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July 24, 2017 | by  | in VUWSA |
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Presidential Address

Yasssssss queen.

We’ve all heard it, and many of us have probably let out the occasional “yasss” as well. It’s pretty synonymous with gay culture, yelled out by white twinks everywhere (or otters, hey). Well, at least I thought it was synonymous with white gay culture, screamed in shaky YouTube videos at our favourite pop divas. How more wrong could I have been? Well kids, let’s learn our history.

It’s only recently that I have become addicted to the world of podcasts (c’mon Nathaniel, it’s 2017!?). What began as a curious listen to This American Life’s excellent S-Town series soon turned into a full-on addiction to podcasts in general, including one known as Reply All. In Episode #69, the hosts had to revisit an earlier episode, exploring the word “yas”. They brushed it off as an internet culture thing — I’d always done so myself too.

But the responses flooded in. They were wrong, and it took three, white, straight men to teach this gay boy an important lesson. You see, a lot of what we associate with gay culture today originated in the 1980s among young black and latinx queer people, and was later brought to mainstream via a 1990 documentary set in Harlem, NYC — Paris is Burning. I’m embarrassed to say that despite a million references in RuPaul’s Drag Race and an iconic Ladyhawke song, I never watched the film. Terms like “reading”, being “shady”, and, of course, “yas”, I’m guilty of having appropriated, completely ignorant of their history.

A lot of those young queer people who starred in Paris is Burning are now dead, many of them dying very young at only 18–20. And Reply All, talking to one of the film’s stars in present day, nails the frustration of queer and even straight people adopting this language, fashion, and culture, all without even acknowledging that those young queer black and latinx folk ever existed. Me? Guilty as charged.

There are many more queer icons and figures, well ahead of their time, who we today owe our history to. So this Pride Week I’m thinking of them, and I encourage you to do so too.

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