Yet in this extended working-class family, unspoken lesbianism balanced against tacit acceptance means that Barb is family, that Aunt Margaret and she are treated as a couple, and that the overt racism Barb would otherwise experience from these people is muffled. Not ideal, but better than frigid denial, better than polite manners and backhanded snubs, better than middle-class “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which would carefully place Barb into the category marked “friend” and have her sit many pews away from immediate family at her lover’s father’s funeral”.
In the book titled “Tendencies”, by Eve Sedgwick, the author defines what it means to be queer: “… the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically” (8). In the book titled “Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation”, Eli Clare materializes Sedgwick’s definition through the telling of his own story as a white disabled trans man in the United States.
In the passage above, Clare refers to how his white working-class family back in Oregon would consider his aunt’s girlfriend as part of the family. Clare doesn’t say that homophobia or racism doesn’t exist in that community, but he states that this “tacit acceptance” is better than a “polite manners” middle-class family, who would consider Barb as a friend, not as a girlfriend. This middle-class family could be located in a bigger town, or even in cities considered progressive, such as New York or San Francisco.
The passage illustrates how queerness is an intersectional term, impossible to be defined monolithically, as Sedgwick said. One would expect that Barb would be treated in a very biased way in this small town in the countryside of Oregon, but these expectations aren’t met. This passage then conveys the message that, when it comes to queerness, nothing can be easily defined. It’s a dissonance which invites the reader to abandon their metronormativity, that is, queer people are to be found everywhere and might find reasonable acceptance outside large, metropolitan and progressive areas. Clare ultimately wants to say that being aware of queerness is not only respecting everyone’s idiosyncrasies, but also understanding that the world is made of many layers, which overlap in many unexpected ways.