The Queer Tyranny

Some people hate the word QUEER. They find it offensive and derisive–a term no self-respecting gay or lesbian should use to describe themselves. . For many LGBT people the word carries a history of abuse, oppression and even violence.

Marvin Bloom also has severe problems with the word QUEER as you will see in his video critique.

My history with the word queer is different to that of some other gay men. Perhaps on the playgrounds in NY where I grew up, homophobes were a little more progressive. They never used the word QUEER to mock me, rather they preferred FAGGOT, HOMO, FAIRY and most often GAY. They never called me QUEER, and I have no memory of  hearing the word used in a negative context.

I first remember coming across the word in the English literature and British films I loved as a child and young adult.

Emily, it is nearly tea time and Rupert has not returned from his ride. It’s ever so queer.

All said in that lovely British movie accent of the 1940’s. Yummy. Queer to me meant out of the ordinary, odd, not the expected. It did not carry a negative connotation, rather it served as a descriptive term used for certain eccentrics or uncommon behavior.

For instance, Mary Martin (not the actress), an 80 plus year old woman in the town where I was raised lived alone with her cats, rode a bike around town, and volunteered for the volunteer ambulance corps up until the time she needed an ambulance herself. In our town she was seen as queer and was much loved by all. Although a single woman all her life, I never even considered if she was lesbian, just a little different, odd, queer in a wonderful quaint Mary Martin sort of way.

For me the word, queer, does not carry a weight of abuse and does not sound derogatory in my ear like it does for some. The word GAY once had that weight, especially when some oppressor spat the word out at me like a poison dart. Language is powerful, and I understand why some people find the word queer offensive and even irredeemable.

When I lived in the ex-gay world one of the most offensive and obnoxious practices had to do with ex-gay leaders asserting that they knew what made us gay and that they somehow possessed a profound understanding of our sexuality, our minds and our motivations. They insisted that we were blind to the truth, and it was their job to enlighten us. They provided a “one-size-fits-all” template that they demanded we follow without ever considering the individual differences between us and our own unique personal histories. They acted as the experts and bullied us (and our families) into following their theories about sexuality, identity and even language.

I find a similar type of bullying among some gay bloggers who demand that if someone uses the word queer that this reveals a self-loathing. They surmise that the use of the word queer demonstrates that the gay person still lives under the weight of anti-gay oppression. They put out a blanket statement without making any considerations for geography, generational differences, personal history or temperament. One size fits all armchair therapizing is a tool well used by ex-gay therapists. I find it repulsive when fellow gay bloggers and activists use it on me and others.

If we have gotten nothing else from the anti-LGBT oppression we survived, I do hope we have learned that it is essential to LISTEN deeply to each other’s stories. My gay experience is not your gay experience. Other voices–younger, older, various races and social backgrounds, gender expressions, etc deserve to be heard and respected.

And if someone says they find liberation or comfort or just playfulness in using a particular word to describe themselves and their experience, even if I cannot say the same, I have no business extracting that word out of their mouths as if it were some sort of linguistic rotten tooth. I can share my discomfort, perhaps even propose a possible theory, but I need to keep my pronouncements to myself.

For my part, I often say that I am queer, in fact a quirky queer Quaker. I mean, I am peace-loving Christian Quaker who likes to worship in silence and stillness , that is odd and out of the mainstream for our world. I am a vegan without a car or TV and work as a playwright/actor/activist/minister hybrid. None of this has anything to do with my sexuality–the fact that I am also gay. Add it all up and I think one can say, That’s ever so queer.


This post has 31 Comments

  1. LauraG on March 5, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Peterson, although I don’t often come across arguments on LGBT blogs that using the word queer shows self-loathing, I have come across a few arguments along those lines that I think merit a slightly closer look than I think you’ve given them. One argument is that the word queer implies difference and non-mainstream. This position and self-identity that is then critiqued as both politically unhelpful (following the idea that presenting ourselves as “just like everyone else” is the best political strategy) and a sign of self-loathing (following the idea that if you think of yourself as different it must be due to feeling not as good).

