“Queer” is a term that has always intrigued me. It has taken on
so many different meanings throughout the years. The word itself means weird or suspicious, and the term started as an insult, a kind of slur, although it’s hard to imagine anyone other than a teenage boy from the 1960s using it in a derogatory way. The word has been re-appropriated by the LGBT community.
“We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” is a chant frequently heard at pride and protest events. It’s an umbrella term; a way to say “LGBT” without having to say an awkward mouthful of letters, and it’s a term that includes all of the non-gender binary identities that the LGBT label tends to ignore.
In recent years, however, queer has taken on a whole new meaning. It has become an identity in itself. There’s gay, there’s lesbian, there’s bisexual, there’s trans and then there’s queer. It means both everything and something completely different.
Sophomore sociology major Kenny Wittwer originally came out as gay and identified as such before learning about the queer community. Since then, however, he has identified as queer.
“The term gay is pretty restricting and limits it to your sexual identity,” he said. “It also has all of these connotations. People who identify as gay generally only date cis-gendered males, and I’m open to dating anyone who just identifies as male.”
Wittwer said he also prefers queer because of the fluidity it allows in terms of gender expression. While Wittwer does not consider himself trans, he said he doesn’t adhere to strict masculine gender stereotypes and feels that queer, as an identity, reflects that.
While the term gay can be restricting, queer is anything but. There is no real definition of the word, no lines for where it begins and ends. If you feel queer – that is, if you don’t feel like you fit into any specific box in terms of how you express yourself or whom you’re attracted to, you are more than welcome to identify as queer.
There are people who engage in only heterosexual relationships, yet still consider themselves queer because of their dating practices or the way they express themselves. I think this is where the term queer intrigues me.
I like fitting into a specific box. I’m a girl and I’m attracted to girls, so I’m a lesbian. It’s a label that is easy to wear and easy to explain. I don’t really feel the need to question myself. It takes an incredible amount of self-awareness to look at all these boxes that society has made for us and say, I’m none of these – I’m something else entirely, and embrace that.
Queer is a fairly new phenomenon. The word has evolved from slur to a rally cry for activists to the identity that it is today.
“It’s gaining a lot of traction in Generation Y,” Wittwer said. “Since we’re kind of diving into postmodernism in terms of sexual and gender identities, we don’t feel as confined to those labels. I think queer is a nice way to circumvent them in a way and be a lot more fluid.”
Without a doubt, our generation has embraced the idea that sexuality is a spectrum. As people become more tolerant and accepting of gender and sexual identities, it allows more freedom for us to explore and bend the rules and challenge those stereotypes.
“We don’t feel the need to label or identify,” Wittwer said. “We just are.”
That lack of labels can have a downside as well. Not being able to say, “I am this and it means this,” can lead to invisibility. The LGBT community is still working toward accurate and fair representation in politics and media. If you identify as something that isn’t as tangible as gay or lesbian and isn’t as widely understood by the general public, it is really easy to feel ignored.
While queer is frequently used as an all-encompassing term, I can’t help but wonder if it divides us. The LGBT community as a whole is a large and diverse group of people. While we’re all categorized together because we break the hetero-normative mold, there are so many subcategories that we put ourselves into as well. Is queer another way that we split ourselves up?
Honestly, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The LGBT community has fully embraced queer as both an identity on its own and as an umbrella term. It is used by many LGBT organizations: popular LGBT news website Queerty, Temple’s Queer Student Union, the Q in the name of this very column. It’s a word that has brought us together. If someone identifies as queer, no matter which of the many subcategories of LGBT they may fall into, you know you have a kindred spirit.
J.B. Parkes, a senior math and computer science major, agrees.
“It’s a unifying term,” Parkes said, who identifies as both bisexual and queer. “People want to say, ‘I might be gay and you might be trans, but we both support the whole issue together. Even though my issues aren’t your issues.’ We’re a community, and it’s the queer community.”
Sara Patterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.