Queering Forth

8 Feb

The definition of  ‘queer’ is quite complicated. However, for people like me who are immersed in Gender Studies, have queer friends, and live in Brighton, it’s easy to forget that! After hearing some poor attempts from people trying to succinctly explain ‘queer’ to people unsure of the term, I thought I’d have a go myself.

I think the most basic explanation is that ‘queer’ means ‘traditional labels for sexuality (or gender) don’t fit me.’ As far as I can see, there are 4 main uses of the term ‘queer,’ some of which overlap:

  • As a term of abuse – ‘Queer’ was originally a slur directed at gay people. This used to be more common a few decades ago; now, the LGBT community has reclaimed the term, and many use it to refer to themselves. However, some people still throw the term around as an insult. It’s all about context!
  • As an umbrella term for LGBT – Sometimes people will use ‘queer’ as a shorthand for all sexualities that aren’t ‘straight’ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual…it’s useful to have a shorthand!)
  • As a term for sexual orientation that doesn’t fit traditional labels – Some people feel that ‘gay’, ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ or any other term doesn’t quite fit them. We have quite strong cultural ideas about what these labels mean, and some people feel those categories don’t reflect the complicated nature of their sexualities. So, if someone says their orientation is ‘queer,’ it means they’re not heterosexual,* but their orientation also isn’t ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ or ‘lesbian.’
  • As a term for gender identity that doesn’t fit traditional labels – If someone identifies as ‘genderqueer,’ rather than ‘male,’ ‘female,’ or anything else, it means they don’t feel those labels fit them. They might see male/female as too strict a binary, categories which have a lot of cultural associations that just don’t work for them. So, they’re genderqueer. Simple!

If you’ve never met anyone who identifies this way, it might be difficult to understand. But part of the point of the term ‘queer’ is to challenge the categories we have created for ourselves; in many ways it is a byword for subverting traditional labels and binaries, and challenging the idea of ‘normal.’

*Some people argue that people who are basically heterosexual can indeed identify as ‘queer.’ For example, if you subvert our strong cultural associations with straight sexuality – by having same-sex fantasies, engaging in anal penetration as a straight man, or by being straight but not having relationships at all, for some examples – then you could argue you are ‘queer.’ However, other people say that this is an example of straight people appropriating a word or idea which has nothing much to do with them.

What do you think the term ‘queer’ means? Is there anything else I’ve missed?

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7 Responses to “Queering Forth”

  1. Nick McGlynn February 8, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Obviously I’m not interested in policing the boundaries of queer, but queerness for me also involves being extremely suspicious and critical of the idea of ‘normal’.

    • gl205 February 8, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

      Good suggestion, I’ll add it to my post!

      • Nick McGlynn February 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

        Oh that’s OK, you don’t need to add stuff just on my say so! 😀 I think we all have our own ways of understanding and living queerness, and some things will be on one person’s list and not another’s!

  2. amoammo May 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Hey guys! This is random 🙂
    I’m late to this party, but what about the way people use queer as a synonym for specific GSM words? (ie not just as an umbrella) For example an individual might say they’re queer solely to refer to the fact that they’re gay. And it’s not just people talking about themselves – people use it to refer to third parties that way too. At an extreme you see this usage manifest itself in identity policing when people argue “queer means gay. Only gay people are allowed to use to the word queer because its inaccurate to use it to refer to anything else.”

    ps don’t add my comment either. Not least because I’m not even sure I agree with the premise of your post 😛 x

    • gl205 May 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

      Yeah, I don’t really mind it when people use ‘queer’ as a synonym for specific GSM words like gay or bisexual. I think it indicates that person is particularly keen to emphasise that they don’t fit into heteronormative ideas of sexuality, and that although others might describe them as ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual,’ they might feel those labels carry certain expectations they don’t like.

      I’ve never heard anyone say that ‘queer means gay,’ but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

      Out of interest, what don’t you agree with re: the premise of the post?

      – Gill

      • amoammo May 10, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

        I will reply to this. Don’t let me forgot.

  3. amoammo May 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    That last smiley is a stuck-out tongue but doesn’t look like it…?

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