Positive Living: We’re Here…We’re Queer?

By : Greg Stemm
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There is a move afoot among millennials and younger generations to dump the ever-growing “alphabet soup” of letters (LBGTQIA) describing our community and simply call all of us “queer.”

I admit I am conflicted about this argument. In many discussions I’ve had with a variety of people who might all fall under the “queer” label across a wide range of ages, the conversation brings up deeper topics about who and what we are as a community, where we want to go and where we fall in mainstream society. It may seem like a simple and silly thing, but in actuality we should all probably give it some consideration.Let’s take a look at what we mean when we say “queer.” Here is how Wikipedia describes the word: “Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Originally meaning ‘strange’ or ‘peculiar,’ queer came to be used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires or relationships in the late 19th century. Beginning in the late 1980s, queer scholars and activists began to reclaim the word to establish community and assert an identity distinct from the gay identity. People who reject traditional gender identities and seek a broader and deliberately ambiguous alternative to the label LGBT may describe themselves as queer.”

But even Wikipedia fudges its bets on whether this trend is broadly accepted among our community. They go on to say that “critics of the use of the term include members of the LGBT community and others who associate the term more with its colloquial usage as a derogatory insult or who wish to dissociate themselves from queer radicalism.”

ABC News recently ran a story about this and quoted Reina Gossett, a 30-year-old transgender woman who identifies as “queer,” says the term is “political” and has a “legacy of resistance.”

“There is a long history of people who identified on the margins of culture,” she said. “It’s about naming a lineage of people who are gender outlaws and didn’t fit into normative ideas about what it means to be gay or lesbian. It’s a way to subvert the idea that we should all be normal. That being like everyone else is a good thing.” So much for inclusion in mainstream society.

The problem for many older members of the community is that “queer” has negative connotations that are almost as bad as using the “f” word. As a 57-year-old gay man who has been on the front lines of the culture wars for decades I tend to feel that way too. I remember all too well children on the playground calling me a “queer” and inclusion is not what they had in mind. On the other hand I find it interesting that the same people (including me) who were chanting “We’re Here, We’re Queer” in Pride parades in the 70s and 80s have such an aversion to the word.

Many of the Gen X and baby boomers to whom I’ve spoken were open minded if others wanted to identify as “queer,” but most said they were perfectly comfortable with their designation as a gay man, lesbian or transgender person. One said she would support anyone who wanted to use that designation for themselves but it wouldn’t work for her, so she couldn’t see how using it to describe the entire community could be accepted.

One millennial to whom I spoke said he was actually offended by both. He noted to me that if he had to have a letter associated with how he identified it would be “F,” for “fluid.” I ran into that type of thinking with many younger folks. They simply don’t see the need for labeling something that for them can change day by day. One person told me that he might be gayer or straighter on any given day.

For many who are older that may be a difficult concept to grasp. One of the reasons some millennials seem to prefer “queer” to a range of letters is that they see it as broader definition of what is actually happening with them and their sexuality. They seem to identify not a given mark, but as a continuum; some said to me that the letters confine them to one label when in fact they may wear many.

Interestingly, most of my straight friends I discussed this with were strongly opposed to the idea of using the term. One said to me she had lived her whole life working on accepting gay people as normal parts of society. For her the word “queer” stills means “strange,” a label she would be uncomfortable using when describing her many gay friends.

I have to say the most uplifting thing about the entire conversation for me is that the motivation from both sides seems to be about inclusion, which is refreshing in these very divisive times. No matter how we identify or what labels or terms we use to describe ourselves, let’s not forget that we are all part of one human family. Let’s come together and celebrate that!

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