    While I agree that the word queer is often deliberately used to imply difference and a rejection of the mainstream, I don’t agree with either of the next conclusions. I don’t think we need to rest justice claims on a position of same-ness, and I don’t think celebrating difference is a sign of self-loathing.

    There was a big fight in the Meeting I grew up in over endorsing the FGC Central Committee welcoming minute because some of the older straight Friends were uncomfortable about the word queer, which they perceived as an insult or as an academic/political descriptive, not a “description of who someone is.” My response was that all of the words (L, G, B, T, Q) are identity labels, not simply descriptions of “who someone is,” and that all identity labels are political positions. I don’t think that seemed to help the conversation :).

    Of course, I realize that many people use the word queer for reasons other than to imply difference and a rejection of the mainstream–personally, I often use it as both a short-hand for the LGBTQ community and as a self-identity label of last resort since I don’t feel like any of the other labels fit me terribly well. But I also don’t want to lose the word’s transgressive/political meaning, which I think is at risk of happening since it’s becoming widely used as just a way to avoid the alphabet soup.

    More broadly, I think I disagree with your statement that we should always keep our critiques of how people self-identity to ourselves. Yes, we should seek to understand people’s individual experience and not apply blanket theories/our own experience to them, but I think it’s also OK to challenge each other about how we think about ourselves and our communities. Words have power, both internally (psychologically) and externally (politically), and they deserve to be seriously considered.

    Arg, talking about the word queer is just so much more interesting than writing tests for my students, so of course I’ve babbled on at too much length. See what happens when you say you want people to comment on your blog?!? 😉

  2. p2son on March 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks Laura! I love hearing from you.

    Oh, and I am not saying that we should not mention our critiques, I say,

    I can share my discomfort, perhaps even propose a possible theory, but I need to keep my pronouncements to myself.

    It is about the judgmental prounouncements that I find unhelpful.

  3. Brian on March 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Marvin can comment on my blog any day!

  4. Brian on March 5, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    Oh, and @LauraG, I took interest to your comment that “all the words (L, G, B, T, Q) are identity labels … and that all identity labels are political positions.” I think you’ve identified something that can be uncomfortable at times.

    Being openly and affirmingly LGBTQQIPPAA…. is inherently political in an oppressive and anti-queer society. To affirm our lives and our relationships is to go against the status quo … Coming out may well be the most important political act a person takes.

  5. Dan in Toronto on March 5, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I like what you’ve said about ex gay ministries treating every “struggler” the same. Trying to convince you they have this secret knowledge of you, something You don’t know… So true. Instead of listening to their stories, they act as though they already know your story. Where in fact… like you’ve stated everyone is different. Everyone find’s their own labels or names insulting. For some it is queer, for other faggot, etc.

  6. Angelia Sparrow on March 5, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    A lot of people have trouble with queer. Including Ellora’s Cave. If you check your print copy vs the e-book copy, Chuck’s comment about bringing back a semi full of scared little queer kids got reduced to just gay kids.

    I say reduced, because I use queer to mean the entire alphabet soup GLBT+(+++++etc) spectrum. I use it about my family, because the half of us that are sexually active have some degree of queerness in that sexuality.

    I agree with Laura. Labels have power. When I chose a label for myself (like the “Activist Dyke Mom” t-shirt I wear to school confrontations…in my wishes) it tells the world how I perceive myself and how I may react. My Mudd subscribes to the “You can call yourself that, but I have no right to,” school of thought.

    And like you, Peterson, I read too many old novels as a child and didn’t associate queerness with anything but eccentric behavior. Ignore the speech police. Call yourself what you choose.

