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 QueerWayRound.com to OutandAround.com 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…