On the Roots of Strangeness, Queerness, and Difference

Image from In This Moment’s Half God Half Devil Tour, Taken by Donovan Cleckley on May 2, 2017 at Iron City in Birmingham, Alabama

When considering the idea of “strangeness,” I think people develop and construct roles of insiders and roles of outsiders that allow them to label not only themselves, but also other people. People oftentimes emphasize “other.” Reading Gregory Freidin’s blog post (“On the Roots of Strangeness”), I find it interesting that he discusses Georg Simmel’s explanation of modernity in the form of a presented social dichotomy of “owners of soil” and “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow.” This presented dichotomy represents being one of the familiar insiders versus being one of the strange outsiders. People imagine the existence of their particular communities by creating symbolic boundaries. These symbolic boundaries observe the qualities, traits, appearances, mannerisms, languages, beliefs, and/or other elements that function as some indicator separating the familiar from the strange. “Owners of soil” implies inclusion while “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow” implies exclusion, representing the difference between the familiar and the strange when contrasting in social environments.

Adding briefly to the discussion of “strangeness,” I think the concept of “difference” plays a role in the way human beings perceive the familiar in contrast to the strange. Strangeness oftentimes seems grounded in creating barriers, fences, and walls (physically and nonphysically) separating familiarity from certain people, beliefs, customs, and behaviors labeled deviant or abnormal, anything existing outside of the practiced norms within the set boundaries of a given social group. In “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” from Sister Outsider (1984), Audre Lorde writes, “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all” (115). Again, considering symbolic boundaries, Lorde emphasizes the seemingly “strange” ways people use “differences” to create absolute barriers, fences, and walls separating the “owners of soil,” the insiders, from the “strangers, who came yesterday and stayed tomorrow,” the outsiders.

With making strange comes the idea that some people are queerer than other people, and this queerness so often erupts from differences in terms of gender and sexuality that affect how people are perceived and framed by other people.