Queer Controversy: a slur, an identity, an umbrella term

The word ‘queer’ is one which I’ve has been associated with this blog from the beginning.  In terms of my own identity, it took me a little longer to warm to it.  I’ve recently seen a few posts online regarding the debate over the word ‘queer’ as well as using it as an umbrella term or identifying label.  In summary, here are some, of many reasons people give for not using ‘queer’ as an umbrella term:
Queer is a slur which hasn’t been reclaimed by everyone within the community.

Queer doesn’t encompass the whole of the LGBT+ community as it only signifies sexuality rather than gender identity etc.

Queer is a term coined by cis, straight theorists and is therefore being used about us rather than within the community.

Queer is too often used by the media to avoid using ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’ and therefore contributes to the erasure of these identities.

Origins, Reclamation & Theory

The origins of ‘queer’ as we know it are unclear, however it’s thought to come from 16th Century German and has a few different meanings attached: perverse, odd and oblique (oblique meaning: not straight/slanting).  The origins of queer as a directly targeted slur come much later, in the late 19th Century when it began to be used in hate speech against, predominantly, gay men.  This was particularly prevalent in the media surrounding Oscar Wilde.    

The reclamation of ‘queer’ is relatively contemporary, though not as contemporary as ‘queer theory’.  Queer reclamation came at the time of the HIV & Aids epidemic and was centred on activism and anarchy in equal measure.  The use of ‘queer’ was a disruptive one, taken on by activist organisations such as Queer Nation.  The 1980s protests and riots are the origin story for the battle cry of ‘we’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear’, a chant still used at Pride marches and parades today.

‘Queer theory’ was coined in the 1990s, emerging from women’s studies as a new post-structuralist critical theory.  There are a number of issues surrounding queer theory, predominantly that it often allows for cis, straight people to write on trans, queer issues.  Judith Butler has become somewhat infamous in academia for her books Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender, both of which, I believe, are wildly problematic (but that’s for a future post). 

Identifying as Queer & Using it within this Site

I’m a queer person.  I’m a trans and non-binary person and I’m attracted to all genders (or those with lack of gender) and I feel that this word suits the way that I feel.  I see the value in this word and the intricacy of using it.  I love that it comes from ‘oblique’; defining as simply ‘not straight’ feels like a deliberate move against the trappings of labels which have gendered connotations.  The activist history of the reclamation of ‘queer’ also feels fitting for this website/blog as it does for me as an individual.  I can also appreciate that for many people, this word signifies different things than it does for me or has negative connotations. 

I’d love to hear your experiences and usage of ‘queer’, particularly if you feel differently to me and find the negative history of the word too overpowering to reclaim it.  Let me know your experience or feelings of ‘queer’, write me a comment, or write your own blog post and link me to it.- AB

Here’s a great (and more thorough) article on the etymology and history of the word ‘queer’.

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2 thoughts on “Queer Controversy: a slur, an identity, an umbrella term

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  1. My own very personal feeling on using the word I guess also comes from knowing it has been used in the past as derogatory but then so many words have . I guess I’ve warmed to it more and more on my journey of self as I’ve always seen myself as weird and not quite the same as everybody in my life so – queer seems more and more perfect as I define myself I think and I can see why so many are keen to reclaim it in a good way. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your input and sharing your views on the word! I think it’s fascinating how every individual uses language to suit them and self-identifies accordingly, I’m glad that you’re finding ways to identify which suit you and your feelings.- AB

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