The commercialisation of queer aesthetics.

But queerness is more than personal identity. This is why we can’t American-express ourselves to equality. Queerness is a community.

How does one communicate queerness? 

The easy answer is with language. 

But words can be so fickle, slurs evolve into labels accentuating generational divides. Bilingual speakers are forced to translate their identity, search for an equivalent in meaning and vibe. Sometimes, words can’t quite describe your self-conception, so we draw up other methods to express our selfhood.

Maybe it’s dressing like a pimp, or an Edwardian school teacher; visibly making yourself different from the norm as an act of reclamation and self love. You know that the hetro-cis norm will see you as a weirdo. Hopefully it will leave you alone. 

Queer aesthetics are inherently political. However, it is easy for corporations to sell bedazzled rainbows to gain a progressive brand image. Mulleted hair, Doc Martens and coloured hair now define an increasingly narrow and commercialised queer presentation. This is furthered by the internet where curational algorithms, which circulate very specific ideas as to what queerness looks like. Through this, queer expression is dislodged from its roots in political liberation.

When being who we are is illegal, we hide it (but only to the law). In such circumstances, it was necessary to codify expression through secret codes. Some were spoken: are you a friend of Dorathy? Others were visual, like the 1970’s ‘cruising grounds,’ where different coloured handkerchiefs used to indicate sexual preferences. 

But queerness is more than personal identity. This is why we can’t American-express ourselves to equality. It is not just how individuals present themselves — queerness is a community; as we grow our love for each other, we build collective visual aesthetics. Like “camp” which subverts notions of professionalism, taste and sensibilities. The very idea of being too much, and then being more.

Queer is more than how we dress, it is our art. From the sensual art of voguing to the hyper performativity of drag or greeting all your friends with a kiss in defiance of the stigma AIDS/HIV. Aesthetics are how we make spaces ours.

Oxford Street is not queer because there’s a pride flag in every bottle shop. It’s not queer due to the rainbow crossway. It is the crowds on the dancefloors, the marches down these streets. The feeling of safety and community. It is also a place of remembrance and history.

A space I appreciate is just off the main thoroughfare. The Sydney Gay Holocaust Memorial stands quietly preserving the memory of tragedy, dedicated to those lost in the genocide. Pulling together symbols of oppression, with pink and black triangles interlocking to form a star of David. I find this space so remarkable for how it shows a divide within consideration of queerness. From the inception of the project in 1991 to its opening in 2001, the purpose of the memorial was questioned, such as if it should represent all discrimination or this specific tragedy. This shows the divide with the queer community regarding how we should represent ourselves.

This leads to a crisis where legislation against drag is growing rapidly while RuPaul’s show is a massive hit, where well meaning liberals think they are doing politics by engaging in aesthetics rather than doing political work. As the queer community moves from liberation to celebration, how we visually frame our bodies, culture and space shifts.