  7. ephilei on March 5, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I absolutely agree. There can be the same harm in promoting “queer” as demoting it, though. Not every LGBTQI… wants to be take the queer mantle and the pro-queer people need to respect that. I am guilt of this myself. There are many “straight-acting” gays and lesbians who are not queer (in the odd sense or inflamatory sense) and some transexuals who, or all practical purposes, no longer transcend gender (in a sense). While I feel disappointed that such people are choosing the main stream over the queer scene, nevertheless I must accept and respect them.

  8. Sheriah in SA on March 5, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Peterson, first, I must say your english is very good. I never even realised this back when we worked together! I was a kid! (remember when I used to be nervous meeting you for meetings)lol! Thanx for all the support and attention you gave me…Peter, I was reading the whole of leviticus 18 last night, and there are a lot of serious sins there which God has outlined. I still don’t understand why you are at peace with being gay and christian..Homosexuality is one of those issues God has warned the human race against…What i also find suprising is, in all your struggles, you emphasise the route you took with the ex gay house, but not much mention with how you sought God to deliver you from this..You sought man to “cure” you, instead of seeking God…Remember the scriptures, cast all your burdens upon Him? Sorry, I can’t write much as am commenting from my mobile..Am sooo tired, in bed already! So Peter my dear, are you actually saying Leviticus 18:22 has a different meaning?? Only one God can free you..

  9. Sheriah in SA on March 5, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    If you are reading my comment on Peterson’s post, I apologise that I can not post a much more detailed comment as am posting it from my fon, am not on my computer, its late here in S.Africa, half past midnight! Am actually dozing! But, I can promise you this: I have some questions and thoughts tommorow for Peterson and all who believe its ok to be gay and christian..Also, my comments are in no way meant to embarass, demean, hurt, humiliate, demonise or belittle gay people! No. I love gay people, am just finding it hard to understand that one can be gay and christian, based on Leviticus 18:22. My comments are purely meant to stir public debate and educate ourselves. Is Peter up to the challenge? Well, we will wait and see….

  10. Anna Langlois on March 5, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    I love the word queer… in my mind it is a positive thing and should be reclaimed as such. Despite being a straight woman I have been described as Queer in the past and that works perfectly well for me thank you very much!

    Ps) Can’t wait to see you soon P.

  11. Sheriah in SA on March 5, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    And Peter, no tv?!! That is so not gay! How do you keep up with fashion tips? I know classic fashion lies in the power or art of originality, but c’mon, here and there we need some fashion tips from hosts like tyra, Oprah etc..”Queer” eye would come in handy for you! (just kidding). Must sleep now! Gudnite all!

  12. p2son on March 6, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Sheriah in SA, I remember those meetings at the radio station and how nervous you were. I remember a young woman with great ambition, budding skill and lots of good ideas.

    Since I am on vacation this week, I am going to be a little lazy and provide you with links in answer to your questions.
    You write:

    What i also find suprising is, in all your struggles, you emphasise the route you took with the ex gay house, but not much mention with how you sought God to deliver you from this..You sought man to “cure” you, instead of seeking God

    Take a look at my article–Change was NOT Possible, particularly part one, What I was After and Why. Although I write mostly about my experience with ex-gay therapists and programs, much of the process was a highly personal seeking after God in prayer, Bible study and surrender that started when I was 17. It was only after not seeing the fruit of this that I turned to the “professionals” to aid me in my pursuit of God.

    In answer to your questions about Leviticus 18, there are lots of great resources on-line that will help you understand these Jewish codes and how they have been used and interpreted through the years.

    I suggest you take a look at:
    The Bible and Homosexuality
    or …How, as a gay man, am I to conform to the image of Christ?
    by Andy Mapstone
    The Courage web site has LOTS of great information and articles including many by Roy Clements, who is a renowned British Bible scholar.

