation thinks that it invented youthful rebellion and subversion of cultural norms. Sounds like you kids are no different. Congratulations, you are faithfully performing the ancient coming of age rituals of your culture.

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I think it's a typo and she meant old/young LOL

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The question raised in the article is less "Why is new queer different than old queer" and also less about the ability to more openly identify, and more about the abstraction of "queer culture" from "queer identity." Which to be clear -- isn't necessarily a bad thing! Just an observation.

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Apr 4·edited Apr 4Liked by Katherine Dee

I gather quite a significant percentage of transsexuals are also attracted to people of their own gender (if that is the approved word - I always get sex and gender mixed up, and I know it is quite a minefield these days! :-)

For example, surprisingly, many F2M trans guys prefer sex exclusively with men. One can only assume they are attracted to what they aspire to be, or are pleased to have become, themselves. The same presumably applies to M2F trans women in a relationship with a cis woman.

If any of the above sounds offensive, either vaguely or blatantly, then rest assured that is not intentional. As indicated above, I am not very au fait with the niceties of discussions on this topic!

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That's true. I'm confident that transgender people are more likely to identify as gay/lesbian than cis (= not transgender) people.

I think this is probably due to the fact that the hardest part of being queer is coming out, i.e. the mental hurdle of accepting yourself, telling others, aligning yourself and your relationships to the way you want to live. And if you've already come out once, you realize it's not that hard to come out again :D

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Apr 4Liked by Katherine Dee

Insightful. Connects to Scott Alexander's musings over "lived experience" vs. "essence" here https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/how-should-we-think-about-race-and.

Trivially, we all have done this kind of thing many times in terms of location and tribe: many long term expatriates refer to their country of birth as "their country". Or, a New Yorker may have lived in LA 20 years and still call themselves a New Yorker. Your post expanded this to generalize in ways I did not think of. Also Foucault.... and possibly Marshall McLuhan on identity. Nice.

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Thanks for pointing to the SA link. I really disliked it, alas. It takes both sides, insisting on one part in genetic partial membership, and endorsing "cultural appropriation" in the other, which is having one's cake (claiming citizenship) and eating it (forcing citizenship) too. Institutions and nations have created varying solutions to affinity/identity questions which should be recognized (even if criticized) and not just overridden by individual choices that claim agreement or conflict with no backing. Individual choices that just assert, with no effort to seek or get backing, verge on colonialist moves.

The case of Native Americans is especially poorly treated by SA. A pack of students acting like Maoist Red Guards do not represent a verdict, nor do they deserve a lot of respect past acknowledgement. In Japan, a non-genetic family member can be legally adopted, for example to take over a business. Not in China. These things aren't the same everywhere -- so trying to apply a common standard and adducing a transgressive story as an example, which I read SA as doing, approaches what I'd call colonialism.

If one visits the Museum of American Indian History, one sees a book highlighted at its bookstore -- Crazy Horse. It was written by a second-generation Swiss-American woman, Mari Sandoz, who interacted as a small child with many Sioux, and who then methodically collected accounts of Crazy Horse from Sioux who were old and near death. Her thoroughness and the direct transcription of accounts that she made gives her book value, and the Museum acknowledges it by putting her book in front in their bookstore. That's enough -- deep affinity plus curation and identity backing. Not individual choice and genetic vague similarity. The acceptance of Sandoz mirrors some native American traditions. Tribes were known for accepting non-Indians in their tribes as full members, and these at times were captured colonists, so accepting Mari Sandoz is in that tradition. What's significant is that Sandoz isn't issuing herself a passport -- the ceremony of acceptance goes beyond affinity and reaches past her identity.

Similar to Native American and Japanese adoption traditions, and respectful of grounds underlying membership is the standard dual identity in Germanic countries of Heimat and nation. Heimat is where one was raised and brought up. Nation is where one has citizenship. It's a very standard dual identity over there, so when we in the USA see Germans dressed up as native Americans in celebration of native American history, we ignore that each of those participants have a Heimat that doesn't disappear. They don't imagine becoming a Native American. Their cosplay is play, and honoring.

Apologies as usual for length here.

