“Queer”: Its Roots and Modern Significance to the LGBT Community

Monday, October 25, 2010 § 5

After using the term queer in my last post about the It Gets Better Project, I paused for second. Would all of my readers (hey guys!) get what I mean when I refer to “queer adults”. Do I even fully grasp what queer means?

The term queer has a a complex history, with a meaning that’s bended and buckled over time. After it’s origin in the 16th century from the German root Quer, queer was mostly an adjective that meant strange or unusual. Towards the end of the 19th century and most of the 20th the word served as a derogatory slur for (usually effeminate) gay or transgendered individuals. Merriam Webster captures it's various meanings nicely.

While it still can be (and is) used as slur, it has been mostly reclaimed (beginning in the mid 90s) by many in the LGBT community to mean pretty much anyone who’s gender and/or sexual identity isn’t “normative”.

The term queer covers people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, pansexual, pomosexual, intersexual, genderqueer, two-spirit and even asexual or heterosexual individuals who view themselves as not heteronormative, as well as others individuals who don’t fall into any of these boxes*.

Today, the term queer is pretty widely accepted in the LGBT community. It pops up in popular television shows like “Queer Eye”, popular blogs like Queerty and in respected universities in the form of Queer Studies.

The term Queer is important to the LGBT community today for a few different reasons.

1. It’s much more practical as an umbrella term than the common practice of adding more and more letters onto LGBT. The term LGBT was originally coined with the intention of representing a variety of people with varying sexualities and genders. But today? It’s not cutting with all of the differing identities people have. Some people try and fix that by adding more and more letters onto LGBT, but then you just end up with something like LGBTTTIQQAA, an acronym so long it’s almost unusable. Queer is a lot more practical, and frankly less intimidating, especially to those outside the LGBT community.

2. With more and more people identifying as genderqueer or other identities that fall outside of the traditional gender binary, terms like gay or straight don’t quite work. If you identify as somewhere in-between male and female, or another gender entirely, and you’re attracted to guys, what does that make your sexuality? Queer seems to work nicely for many.

3. It’s an inclusive term. Like I mentioned in my 1st point, LGBT just doesn’t cut it any more when referring to all people with sexual and/or gender identities that don’t quite fit the norm. While some in the LGBT community complain about the addition of more and more communities, I disagree. So many of the goals are connected. Hate crime legislation, the right to marry regardless of gender, to adopt, an end to bullying and persecution just for being different. These are not small fights, and excluding people who want to help is not going to make it any easier. To garner support from everyone, its necessary to use terminology that includes them.

Queer is here to stay, and its usage will likely only increase from here. And to me, that’s a good thing.

*Confused about some of these terms? No worries, one of them (pomosexual) even threw me for a loop ! There are a lot of terms out there, and it seems like more pop up everyday! That’s what makes wikipedia and google such great resources, and queer such a great umbrella term =].

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§ 5 Response to ““Queer”: Its Roots and Modern Significance to the LGBT Community”

  • Anonymous says:

    Good synopsis. What do you say to the people who are genuinely wounded by the word? I run into the same issue with the word tranny. I mean no disrespect or harm, but some folks are seriously hurt. Trying to figure a way around that. The evolution of queer as an identity parallels that conundrum.

  • Anonymous says:

    Great post, Kyle! I like how you provided plenty of links for those of us who aren't anywhere near as educated as you about the queer community. As always, you're writing style was phenomenal, and you had very well-articluated ideas that I completely agree with. I'm also curious about what Kate asked... Maybe next post?

    -- Kate H

  • emilygw says:

    Wonderful job as always. I didn't know much (or anything!) about the term "queer" except for what you hear in the hallways of high school and the fact that it was associated with LGBT, so your post was extremely informative for me. Just two weeks ago in peer group with my freshmen, I talked to them about anti-gay bullying and how they can help stop the abuse in high school. One of the main things that came up in the discussion was to eliminate the words "gay", "queer" and "fag" from their vocabularies (when used to mean weird, dumb, stupid, etc). These words are just tossed around everyday to mean dumb and stupid, but people really need to stop and think about what they really mean before saying them. If you are right in saying that "queer" is widely accepted by the LGBT community, then our society needs to work to make sure that the term is widely accepted in its true sense as well. Thanks again for another great post! -Emily W.

  • I think you focused on some really excellent points Kyle. I'm exactly sure how I feel on the issues of using an endlessly growing acronym or one word. From the link you posted, I understand how the word "queer" could have some negative connotations, simply from a dictionary standpoint, but at the same time, it is a much more cohesive way of referring to anyone who isn't heteronormative (thanks for the word Kyle!).

    And I agree with the Kates, some people may be genuinely hurt, but it seems like it'd be impossible to find something that everyone is content with that encompasses a community so large. It almost parallels the African American community in the way that there have been many terms for them that always offend someone.

  • Kate (Bornstein)-

    I guess I'm not really sure. It's hard, because I believe that "queer" is a really important term for the LGBT community, but at the same time it is still offensive to many. I feel like there's a point, when reclaiming words, where a word crosses over offensive to generally acceptable when used in the right context. I think queer's passed that point, and though I feel awful about the people who are still offended when its used, even in an appropriate context, I'm not sure if anything can be done except hope that people can move on.

    On the other hand, I don't think "tranny" has crossed that point onto generally acceptable. But that's my opinion, and there's really no way to get a general consensus from the community. That's one of the problems with reclaiming words with such a diverse community, not everyone's gonna be on the same page.

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