Tue. Oct 20th, 2020

The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Queer: questionable umbrella term needs to be left behind?

3 min read
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?”

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash


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.


4 thoughts on “Queer: questionable umbrella term needs to be left behind?

  1. This is a good argument. I always thought of the word “queer” to mean “different” or “odd”, and so using it to describe us sexual/gender minorities felt perfectly right.

    I suppose when many people don’t see it that way, it is time to have a conversation about it. I will continue to call the community the Queer Community, because we’re different in our own special, odd way. That, and it covers more than just sexual minorities, but also gender minorities and other kinds of related minorities.

    I never saw a problem with it. If someone ever called me “queer” in a derogatory manner, I’d most likely look at them and ask what decade they thought they were in. If the answer isn’t “1950s”, I’d laugh in their face.

    Take it with a smile and own the word. It’s ours. Not their’s.

  2. I find it ‘queer’ that the LGBT community on one hand wants to put forth that their sexual preference and/or identity doesn’t make them different than anyone else, but then want to turn around and label themselves with a word that means ‘odd’, ‘different’, etc. The word used as a label for homosexuals began as a slur by someone heterosexual, who thought it odd that someone would be attracted to his/her own sex. Most people no longer think this is odd, so use of the word queer to identify LGBT persons no longer seems valid. I would like to see this stop, so the word can actually be used as it was intended. A person acting strangely is being queer. We can’t use the word gay to imply happiness anymore, do we really need to completely lose the use of another adjective?

  3. In response to the second anonymous message, part of the reason I wrote this article was because I don’t believe it is our word. LGBT people are still being called queer in violent and derogatory ways. It’s not a word that became ours after the 1950’s because it’s not a word that ever ceased to be used to hurt, isolate, and humiliate us.

    If you personally feel comfortable using the word and laughing at those who throw it at you I applaud you. But you cannot ask the rest of us to take it with a smile.

    I have been cursed at and called queer just for holding another woman’s hand. And the men who scream (normally women will just try to protect their children and throw hateful glances) are terrifying. The homophobes who use this word don’t care that it’s 2016, they still own the word. They know they own it because when they scream it at you, you become afraid. You’re afraid they will physically harm you or your partner. In my experience you don’t have the chance to ask them a question or laugh in their face, you put your head down and hope you make it out unharmed.

    My point is, while you may feel as if the word is yours, there are many LGBT people like me who will never feel the same fondness to the slur. And that’s okay. It’s time we have a discussion as a community about it.

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