Love it or hate it, chances are that you’ve got an opinion on the growing popularity of the word “queer” in our community. Emma Flint takes a closer look.
Self-expression is key to affirming our identities within the LGBT+ community. We do this in several ways – from our clothing, to our hair, to the words we speak – all this, and much more, help us embrace who we are.
But words are among the most important of all.
They hold power; within a single sentence we can encourage or condemn, celebrate or destroy, and we can also determine how we present ourselves to the world. Within our community, the list of vocabulary we use is diverse, with that list growing alongside our own journey. However, one of the most widely used terms in recent years is “queer”.
The Q stands for Queer
Popularity for the word “queer” has increased so much that the LGBT initialism has expanded and is now LGBTQIAA+. The Q stands for queer. What was once degoratory, used to harm us, is now a word many use to embrace themselves. But in doing so, questions are always asked, specifically if we should use a word so steeped in bad history.
There’s a barb to this label – a means of inflicting abuse, born in an era renowned for its “queer bashing” and homophobia.
“As a gay kid growing up in the 90s, I hate the word queer. Brings back horrible memories. Wish I could embrace it and ‘own it’ but it’s still too raw. I still associate it with being called ‘faggot’ ‘batty boy’ and ‘gay lord’,” shares James Barley, a freelance publicist.
James’ experiences are indeed shared ones, the ramifications of the history of queer not so easily forgotten. However, when I did a social media shout-out about this topic, no one else voiced their disapproval. People’s reasons for remaining out of the debate are theirs alone, though this apparent silence could be an indication that opposition is waning, rather than one born from desiring anonymity on such a hot topic.
After all, queer isn’t the only slur used against us, as James highlighted; during the 90s and 00s in particular, multiple words were used as weapons. Even the word gay. When I was in secondary school, gay was an insult, so much so that South Park actually did an episode addressing the issue.
It explained that gay wasn’t meant homophobically, but rather to say something was stupid or dumb. But that association, however unintentional for some, only helped reinforce negativity towards us.
“I love the word”
Someone who shares similar experiences with me is Aimee Hart, Gayming Magazine Editor. “I understand it [queer] has been used against our community before and I know how the word must sting, but I would also argue that the same could be said for the word ‘gay’ in general. Growing up I didn’t hear the word queer at all – anything derogatory towards me and my community was packed in the word ‘gay’. ‘That’s so gay’ or ‘don’t do that, that’s gay’.”
“I’ve grown since then and that sort of hatred barely touches me anymore. But it goes to show that words have meaning and what may seem inspiring for someone else, can be seen as demeaning to others,” Aimee explains.
It’s true, the words that define us can be interpreted differently depending on who wields them. A word that once symbolised pain can be taken back and owned, changed for the better. This is a sentiment that US writer, Fairley Lloyd, shares.
“I love the word queer because it’s 1) reclaiming a slur and 2) all-encompassing. I don’t think we can encompass everyone in the community with acronyms, and letters often get left out/excluded.”
It was beautiful to see such an outpouring of ownership for a term that once wounded us. However, in embracing it, we need to ask whether queer is a term that only those of us within the community should use.
Similar to how black people say the “n word”, isn’t queer ours, and ours alone, to use as we see fit? For someone else, removed from our experiences, its meaning can easily be warped.
You can love it, you can hate it. But nothing can deny the impact the word queer has. Yes, its heritage is a turbulent one, yet it also provides us sanctuary in the power it offers. Whether you choose to embrace its usage or not, queer is a valid part of modern LGBT+ culture.