Queer. Queer. Queer. Is it a slur? Is it an identity? Is it okay to say? No one seems to know what exactly the deal is with this little five-letter word. I don’t claim to be an expert – which is rare for me – but here’s a bit of a deconstruction of the queer question.
Unsurprisingly, queer has historically been a word used to dehumanize LGBTQ people – I mean, queer literally means different and weird, and the use of that word to describe people’s orientations demonizes those people and, subsequently, rationalizes cruelty against them.
Seems like this word sucks, right?
But brutal history aside, for a lot of LGBTQ people, queer is a convenient umbrella term that encompasses every sexual, gender, and romantic identity. While the commonly-used “LGBTQ” acronym includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and two-spirit, and queer/questioning peoples, it leaves out identities like asexual, intersex, pansexual, etc, and a collective “queer” helps to fill that gap. Other umbrella acronyms, such as MOGAI (marginalized orientations, genders, and intersex) or GSRM (gender, sexual, and romantic minorities) have yet to gain any traction in mainstream conversation.
Given those circumstances, “queer” seems to be a great choice. It is an organically reclaimed term – think the rallying cries of “We’re queer! We’re here!” by activist groups like Queer Nation in the ‘90s. In a Tyrion Lannister-esque turn of events, LGBTQ people took a word that has been used against them, and they have made it their armour.
There is a growing number of LGBTQ-identified people who are speaking out about the word queer as a collective term. The power of reclaiming slurs lies in the active embrace of that slur, of choosing to acknowledge its past and build on its future. Some folks are unwilling to do that, and that’s absolutely their right. I probably wouldn’t be comfortable identifying with a term that was barked at me as I was thrown in a locker. I happen to come from a high school with more “faggot”-minded bullies.
So where does that leave us?
On the one hand, I personally love the word “queer”. It’s exactly as forceful and poetic and ambiguous as I need it to be. To me, queer is political – it’s something I choose to be, whereas being bisexual is something I simply am. Queer acknowledges the absence of lines between genders and sexualities, and questions the assumptions we have about relationships and personhood.
However, I would never want to force that identity on anyone else. There are lots of people in the LGBTQ communities who want to be, say, gay, without being queer. That is absolutely their right, and there is a big difference between being choosing to enter a box and being forced into it.
This does pose us with a problem, though. The LGBTQ community is in dire need of a collective term. We need something that allows people to speak to our shared experiences, while not alienating or excluding members of our communities. It’s a tall order, for sure, and I don’t seek to offer an answers. I just know that arguing about whether or not “queer” is universal or offensive is not the solution, and it is only by working together and acknowledging our differing experiences that we can get anything meaningful done.
Like, let the queers be queer, but remember that we’re not the only ones here.