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what does ‘queer’ mean to you?

 

“Not queer like gay. Queer like, escaping definition. Queer like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. Queer like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like…and pursue it.”

—Brandon Wint

 

Hampshire Pride 2016 - Image courtesy of Sarah Penfold | Infinity Photography
Image courtesy of Sarah Penfold | Infinity Photography.

I personally identify my sexuality as ‘queer’. If you’ve been following the blog/my social media for a while then you’ll know this already but today I thought I’d explore the history and usage of the term a bit more.

Looking at the etymology of the word ‘queer’, it might go back to the early 1500’s in Germany. Originally quer meant “oblique, cross, adverse”. In more modern usage, queer has had some negative connotations in that it can be used in place of questionable or strange. One can start to feel ‘a bit queer’. In LGBT history, the term was used as a slur to indicate someone who practiced ‘sexual deviance’.  The word was particularly used against men who had sex with men, but also against people with non-conforming gender expressions. Fast forward to the late-80s and some people have become to reclaim the word as a positive identifier. This was perhaps in part due to queer theorists like Judith Butler, who introduced a theory of gender as performative. However it is also important to note that organisations like Queer Nation and ACT UP also began around this time to use the word queer in this way.

I took to the interwebs to see what some people thought and I spoke to three fab LGBT+ humans about their thoughts on why ‘queer’ can be such a problematic term…

 

What does ‘queer’ mean to you?…

 

Holly Burnard Portrait

“I have never felt quite comfortable or at home using the term lesbian, whereas, queer just feels like home to me. I am a part of queer culture, and I feel that the term communicates my life, not just who I and how I choose to love but also in other areas of my life. I have never been ‘normal’, hence why my mother was totally unsurprised when I came out as poly. She said: “Well you’ve never been normal in any other area of your life, why should your love life be any different?”…

…I am aware that some people are triggered or not comfortable with the word queer, so I try to only use it when referring to myself. I feel like it is a very freeing and inclusive term personally. It means that I am not straight and refuse to accept norms and the pressures of society, (unless of course, I actually like doing the stereotypical thing and it serves me, not going to cut my nose off to spite my face).”

Holly Burnard (twitter/ instagram)

 

Amy Franks Portrait

“So for me ‘queer’ is a term that means something different to everyone. For some it’s a slur, and for others it’s empowering. I’m very aware of the political statement I’m making in identifying this way, and that’s very important to me. In the last five years I’ve identified in multiple ways, and I’ve come to recognise the fluidity of my sexuality, and that other terms aren’t always inclusive of people who don’t fit into the gender binary. For me, identifying as ‘queer’ means that I’m not straight, and I refuse to fit into cis-heteronormative ideals.”

Amy Franks (twitter)

 

Estella Nox Portrait

 

“I don’t personally use [the term queer] because I prefer the word gay as an umbrella term and when using queer because of its negative history and connotations: using it as a general term for LGBT people coming from people who don’t identify as such can be seen as dismissive of its history… I’d only be happy for someone to describe me as queer if I knew the person very well otherwise it could come across as a slur… I think my main view is if you’re LGBT, use what you want to describe yourself, if you’re not, just be aware it can still be offensive.”

Estella Nox (twitter / blog)

 

As Estella points out, ‘queer’ is not welcomed by everyone in the community with open arms. There are many LGBT+ individuals who have experienced violence and discrimination as a result of their sexuality or gender identity. For these people, the word has a harmful and traumatic history and therefore many do not wish to associate positivist with the term. There are also some who feel that an umbrella term like queer dissolves important individual experiences and reduces people to a universality that doesn’t exist.

So when should you use the word ‘queer’? There isn’t really a definitive answer to this, other than that you should never use it to describe someone who doesn’t self-identify using it. To use the word without someone’s underlying consent could be to misgender them and could even evoke post-traumatic stress due to pejorative usage.

If you (like me) use the word ‘queer’ to describe yourself, then that’s cool. It has been documented as a term that is being used for resistance, a term that is becoming more positive. If you don’t choose to identify with the word, for whatever reason, then that’s okay too. Given it’s difficult history and offensive usage, it’s no wonder that for many people, the word ‘queer’ should be prohibited or forgotten about.

I think what is important to remember is that whatever terminology you identify with and whatever your personal experiences, everyone has the right to be treated fairly and with kindness. If you don’t treat someone fairly because of the word they use to self-identify, then you’re no better than the oppressor.

 

I am #ProudtoBe queer, just like these Youtubers who came together to talk about Queer Pride 2016.

 

Whatever you call it, just remember…

 

it’s okay to be you.

 

Jenna
x

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