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Identification: Queer

Room for Squares

When I was growing up, I always thought that the correct term for homosexuals was "gay". On television and in movies, it was always: “Oh, that’s the gay guy.” In contrast, the word “queer", which was used by the general public to describe our community as “strange” or “unusual", was not supposed to sit well with us. That was a dirty word, a derogatory term frequently used as a metaphorical spit in the face.

Of course we preferred to be called gay. Gay is good, gay means happy; and we are both of those things. Queer was crazy, out of line, and bordering on insane. Queer people demonstrated inappropriate sexual behavior such as male effeminacy or vice versa. After all, gender roles are clearly defined, and to cross a line in either direction would be a clear indication of mild insanity at the least. Certainly, that is a depiction we’d neither like to uphold nor wish to sanction.

Well, times have changed. On a recent outing with some buddies of mine, we were sitting in a car discussing and debating all the different terminologies that we have for our community. One of us stated that LGBT was too technical a term. Moreover, “It doesn’t have a nice ring to it.” Then someone brought up the fact that “gay community” isn’t right either because for one thing, it’s not all-inclusive, and for another, “gay” is now the colloquial equivalent of a major bummer. So what choices were left to us but “queer community?”

It was at this point that I started to think about the connotations of the word “queer.” It’s true that back in the day, a queer label was a label of social deviance. But nowadays the world is a completely different place. Social deviance is a sign of acceptance. A “queer” label in the 21st century is Music With A Twist, the music industry’s pioneering first major LGBT record label and a Columbia subsidiary home to musical acts like The Gossip, Kirsten Price and Jonathan Mendelsohn & Wamdue Project. A queer label is a cable network like Showtime, home to such groundbreaking dramas like “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word". In fact, the very title of “Queer as Folk” comes from an old English saying: “there’s nought so queer as folk.” Yes, times have definitely changed.

The sociopolitical connotations are clear. When we say we are a "queer community", we are not bowing to the past taxonomies of psychological and social misbehavior. Instead, we’re sticking our middle fingers up at them. So what if we exhibit inappropriate sexual tendencies? So what if we like to sleep with people of the same sex, or people of all sexes for that matter? So what? We don’t all need to have the same lives in order to have the same rights.

I feel as if we’ve taken back our identities. In contemporary usage, "queer" is now an all-inclusive umbrella term for those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, intersexual, genderqueer and what have you. For activists, it is a political term on which they can base their ideas on rejecting traditional gender roles. In a broader sense, it has become a term to be used by all who feel oppressed by the larger heteronormative culture.

In a sense, we are still outside the bounds of society, and we are still breaking the rules. That cannot be denied. But those are still “their” rules and “their” society. What a “queer community” allows us to do is to come together so that in time, our rules and our bounds will be seen as all inclusive too. If we didn’t first take back our gender identities and our labels, we’d never have been able to break free of them.