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The Word “Queer”

Dear Lisa and Jenni, web

Please consider something that has been on my heart. That is the use of the word “queer.” Growing up in the midwest, this was a very derogatory word used synonymously with the word faggot. Many times I felt this word being used against me while being punched or spit upon.

Wow. We were shocked and saddened when we received this email. We named our project “Queer Way Round” because it seemed the best way to be inclusive to all readers in our community. Queer is quite the buzz word in San Francisco.

When used in a positive connotation, queer is an umbrella term to describe all non-straight people. It’s one syllable, and it certainly falls off the tongue easier than saying (take a deep breath ) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning community (LGBTQ). We’ve seen the word queer used in mainstream TV shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Queer as Folk. And in academia,universities and bookstores appear to have embraced the term Queer Studies.

We asked our friends for advice. Our younger San Francisco friends loved the word for its inclusiveness. But gay friends from the East Coast and Europe said they would never use queer to describe themselves. Several older gay friends disapproved of the term because of the way it has been used in hate speeches, and one person even likened it to using the n-word for African Americans. As for our straight friends, they considered it only ok for gay people to use queer. In our Castro street bubble, Jenni and I didn’t realize that we used a word that remains still so controversial.

So, I decided to research the origin of the word queer

The word first appeared in the 16th Century from the German root quer, meaning “across, at right angle, diagonally or transverse”. Queer has generally meant “strange”, “unusual”, or “out of alignment”. It might refer to something suspicious or “not quite right.” In the 19th Century the first early recorded usages of the word appeared to describe sexual deviance. For most of the 20th Century, queer has been used as a derogatory term for effeminate gay males.

The re-claiming of the term queer is most often noted to have started through an activist organization formed in 1990 called Queer Nation. In a call to action, they distributed a document called “Queers Read This” at New York Gay Pride to “bash back” against homophobia. With an in-your-face-militant approach, they used the popular slogan, “We’re here, We’re queer. Get used to It.” While their slogans were shocking to hear, they gained power and attention from the word.

So, I have to wonder…As a community, are we so familiar with self-depreciation that we feel comfortable using hate words? Or should we all start wearing t-shirts that say queer to take a stand? I’m not sure, but for our project we decided to go along with a new title that is accepted more easily internationally. We chose the title Out and Around: Stories from a Not-So Straight Journey. We’ll be moving to in upcoming weeks. We’re activists at heart, but we’re also preparing ourselves to leave the gayborhood of San Francisco to explore the Not-Always-Queer-Friendly Nation.

Would you use the word queer? Please share your thoughts with us…

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13 Responses

  1. Hi Lisa and Jenni, I agree with your mid-western friend and I think dropping the name is a good idea. I like the new name better. I understand the concept of taking back ownership of a word that has been used as a derogatory term. But it has such negative connotations that I am concerned that it will be just one more barrier to moving forward. Given the scope of the battle to win hearts and minds who needs one more challenge? Frank

  2. You can never “reclaim” someting that was never yours to begin with, and the q word has always belonged to the haters. Let them have it, and reclaim “gay” at the positive word for all who are not straight, as it was in the 1800’s when it was a secret code to identify each other.

    The q word has become a PTSD trigger for many because it is often used during violent attacks. That makes gay people who have survived attacks relive the attack when they hear or see the word. While that may seem irrational, PTSD responses are not rational.

    Hate terms are part of the evidence in hate crime trials. Let the haters have it, so we can easily know who they are and hold them accountable when they commit violent crimes.

  3. Well as a 19 year-old I can happily say that this word for me and most people in my generation been reclaimed, and carries very little negative weight for us at all. Certainly not for me.
    I respect that this is a trigger for a lot of people, and I don’t believe it should necessarily be applied to the community. But several of my friends and I identify primarily or secondarily as queer, and not all of them are radicals either, quite a few of them aren’t in fact. Though I think “the queer community” might more accurately be used as a term for activist-y people who reject the mainstream than the LGBTQ people in general.

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  5. Can I just say that of a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the web. You certainly learn how to bring a problem to light and make it important. More and more people must read this and appreciate this side in the story. I cant believe you are not popular as you definitely contain the gift.

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