Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Queer Means to Me

So here's a comment I posted in response to this post here.

"Queer" as I most often use it, is an umbrella term for anything that could be considered different from the "norm," especially with regards to sexuality and gender expression. It is a reclaimed word, yet it is more than that. It is another way to identify along with homosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, etc etc. I for one do not like the term homosexual, I think it's almost offensive, or at the very least sterile, medical, and very limiting. I don't like bisexual for the very same reason.

I choose to identify as "queer" precisely because I don't want to be associated with a label. Without going into the specifics (for it's far too complicated and confusing and I have only a cursory knowledge of it) Queer theory developed as a response to LGBT Studies, which worked to say that LGBT identified individuals were just like the rest of "normal" society. Queer theory proposes the opposite, everyone is a bit "queer." Queer theory works to show that everyone is a bit different and in those differences we can see our shared humanity, we're all just as different from the "norm" (and who knows what that really is) as anyone else. For me, being queer means that I can love who I want regardless of their gender expression and orientation and they can love me and it's ok. If they person happens to be a girl, cool, a guy, a-ok, someone outside the gender norm (i.e. gender-queer) awesome.

All this being said, I understand how the word still has a lot of hurt and anger buried within it. I wouldn't go around calling everyone queer, and wouldn't want someone to call me that without knowing who I am.

I choose to be "queer" no one else. Likewise, no one can tell me I'm not queer, for that is taking my identity out of my hands.

Perhaps once we realize that we are all unique in our shared humanity, these artificial dichotomies in society will melt away, that's getting a bit ahead of things, but I can dream eh?

Anyway, that's my counter-rant.

Interestingly enough though, after coming to Seattle, I feel much more "gay" than queer. I think it comes from being put in an environment where I'm not surrounded by the community I'm used to. I feel like most people wouldn't have a clue what I mean by queer, and so it's almost easier to just say gay. Actually, sometimes it's like that at home come to think of it, and I've heard other friends say the same thing.

Anyhow, here's another post for y'all.

Please let me know what you think. It's hard to motivate oneself to post when it feels like you're talking to a blank wall (which isn't entirely true as there are some folks who do comment (thank you!)). At this point I'm not blogging for my sake. I don't NEED to be here.

That being said, I do WANT to stay, but I'd also like to know what YOU all want to hear. Posting will be erratic, understand that I am a very busy college student, and getting the energy to write is hard.




  1. I am homosexual. That describes what I do, not who I am. I am queer. That describes how I want to be seen. Together with gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex and transgender people the way I live challenges the traditional way men and women are seen in western culture. We have to stick together.

    I still call myself gay sometimes. It's silly to use a label like "queer" if all it does is put people off.

  2. The Bard wrote "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". Labelling people (i.e. "he's gay", "He's a Jew") short circuits our ability to know the person behind the label we have assigned. I am a human being, and have dignity and worth as a human first and foremost. When we label someone, our perceptions are filtered through our experiences and we unconsciously (for the most part) pre-judge the person based on our emotional perception to the label. Our inability to get beyond the label and see the person causes way too much strife.

  3. Sorry for not posting sooner. Strangely, I'm following (I mean actually reading) fewer blogs now compared to a year ago, and I still have trouble commenting all of them. None the less, I definitely am reading... just sometimes its after the fact :-)

    In general I'm not sure that anyone is disagreeing with the facts of the argument. It seems that you believe that the non-pejorative word sense of "queer" is useful as a label, whereas Peter believes that the pejorative sense is too pervasive and thus destroys any utility as a label.

    I don't know the answer, of course. I know that a number of my "older" gay friends (late 30s early 40s) saw queer as a positive label, as you describe it. And I know that "queer theory" and the term queer show up in academic literature (sociology, etc) frequently. I did a number of papers in undergrad and most of the research materials I ran across chose the term queer to identify it.

    That being said, recently-- and I do think its within the last 10 years-- the term has received a lot of derogatory usage. I'm thinking of a movie or TV show or something where the guy in a thick southern accent calls someone a queer... can't recall... so like many other useful terms, when the populous hijacks the term and twists its meaning, the original meaning is lost. We can argue and try to convince people that "it actually means x" or whatever.

    The fact of the matter is that words play two roles (in the scope of this topic): (1) is to label, categorize. This is a usage of a term, which represents a concept for the purposes of grouping, etc. I.e. this is a "philosophical" usage of the word. (2) is to exchange information between humans. Within a philosophical discussion about our identity, we may use "queer" to label ourselves (i.e. 1), highlighting our difference from the "equality" argument of LGBT studies (as you point out). However, when we move outside of the realm of philosophical discussion between peers with the same understanding of the word meaning-- then the terms become more about communicating. The terms lose fidelity-- i.e. now queer is just another pejorative term like fag. No redneck yelling it out of a window cares that it might have minor semantic differences that are relevant in other contexts.

    That being said-- I don't really prefer any label, though I often say gay. This is only out of convenience. Certainly, there is a more precise way to state my sexual orientation with many more words.