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Queer: A Word's Transition


Did you know there used to be a schoolyard game called "smear the queer?" As I understand it someone was "the queer" and all the other players would tackle this kid and maybe steal their ball or something.

I don't think that game is going on a lot these days, partly because the word queer has come a long way. But there still is something of a generational divide about he word.

Many people, both gay and straight who grew up hearing the word used as an insult are uncomfortable when it is used to describe the gay community in a positive way. On the flip side, many young people prefer the word queer to more definitive labels, like gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

But really, when it comes to sexual orientations, we have the proper terminology, and then we have slang. For example, you can be homosexual or queer or gay. A lesbian or a dyke. Heterosexual or straight. But not everyone agrees on which slang terms are acceptable.

While most people are comfortable using the term gay, words like queer, or dyke can be a different story. That’s because both those terms were originally used as insults.

But queer has probably seen a greater transition that any other word.

One teen explains,

"I identify as queer because I am "bi-romantic, but homosexual." In other words, I can feel romantically attracted to both men and women, but only sexually attracted to women."

Another posts:

"I'm a big fan of the word "queer" for defining a sexuality that doesn't fit nicely into boxes. It's kind of the anti-definition. I know a lot of people aren't comfortable with using that term, because it has negative connotations from the past (my mother would positively die if she knew I self-identified using that term). HOWEVER, I alternately call myself bi, a lesbian, queer, and occasionally just "hey-you-with-pretty-girlfriend." I choose my label depending on the closeness of my relation to the person and how long a conversation about sexuality I want to have with them."

But for a different teen the word doesn't feel right. He says:

"I actually don't really like "queer." I don't really mind being referred to as strange, but whenever I hear the word "queer" I think of some scientist studying bizarre phenomena and saying "how queer". And I don't think of homosexuality as a freak occurrence. Gay people appear not only in every demographic of the human race but also all across the animal kingdom. So I don't like the idea of it being reduced to some random and thus irrelevant occurrence."

A Feminist Theory Dictionary blog says:

"After making “queer” a synonym for “homosexual”, the word began to take on a variety of slightly different negative meanings. “Mentally unbalanced or deranged” is a nod to homosexuality being treated as a psychiatric disorder until 1973. “Not feeling physically right” and “of questionable character” are two others.

It’s currently a controversial term. Some argue that it has too much negative connotation to be used while others (laregly activists) have been using it as an inclusive word for gay/lesbian/transgender/pansexual/intersex/asexual/other non hetero-normative communities."

Really, everyone has to choose to use words to define themselves that they are comfortable with. If the negative connotations of "queer" negate the inclusivity of the word for you, then by all means find another term to describe your experience. Words are political and have meaning, and while we all might be saddled with labeled by others, the best labels are those we adopt comfortably.

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