The Problem With the Word 'Queer'
There seems to be yet another controversy in our community this week. The issue du jour is The Huffington Post changing its dedicated LGBT site’s name from Gay Voices to Queer Voices. While there are strong opinions on both sides of this issue, when I heard about it, it brought a smile to my face.
Since the beginning of my activism back in 1969, I’ve witnessed our community’s attempts to unite over a word or term to define ourselves. There was “homosexual,” “homophile,” “gay,” “gay and lesbian,” and most recently, and most accepted, “LGBT.” So what about “queer”?
HuffPost’s reasoning? “We, like many others before us, have chosen to reclaim ‘queer.’ ‘Queer’ functions as an umbrella term that includes not only the lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people of ‘LGBT,’ but also those whose identities fall in between, outside of or stretch beyond those categories, including genderqueer people, intersex people, asexual people, pansexual people, polyamorous people and those questioning their sexuality or gender, to name just a few.”
First, on reclaiming the word. I say, good luck with that. We saw how great that worked for African-Americans when some tried to reclaim the n word. While the word “queer” is popular with young LGBT activists, many in our community detest it. Reclaiming a derogatory word is not a new trend. Some of us used to use the word “faggot.” The first suggested title for my memoir was Pinko Jew Faggot. We ruled it out for the same reasons we would have rejected “queer”; it’s just a word du jour and we didn’t want to offend those in our very own community.
It’s popular with only one segment of our population, and that segment is overwhelmingly activist-driven. Most in our community do not consider themselves activists and still feel hurt when they hear that word. Are we trying to teach our own community, or are we trying to fight for equality? Are we trying to hurt the seniors in our community who suffered harassment by the use of that word and give them another barrier to overcome?
Maybe we should attempt to solve some of the hard-core issues in our community rather then spending time debating semantics. While all individuals have the right to identify with whatever term or image they wish for themselves, and that should be respected, the word-reclaiming, like that in the black community, will eventually be passé.
So if you spend any capital or time on this, you’re ignoring issues such as homelessness, poverty, employment discrimination, the need for housing to protect our seniors, and anti-trans violence. Those are problems I’d rather address, not a word — and especially not one that some of the most endangered people in our community see as another barrier.
Mark Segal is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His memoir, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality, is available online or at your favorite bookseller.