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"Cis-Popularity" Toxicity in the LGBTQI+ community

Pride season is always such an exciting time with many events taking place, along with the great weather and the promise of summer ahead. It's hard not to feel happy and powerful.

Pride month is about celebrating our strength as a community and our struggles so that we might continue the work of our queer predecessors.

Nai and I thought deeply about what we wanted to talk about this month in honour of Pride, and if you know us, then you know we aren't ones to ignore the rainbow elephant in the room. We felt it important to use our platform to speak on a topic which has become normalised within our community in the hope that we might be able to create a different culture that sees value in all queer bodies and not only the chosen few.

CIS usually placed before the word gender is understood as a person whose gender identity matches what the social ruling dominant class regards as appropriate to gender normativity. The prefix cis- is not an acronym or abbreviation of another word; it is derived from the latin meaning on this side of.

We have stretched this thinking and would invite you to engage in the idea of CIS-Popularity, which should be understood as a person or persons whose social media platform, persona and presence at the hottest and most prestigious events or representation verifies them as worthy of status and adoration or in others words, they are on the side of particular behaviours considered a sign of success, validated by followers and likes.

Although we are part of the LGBTQI+ community, we do not often feel there is genuine space to show up as ourselves. In writing this article, we were reminded of a gathering we attended some time ago organised by a queer comrade whose intention was to bring queer bodies together in the spirit of celebration, love, meaningful conversation and intention setting. As we all stood together in a circle, with innocent eyes fully taking in the space and time we shared together, we couldn't help but notice the beautiful faces of those looking around the room. As if in search of a warm embrace but were too caught up in the need to express a level of self-importance and lost in the thought of 'what can I say to make sure I am viewed in the highest regard. Whilst being completely oblivious of their lack of confidence and need for validation.

Eagerly waiting to hear more about the other, we became acutely aware of paradigms of engagement with language to describe who each individual in the room was to each other. This space which at first seemed safe began to feel competitive, riddled with fear and anxiety with each person sharing 'what' they had achieved in the form of jobs, brand deals, book launches, academic achievements and offering very little to the understanding of 'who' they were. The focus was purely on what they did. With each mention of the varying social gains and the desperate need to give way to the perception of financial advancements, the response from others in the room legitimised those persons sharing of what they did.

It became clear to us that many of these bodies in the room measured their value based on success classified by capitalistic ideologies rooted in Eurocentric colonial ways of defining success and the space we occupy. The energy rapidly intensifying with every exchange of achievement soundling more like oneupmanship rather than camaraderie.

These beautiful bodies in the room who might all have you believe that they were 'woke', carried within them the production and reproduction of capitalistic cultural values rooted in trauma and the desperate need for validation inherited from colonial practices subtly woven into the fabric of our society, that now informs our way of being.

The perception of success and with each word they uttered, symbolic of proud achievement and approval by their peers, they became living subjects reproducing these ideologies.

Philosopher Louis Althusser speaks of this as a form of *interpellation (1972)

CIS popularity defines a persons value within the LGBTQI+ community, and though we may speak of solidarity and care for queer bodies who historically have been on the receiving end of 'social othering' – These same bodies who demand agency to occupy space as human beings also restrict some of the very same bodies that share intersectionality and struggles with them by applying these values which undermine a person's selfhood. The voices that are held in great regard become the ones holding power within our community, only to end in them regurgitating the behaviours of those outside of the community we seek a level of compassion, empathy and respect from.

Standing in that room filled with a group of people who we believed all had so much love to offer, a safe queer space. A place where difference should be celebrated, where the beautiful colours of the rainbow glide into each other, becoming one. A queer home! We were reminded of why it was important to always lead with care and compassion. To open conversations seeking to learn more about the other people on a human level and to not only engage in dialogue because you stand to gain something from that person in the hopes of improving your CIS-Popularity currency.

The sad truth is until that moment of us both sharing mainly who we were and a small bit of what we did, our bodies did not materialise as a valuable subjects of interest to anyone that evening. Naturally, after sharing that Nailah was a relationship therapist, quickly followed by some oohs and aahs, the bodies in the room that were not previously aware of either of us taking up space became curious, wanting to know more.

We cannot speak of solidarity, care or empowerment but never look inwardly to our smaller groups and how we show up in these spaces. Solidarity in the LGBTQI+ community looks at times, like the Emperor in his new clothes, naked, incredibly vulnerable and delusional, whilst communicating rhetoric inviting us to stand as one.

We find it hard to stand as one when we believe the values which define what solidarity means is problematic and not often for the greater good, more for the good restricted to those with more CIS-Popularity than others.

As a community who share pain, alienation, dehumanisation, and a history of violence, charity must always begin at home. Home here is defined as spaces where we gather, the nightclubs, the cafes, the pride parties, the dinner parties, picnics in the park, evenings by the fire or walks in the forest. It is being awake to the similarities in our struggles and being mindful of how we take care of each other.

The good vibes-only culture perpetuates toxic positivity through repressive forces of "shame". This makes it again unsafe for us to share who we are when we gather in groups, so instead, we opt for speaking up about the achievements, sometimes feeling the need to embellish elements of the story as a mechanism of protection.

The synergies between CIS gender and CIS Popularity is also not that different. In the same way, Judith Butler (1993) explores *gender performativity; in bodies that matter, we can think of CIS Popularity to be, parts of our identity materialising through social interaction producing within us a version of phantasmic power. What goes further to affirm this is the blue tick, the followers, the comments and the opportunities to speak on platforms where popularity gains further popularity.

What should be considered a central concern is the social inequality that remains unchecked within our community. Until we begin to normalise conversations rooted in empathy, care and compassion, we cannot honestly speak of solidarity and love for our community when our community advocates and demonstrates such forms of elitism disguised as solidarity.

As a community we have created safe spaces for bodies who are othered from the rest of society and yet, within these safe spaces, we have also created divisive modes of bitchiness, egoism, judgement and criticism against each other rooted in our own past hurt, insecurities and pain along with cultural values society has conditioned us to believe we must uphold.

We see people through the lens of our own trauma, rarely offering grace because our experiences at time are deeply rooted in fear of sabotage, failure, disappointment, individualism and most of all shame. We won't pretend to have all the answers to many of the difficult points we have raised in todays blog, but Nai and I do believe that until we begin to have more empathic conversations tackling this very complex phenomenon, solidarity will continue to exist only in the wake of our continued fight to be seen as HUMAN.

With Love Always

Mon & Nai

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