[Opinion] Unknown Waters

Being queer means that you cannot be innocent. Lying is a part of being queer, a part of queer living. Sometimes this is fairly intuitive, for example, you could think of a person in a same-sex relationship who lies to their coworkers about their partner. They may fake being in a heterosexual relationship. This is a part of survival: the facade is used to keep a job, to stay alive. Thus, lying always accompanies queer living.

But dishonesty is not only about survival. You may think, in the previous example, that if there comes a world where gay people are accepted, where homophobia is overthrown, we may drop the facade. You may think that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is the sole reason for non-innocent queerness. You may even think that saying that queerness cannot be innocent is a part of this homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia(IDAHoT), we should focus on defeating such stigma, so that queer people may live an innocent life. But is that so?

We lie because we are not understandable. Sometimes this lack of understanding is as simple as social stigma, an employer may discriminate based on your sexual orientation or gender, your family may not accept your queerness. Sometimes you keep quiet to be safe. But not being understandable goes beyond discrimination. A close person may not understand your queerness – for instance, let’s say you're nonbinary. Your friend may not understand what this means, no matter how honest you are about your gender. Living in a world made of men and woman, one may not be able to wrap their head around a concept beyond this. Even if you are honest about your gender, even if you explain that you are neither man nor woman. You may not be understandable – you are alien to this person. Is this wrong? Is this a part of queer-phobia, a kind of discrimination? Even if it is, you cannot just make people understand by saying it is ‘wrong’. To combat this, we need to think more about non-understandable lives and alienness.

When we fight for rights, we often fight to become understandable. However, fighting to be understandable sometimes means that we leave people behind, people that are not understandable to us. The criticism against cross-dressers in the trans rights movement is a good example. Sometimes cis-identifying cross-dressers are blamed for what people say about trans people - it is the cross-dressers, not the trans people, that objectify women and fixate gender norms. Even putting aside the complex relationship between cross-dressing and transness, this way of ‘moving the blame’ shows that trying to become understandable leaves non-understandable life behind.

The problem is, there will always be people living non-understandable life. It is not only the cross-dressers, the polyamorists, the sadomasochists, or other queer people not quite accepted by the LGBTQ community. Being understandable is relative. Just as queer people are not understandable to some, incel men and TERFs may not be understandable to people in the queer rights movement. This non-understanding makes for unknown waters. Regions outside the LGBTQ community, or cross-sections between mutually non-understandable communities. These waters are as dark as the ocean floor to us, thus we think of them as dead.

However, the ocean floor is teeming with life. This life is alien to us. Creatures like basket stars, sea pigs and sea spiders may seem so strange, not at all what we expect creatures to be. They are non-understandable, but only to us. They are only alien to the world where we live, as they have adapted to conditions elsewhere. Even the seemingly unlivable deep sea has life. Unknown waters always contain life – queer, non-innocent living, that may seem so alien but has evolved in its own way.

I do not intend to say that we must understand everything, that we should be understanding about queer-phobic people as well as queer people. On the contrary, I say we can never understand everything. We cannot conquer the whole universe; there will always be unknown waters. Thus we should not stop at fighting to become understandable, to become non-alien, to become innocent. We also need to stand for non-understandable, non-innocent life. Even if other life seems outright wrong – as non-understandable people live through wrongdoings, just as LGBTQ people lie to survive. We have to acknowledge what we cannot understand, because we are also non-understandable.

On the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia(IDAHoT), we should not only remember homosexual, bisexual and transgender life, but also keep unknown waters in mind. The first step to making queer life livable is acknowledging it and not leaving it behind. Remember that there is life there - no matter how dark the waters seem.

The author is a graduate student at Seoul National University's College of Natural Sciences and a member of SNU's LGBTQ community (Queer in SNU: QIS). --Ed.