The thing about the queer community, is that it is small. No matter where you live, the community is small. In a metropolitan area like Madison, the number should be somewhere around 2,500 people. That is small town small. Anyone who has tried to live, much less date, in a small town knows that there is often a dearth of palatable matches.
But it becomes more complicated still in the queer community. Because we don’t live in a small town among nothing but other queer people. We live among the straight community. We live and work and play among an overwhelmingly numerically superior dominant population that is not like us, sometimes violently not like us. We live in a community that still rewards us for conforming to the standards of behavior and appearance that is acceptable for it’s own members. As a result, gay-dar be damned, we often unwittingly walk past one another, oblivious to the presence of another of our tribe. An opportunity for making a meaningful connection squandered. And because the penalty for erroneously identifying a member of the straight community as a member of the queer community – a member that we might find attractive and be interested in being romantic with, is so dire, far too often somewhere between humiliation to loss of status to death, many folks never pursue any of those possible missed connections.
So what is a minority community to do? How do we ever manage to encounter one another and actually make a love connection? We do what every minority community does. We create a subtle language of our own. We develop flags, and signs, and vocabulary that is instantly identifiable to others like us, but not easily decoded by members outside the queer community.
It would be easy to wear a rainbow flag pin, or earrings, or pendant, and declare oneself to be queer and interested in other queer people. And some LGBT people do this. But there are problems with this. First, not everyone wishes to look like a rainbow puked on them. It is a look, but not one many folks think is particularly fashion forward. A second problem, is that the rainbow is a BIG umbrella. Is the woman wearing the rainbow pin a lesbian? A transexual woman? An ally? And even if she is any of these things, that does not mean that she is going to be receptive to the advances of any given woman who comes her way. But there is a third, and even bigger impediment to the use of rainbow paraphernalia to identify any given member of the community – and that is the straight community. Every one knows what a rainbow pin signifies, and straight people like to reward queer people for looking straight. MANY people in the queer community loath to give up their passing privilege and suffer the ostracism that being visibly queer brings.
And so there is some very deeply coded language in the queer world. So much so that many people inside the larger community have no idea what most of them are. While hanky codes have become quite well known, almost no one knows what they all mean. Among femme lesbians, there is a manner of painting ones fingernails that signals to other femme lesbians that they are one of the group. I am aware of a group that wears a rubber band on their left wrist on Thursdays in an attempt to signal one another. Bears have ways of letting each other know they are interested in putting their paws all over one another. For people who are often ostracized by their families of origin, and forced to create chosen families, the term “Family Friendly” takes on a very different, and very not “focus on the family” approved sense.
And then there is Grinder. As technology and the internet bring together members of minority populations and allow communication in every other context, so too has the queer community employed technology to make finding others like us a little easier.
Ultimately the queer community will always be a population smaller than that of the straight community. That is not what makes coded communication among queer necessary. What makes coded communication necessary is the discrimination that comes from the dominant culture. Hopefully, within my lifetime, such silliness as rubber bands, and hankies, and stealth iPhone apps will all be amusing relics of a bygone era. Until then… chances are there is something queer going on right in front of you, and you don’t even see it happening.