    The Levitical Law
    by Elaine

    Of course if you were to take the Leviticus 18 passage literally, it only forbids a particular sex act. It does not have anything to say about two men in a committed relationship that includes all sorts of other intimacy. Being gay to me is so much more than a sex act. It is a reality, an orientation, it is about partnership and suitable companionship, it is about gender and gender expression, it is about authenticity.

  13. p2son on March 6, 2009 at 12:54 am

    Oh, and I don’t need to go to TV when TV comes to me 😛
    Check me out sometime chatting with Tyra. (She is MUCH taller in person than I ever imagined. You would be a hobbit next to her)

  14. Tim and/or Earl on March 6, 2009 at 12:57 am

    Great essay Peterson on a topic full of perspectives!

    Words have power, but sometimes it’s not what’s said but how it’s said that conveys the word’s true meaning for the person using that word.

    Sometimes we try to listen only to how someone is saying their words, not listening to the actual words that are being said. We get their message even when we have no idea what words are being uttered.

    “Queer” said by a heterosexual-supremacist conveys a very different meaning than “Queer” said by a self-accepting non-heterosexual.

    We think the alleged “problem” with being Queer begins with heterosexuals, so the solution must be created by heterosexuals.

    Until that day, the self-accepting Queer caught in the heterosexist web (that rules most institutions in the world) can claim some great comfort by redefining for his Queer self how the word Queer is meant, simply by using the word “Queer” in a non-pejorative way to self-affirm.

    Since we must always first become the change we want to see in others, we let “Queer”-acceptance begin with us.

    We two American men, together in love for 33 years and married in Canada, also find that using the “husband” word, in every context as often as heterosexuals flaunt their “husband” or “wife,” is also very healing for us and for the heterosexuals who had never heard two men refer to each other as husbands.

    Heterosexuals (and homosexuals) need to recover from heterosexual-supremacy that is so well taught and so well learned. Fortunately for the human race, anything learned can also be unlearned.


  15. Anna Langlois on March 6, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Media whore… you’re always dropping names 😉

  16. Sheriah-SA on March 6, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Tyra is taller in person than what we see on tv??! Yeah, I find her too tall already just watching her on tv… .Wow, a woman being that tall is just……. I can only imagine how hard it is for her to find a guy taller than her to date! The shorter guys must sometimes be intimidated by her height.. Well back to serious issues now; when I get time later today, I will check your links and definitely post a comment! But don’t wait on it P, my fridays can be hectict! Me and my boyfriend love going out and socialising and on a day like friday, we hang out “late”! Later!

  17. Sheriah-SA on March 6, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Sorry, I meant to say hectic in my last comment!! That’s what happens when there is so much to do, yet so little time on our hands….

