Queer: questionable umbrella term needs to be left behind?
By KYRA KETCH
In recent years, ‘queer’ has been used as an umbrella term for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. I would like to ask: “should it be?”
The word, defined by Merriam-Webster as “worthless,” “counterfeit,” “questionable,” ‘suspicious,” “differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal,” “unconventional,” “mildly insane” and “not quite well” bears no resemblance to my sexuality. As a lesbian, I have never been comfortable with the word queer.
After years of attempting to convince myself that my sexuality was not something dirty and learning to love this part of myself I had tried so hard to repress, a twinge of anger strikes my heart every time I am called ‘queer.’ I consider the word a slur and am curious as to why such a word became an umbrella term for everyone in the LGBT community.
“Queer can be a great term for someone to use when they don’t feel like diving into their whole sexuality,” said Emily Bostaph UMW LGBT activist and creator of documentary series My Cross to Bear.
“I think it’s a wonderful term to be used by people who aren’t yet sure of what they are. If people are questioning or trying to discover their true sexualities, queer gives them something to label themselves as in the meantime.”
Bostaph, who also identifies as a lesbian, is far more comfortable than I am using ‘queer’ as an umbrella term. However, we do both agree on the fact that the term is a slur.
“I think recently, in the past five or so years, we [the LGBTQ community] have reclaimed it as our own.
We have taken back the term and now use it in an inclusive and more importantly positive manner,” Bostaph said.
Reclamation of slurs is a common phenomenon among oppressed groups. However, this reclamation is usually performed on an individual level rather than community wide. While I can see the convenience of ‘queer’ in comparison to the mouthful of an acronym that is LGBT, I do not think we should place convenience above respect for the members of our community who are not comfortable with the slur.
To get a better understanding of how people feel about the word ‘queer,’ I recently held an anonymous online survey. What I found was that 54 percent of survey participants had been called ‘queer’ in a derogatory manner.
A significant amount of those who had experienced this identified themselves as under the age of 18. To me, this proves that ‘queer’ is not simply a slur of the past; it is not a slur that died in the 1970’s. Individuals are still using this word to slander and subjugate us.
When surveyed on if they referred to individual LGBT people as ‘queer’ without asking if those people were comfortable with it, over 84 percent of participants said that they never did so. Only 2 percent of participants said that they frequently referred to LGBT people as ‘queer’ without asking first.
My question is: if we are so uncomfortable calling individual LGBT people queer without their permission, why are we comfortable referring to our entire community as “the queer community?”
I agree that the reclamation of the slur is great for individuals who are questioning or feel they don’t quite fit into a more specific identity.
However, many of us are not questioning, and many like me are uncomfortable being labeled with the slur. Our community is made of a broad spectrum of individuals, not one of which I would call “worthless” or “not quite well.” It’s about time we rethink queer.