Updated: Jun 28
We spend a lot of time talking about why language matters, so let's investigate the word queer, a word that can make people really uncomfortable. Note that not all languages offer a direct translation of the word — which causes difficulty when speaking the word outside the United States. So, for this post, we'll talk about the term in English.
With a suspected origin of queer being German quer, meaning "oblique or perverse," its intention is seemingly pejorative. Merriam defines queer using words as strange, odd, and abnormal. It can also mean Homosexual, and while it doesn't seem like LGBTQ have embraced it until recently, LGBTQ people have identified with this term for a very long time. In 1898, a lecturer presented on the development of LGBTQ subculture and spoke about the self-definition of New York's "middle-class queer" and "fairies."
That doesn't mean the word was accepted. The backlash from the early 20th-century reclamation impacted generations of LGBTQ elders, many of who experienced the term used as a weapon of hate. Many remain uncomfortable with the word and hearing it conjures packed-away trauma.
Queer studies is the study of issues related to sexual orientation and gender orientation and includes queer theory, a philosophy that emerged in the 1990s. It studies how, while queer has many meanings, it's broadly associated with gender and sex that exist outside heterosexuality — and as such, heterosexual is normal, homosexual is not. Theorists look outside what they consider "essentialist views of sexuality and gender" and instead study the concepts beyond cultural phenomena. This study includes language and binaries, two of Dorothy's favorite topics.
During the AIDs crisis, the term became an umbrella for those who are not heterosexual or not cisgender. Activists began reclaiming the word provocative and politically radical alternative to the more assimilated branches of the LGTBQ community.
That brings us to 2022. By taking back the word queer, we establish power in a word previously used as a threat. It is a term that strives to add definition for those of us working to find our sexuality or struggle to find a specific label. By unifying under this term, we can break out of binaries we are enabled to disrupt phobias that keep us divided and small. I find the expansiveness of the word utilized well in the mission statement of a Facebook Queer Exchange group:
QE is an anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-transphobic, anti-homophobic, anti-classist, anti-ageist, anti-ableist, pro-fat, pro-black, pro-Muslim space that is deliberately sex and body-positive, including pro-sex work, pro-addict, and pro-HIV + status, that strives to operate as a trauma-informed space. People who identify with such groups, including people suffering from persistent mental health illnesses or complex trauma, are protected groups in this space.
Queer shows the opportunity to flow freely with how we want to interpret it. It's also a conversation starter. Here's something you can do right now:
Ask your IT people if they are including the word queer on blocked terms on your network. If they are, use this article as a conversation starter.