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Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I read SA more kindly. To me he is just trying to figure out what makes the most sense and he realizes that it is hard to make complete sense, because the concept of identity itself is not a definitive one. He then tries to solve for the duality that you allude to: is identity about how you feel about yourself, or is identity a club membership endorsed by the various clubs in "society" and the conditions under which it should be conferred to? To me personally, identity is what I actually am, but deprived of labels. The common conceptions of "identity", to me, is club membership and labeling. As far as nation and ethnicity go, these two should always be clearly separate. But in the minds of people, they are not. That looks especially absurd in nations mostly made of recent (<200 years) immigrants such as the US. The concept of "Heimat" is not helping here because it means "belonging" in a mix of culture and location. Frankly I don't think any of these concepts make complete sense in today's world. I wish nationality could be conferred in the same way as you purchase a credit card membership. Changeable depending on where you live, and you ought to be able to change country at will as long as you follow law, and can get housing and job. Cosplay is cosplay and that is also OK, but lived, current reality should always take precedence over genes or age old traditions that people have no real connection with. If someone told me tomorrow that I have Shoshone blood - I would not feel Shoshone. I don't even feel like a genuine member of either my nationality nor my "original" Heimat country, coincidentally the same, because most of my lived experience happened outside it. To me most of these concepts are purely imaginary.

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I'm sympathetic to a lot of what you write above. However, to me these aren't purely imaginary, and current reality is pallid compared to a genealogy building up of identity, as one layers, grafts new branches on, and prunes one's own style, once one takes charge of it (as opposed to just surfing or dodging-and-weaving). You might like Ada Palmer's very appealing notion of non-geographic nationhood, elaborated in detail in her Terra Ignota books: https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/05/11/guest-post-in-terra-ignota-diaspora-becomes-nations-without-borders-by-ada-palmer/

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Again, thanks for the pointer to Ada Palmer. My life is very similar to the life of the "third culture kids" she describes (mixed race and mixed culture kids). I am not mixed "race", whatever that even means, but I am mixed culture, and I don't feel like I am part of any meaningful diaspora. I don't know how to put this, because for you, genealogy has meaning, and I respect that. For me, it has not, and I don't know how to explain this in such a way that you fee what I feel, or don't feel. I do know my genealogy (23andme plus family documents), and it means nothing to me. I don't feel it, it does not influence me. Also, I have no control over it, therefore I am neither proud nor ashamed of it. Even language, mother tongue as it were: I've lived my life in English for the past 30-odd years, it is all I use all day long. Yet it is my third language. I am not bothered.

To me, identity is a cultural thing. Ethnicity and "origin" are really proxies for culture. People see someone's face and assume a likely kind of behavior. I don't see my own face. Whenever I meet people from the "old country", it only reminds me how much I am not like them.

To me, there is no such thing as "being Chinese" or "being Igbo" in a remote way just by virtue of genealogy: "Je n'ai pas eu besoin de cette hypothèse". My idea of the resolution of the absurdities of the common concept of citizenship is quite the opposite of Ada's: that citizenship should become a mere administrative concept of local residence, allowing you to vote in local elections, in a place where you actually live and whose laws you have to live by.

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Interesting! I'll check this out.

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Apr 4Liked by Katherine Dee

"queer identity need not be grounded in any positive truth or in any stable reality. As the very word implies, "queer" does not name some natural kind or refer to some determinate object; it acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular which it necessarily refers. It is an identity .without an essence." - David Halperin, Saint Foucault

What you describe in this post is the natural result of the queering of everything - every identity becomes an identity without an essence.

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Mar 20Liked by Katherine Dee

We, GenX, were told "it's not who you have sex with, it's who you love." So, I guess we're all gay, even if we prefer heterosexual relationships 😂

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Mar 19Liked by Katherine Dee

The first study you cited stopped me in my tracks, but then I realized at 16 *I* was a lesbian who had had recent male sexual partners! I had sex with men before I had sex with women, realized sex with women was 1000x times better, and then realized I was a lesbian. And I am still a lesbian a decade later.

I’d love to read the study to see if they accounted for things like that. In my experience, queer teenagers change their labels every week because they are exploring them in earnest. So their recent actions often won’t match up with the words they use to describe themselves.

Anyways, I found this to be an interesting read and it got me reflecting on some of the reasons why I distanced myself from a lot of social media. For example, I consumed a lot of content about sewing my own clothes, talked about it, learned about it, but rarely ever sewed anything. I just felt like I did because I was seeing other people do it all the time. So weird.

