A couple weeks ago, Amna wrote a post about desi, and what that word means to her. This inspired me to start thinking about the way I use queer, and I thought it might be useful, both for me and others, to take a closer look at this word that signifies so much.
I first encountered queer at the LGBTQ center in college. It must have been pretty early in my college career. I’m guessing I was in my second semester as a freshman, when I first started trying to meet people on campus who were more like me than the students in my music classes. Queer was introduced as an umbrella term (a queer umbrella! an umbrella of queer!): something that encompassed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, and any other identifier we wanted to pool in there. Queer was less awkward than LGBTQ, the string of letters our parents didn’t understand and we sometimes mixed up as it rolled off our tongues. Queer was inclusive. It meant that you didn’t have to sum up your romantic and sexual practices with a word that already had decades of stereotypes built into it.* It allowed for fluidity of gender and sexuality. This concept of fluidity was groundbreaking for minds that had, up to this point, been schooled in classical literature and algebra, where the binaries of right/wrong, either/or, and black/white were assumed as reality.
Queer made people pay attention. It was the reclaiming of a word that had been used, historically, as the most base insult to a community in hiding. (Still, when I use the word around my parents, who grew up in the fifties and sixties, it throws them off.) Similar to other words that subcultures have reclaimed, queer has a very different meaning when used by those who have reclaimed it than it does when hurled at us by the mainstream.
Queer is an expression not only of a community reclaiming a charged word, but of a revolution. When I say queer, I don’t just mean it as an adjective that describes your or my gender or sexuality as different from the norm. I also mean to identify, through queer, a subversive quality. I’m talking about a tendency to embrace lifestyles that run counter to mainstream culture. Urban gardening can be queer. Veganism, certainly. Bicycling places instead of driving to them, fat acceptance, sex positivity, rethinking consumption habits: all these could be thought of as queer ways of interacting with the world.
When I say queer, I almost always mean awesome. I unapolagetically intend queer as inclusive. No matter who you date, no matter how much or little of a freak you are, I say you can identify as queer if you want to. There are no requirements to join, and the door is always open.
*If you’re interested, there was a great article in the most recent Bitch Magazine that addressed how identifying as lesbian is becoming less common (and being replaced by words like queer).