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I'm still a lesbian who sometimes fucks men. Femininity is hot. Masculinity is not. But this means that a sufficiently femme femboy can still be hot despite being a guy. Of course he'd be even hotter with some E, but you can't rush these things, prime directive and all that. :D

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Interesting read. I can't say I disagree with contra here- to some zoomers, being "gay" seems to be a countercultural affectation rather than a reflection of physical reality. You get the impression with some of them that 10-20 years ago they would have just been goths or punks but we live in such a weird time in culture that the perceived victimhood gives them some social cache. That, and perhaps it's a safe way of exploring their sexuality in a hyper-sexualized world

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Mar 19Liked by Katherine Dee

Fascinating, thanks. I'm an old curmudgeon and believe in normativity, or the privileging of some things over others.

So I'm deeply suspicious of queer in the sense described by Cho- how is it not just a kind of postmodern nihilism? 4chan also had a fairly 'profound' affect through memes.

It's relevant also that queer in Cho's sense is parasitic - ie it's dependent on the category but undermines it at the same time.

Also, can we perhaps go as far to say that people are mistaken about what identity is, mistaking mere affect and affinity, or thoughts and narratives, with identity, which isn't a having thing but a being thing.

Great writing as always.

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Mar 18Liked by Katherine Dee

Just wanted to say thank you for your writing. I think there are two pieces you've written about how lesbianism is treated in our current times, especially online, and both of them have been interesting as well as feeling truthful and respectful. Did a lot of nodding through this one.

That characterizes your writing in general, for me. It's easy to make a sideshow of so many things that play out online, especially about sexuality, but you dig into it in a way that lets us all keep our humanity. I appreciate it.

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Thank you, I really appreciate that

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Mar 18Liked by Katherine Dee

In the object case, the big thing to note about those studies is: are they *actually true*? That is, do they describe reality, are people answering honestly on them? Because they usually aren't! "Mischievous responding", i.e. "just making shit up because you don't take the questionnaire seriously and want to troll the researchers", is a *huge* problem when studying adolescents:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6215371/

A large share of all teenagers who answer in public health surveys that they're gay, or trans, or disabled, or adopted, or parents, or any other demographically unusual characteristic, are lying. The famous case of this is a massive (15k participants) study, where out of data concerns, the researchers did in-person follow-ups on every participant who said they were missing a limb. 99% were lying:

"The third group of inaccurate responders was composed of those answering questions in the SAQ and the in-home interview about whether they had an artificial limb. Of the 15,356 SAQ sample members included in the Wave I in-home interview sample, 253 respondents stated that they had used an artificial limb (hand, arm, leg, or foot) for the past year or more, indicating a permanent physical disability. However, when interviewed later in the Wave I in-home interview, only 2 of these 253 adolescents reported that they were using an artificial limb; the overwhelming majority (248) reported not using any artificial limb, and 3 did not answer this question."

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brent-Miller-6/publication/235637789_An_Exploratory_Study_about_Inaccuracy_and_Invalidity_in_Adolescent_Self-Report_Surveys/links/02bfe51228ee3ebb33000000/An-Exploratory-Study-about-Inaccuracy-and-Invalidity-in-Adolescent-Self-Report-Surveys.pdf

People who treat one question as a joke are generally treating the whole survey as a joke, and intentionally putting weird answers. This is why gay kids are "more likely to be" teen parents, why self-reported trans teenagers are often unusually short or tall, etc. There are so few kids actually in the demographics that get mischievously responded that the joke answers seriously skew the results. It's a huge problem for health research on LGBT youth -- how do you find things like the real HIV rates for gay teenagers when the proportion who will jokingly answer "oh yeah, I'm gay and have AIDS" outnumbers the actual expected prevalence?

That's not to say there isn't a real fluidity/affinity-orientation we can see, but it's important to avoid constructing too much of a societal revolution out of these questionnaires. In particular, it's *really* easy to overstate the extent of if you take all numbers at face value.

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To add to this: I've just finished a longer-form post about the phenomenon, and about the more general phenomenon of "vibes-based responding" on surveys. It's tricky. Surveys find a "measurable reality-like thing" much more than they find reality, and mistaking the former for the latter can mislead you.

https://vaticidalprophet.substack.com/p/the-lizardman-constant-what-it-is

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Scott Alexander has named this phenomenon the Lizardman’s Constant… but perhaps for teenagers it is higher than his proposed figure of 4%.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/04/12/noisy-poll-results-and-reptilian-muslim-climatologists-from-mars/

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The interpretation of the lizardman phenomenon as a 4% "constant" is a common but wrong interpretation of that post (its name change in the past ten years to "Lizardman Constant is 4%" doesn't help). There's a baseline of bizarrely wrong answers to any given survey -- Haredi Jews who regularly eat pork, people who've never heard of China, decapitation survivors -- which is somewhere in the single digits, and probably represents some mix of checking the wrong box on accident, trolling, radicals, and being direly confused. It's probably lower than 4% in most contexts (the famous decapitation and lizardman questions both found 4%, but were surveys *designed to* trigger the phenomenon, and very weird-sounding answers probably draw higher numbers than unremarkably wrong ones). It's also not quite a meaningless metric, in that e.g. fewer people report never having heard of China than Israel, and we can assume this marks some real difference in the cultural prominence of China vs Israel even though the reported percents are way too high.

Mischievous responding drives some percentage of the bizarre-inaccuracy-constant, but teenage public health surveys draw far higher numbers and -- importantly -- are *not* entirely bizarre. Many mischievous responses are plausible enough to take at face value until you drill down into the results.

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It ain't just teens. Statistics concerning sex and sexuality are notoriously unreliable.

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There was one infamous survey where 4% of people answered "yes" to the question "have you ever been decapitated?"

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Wow, super interesting. Part of my dumbfoundment(?) with the recent era is mindless acceptance of people's first person accounts like we forgot about the unreliable narrator.

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Would you be okay if I used your comment for this week's mailbag? I think it's an excellent point

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Mar 19Liked by Katherine Dee

Totally happy with that :)

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Still reading through your response but I have this thought EVERY TIME I see a shocking headline:

"In the object case, the big thing to note about those studies is: are they *actually true*? That is, do they describe reality, are people answering honestly on them? Because they usually aren't! "Mischievous responding", i.e. "just making shit up because you don't take the questionnaire seriously and want to troll the researchers", is a *huge* problem when studying adolescents"

ESPECIALLY CURIOUS about this re: polarization

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Mar 18·edited Mar 18Liked by Katherine Dee

"slut online, socially anxious virgin offline" is one of the first and most persistent examples of this I've encountered, and I wonder how much is also to do with our inability/unwillingness to differentiate between real tactile experiences and our ephemeral realities. I mean, we get to experience so much more outside of meat-world that it becomes hard/impossible to differentiate the two.

Maybe that's just my projection though 🤔

ETA: also thinking of the split attraction model that seemed to make an attempt at differentiating sexual attraction and affinity.

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On the internet, humans are who they want to be, not who they actually are.

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If I take a look at myself - no, it is more complex. There are quite a few opinions I feel safer to express IRL than on the internet where anything may forever haunt you. IRL things are ephemeral, the lightness of being. Internet things live forever, are heavy. Yes I mean it in the Milan Kundera sense https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unbearable_Lightness_of_Being . Especially in places where I post under my real name. Unless you make a career out of outrage creation, or you don't have a career to begin with, the internet is safe only for harmless jokes with credible deniability. That in turn might be what's happening, people saying things where they can easily backtrack and say they never meant it. Age of heightened irony.

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Like -romantic / -sexual? I think that’s a really good point

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Yes, exactly!

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Mar 18Liked by Katherine Dee

Very interesting read. I feel like this set of behavior, of identity as participating in an esthetic and a subculture, is more prevalent in feminine rather than masculine space.

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Maybe, but have you seen those YouTube edits of Roman Emperors and armies set to techno music? I think it’s mostly a Gen Z thing, which also explains the political differences between the sexes in our generation, if you’ve read about that.

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Yes I have! Black and white Roman emperors bust as profil picture is a thriving X (formerly known as) subculture.

But here, if there is an esthetic, it is not reliant on an identity while not partaking in the behavior that made the identity in the first place.

I’ve yet to see one of them tweet "You can identify as a Roman emperor yet not speak Latin: you are valid!"

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Welcome to Twitter. Just you wait…

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