  18. Sheriah-SA on March 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Peterson, even if my schedule is busy, I had to do this. First of all, like I mentioned in my e mail to you, I am getting interested in the issue of homosexuality because I am a woman and imagine my son telling me that “mom, am really attracted to a guy??” So, I have to have an open mind to all this, just in case am caught up in such a dilemma. Secondly, for those of you reading this comment, Peterson and I have a history (it’s not what you are thinking), the history we share is that we worked together in Zambia at Christian Voice radio and are good friends. So, as a concerned friend, my whole take on him being homosexual but with a hunger to serve God makes me say, “he is on the wrong path..” Why do I think this way? Well, Leviticus 18:22 is the word of God and we see how God earnestly tells Moses to give this message to the Israelites.. As if that was not enough, He further instructs Moses, “speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: I am the Lord your God..”
    Peter, I checked the links that you told me to look up but am sorry to disappoint you: am sticking to what I said last night. I strongly do not think one can serve God WHOLE and be gay at the same time, because it is going against the very thing God INSTRUCTED Moses in Leviticus 18:22.
    In your reply to my comment last night, you are implying that there is some sort of misinterpretation of Leviticus 18 by mankind?? Now imagine a paedophile saying there is a misinterpretation of leviticus 18:10-18, which talks about incest! Am sure that statement will not only be unfortunate and outrageous, it would be very very misleading!! Should we then, for example encourage peadophiles to say there is a misinterpretation of leviticus 18;10-18, bearing in mind that these abominations are in the same thread, when God was instructing Moses???! Ofcourse not, that would be irresponsible of society to encourage such behaviour, because we know full well what God says to that effect!! In the same breath, I think it very misleading to think Leviticus 18;22 has been misinterpreted. Peterson, Leviticus 18;22 is in the same thread with all the other abominations God warns us against, and God reminds us, “I am the Lord your God…!!” Here are a few questions you must ask yourself: If Lot found homosexuality okay, why was it hard for him to give in to the demands of those men?? Let’s not forget, Lot was a man of God, which is why God was ready and desperate to save him, because of the dark sins of Sodom and Gommoror: Lot wasnt going to give his male guests out his for sexual pleasure!! Ofcourse Lot knew that those men were not seeking meaningful long term relationships with his guests, but even so, he still COULDNT do it! He couldn’t hand over his guests to the men of Sodom and Gommoror because he knew what God said about such acts! He even suggested he give them his daughters instead. Thats how much Lot freaked out at the thought of his male guests getting into sexual activities with other males…. He had to rest on the decision to give out his daughters instead, just to avoid sexual activities amongst men…Like I mentioned last night Peter, you put a lot of emphasis on ex gay ministries; in your videos, your blogs etc, but not as much the same emphasis on how “God failed to heal you???” As a christian, why don’t you encourage others with the same struggles as yours, to look up to God?? Peter, are you saying God is incapable of healing anyone?? Did I hear you right?? This is a God who raised Lazaras from the dead! This is a God who raised His son from the dead!! This is a God who healed a woman who had been bleeding for years!! No, Peter, am sorry, if you seek God in anything, He will heal, or deliver you, whatever you want to call it… I mentioned to you before, that you seem to have a calling and you have great talent too, because yes, I watched most of your videos on you tube and I have a confession to make: much as I don’t approve of homosexuality, I did enjoy your gay jokes… Here is an idea, how about stand up comed that touch on all issues of life and not just gay stuffy?? Surely, with uncle George out of office, you have a lot of material to work with! Not only that, you can touch on subjects from all walks of life in your comedy, because, yes you can!
    Now, back to ex gay ministries, honestly, how can one be “fixed” if there was so much hooking up like you say in your video?? Its like getting stuck for a year in house full of alcohol and you want to stop drinking! Actually any hardcore christian would be suprised to NOTE that you are going on about getting healed by therapy, exorcism etc!! No, continue seeking God in all your struggles, nothing is impossible with God, if you tell him YOU WANT TO CHANGE!! Look, I believe some people are born homosexual, although am not too sure about this, but true healing can be attained through GOD…. Also, only those who are ignorant about the scriptures would think God does not love homosexuals! God loves everyone, including lesbian and homosexuals. He loves us regardless of what sin we commit. Those are just some of the bonuses we get by being wrapped up in God’s love. God hates sin, but doesnt hate the sinner. You may be pleased to know that, I look at you the same way I knew you at christian voice, am only worried that you are on the wrong path by being homosexual, seeing you hunger to serve God! Peter, over $30,000 to de-gay yourself??!!! God knows how many homes we would have built in Ecuador, Zambia, Thailand etc for the less priviledged… yet in God, you could have God healing at the price of nothing!
    Finally, I want to repeat what I said last night…I love gay people, I really do. As a straight young woman myself, I have no trouble whatsoever in embracing all sorts of people), be it gay or lesbian.. I meet gay people everywhere in South Africa, and they are magic. I just do not approve of the act itself…..

  19. Ephilei on March 6, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Why does Tyra need to date a man taller than her? Could it be that dating someone shorter would make her queer? Hmm…

  20. Sheriah-SA on March 7, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Ephilei, thats quite an interesting name, although I don’t know how to pronounce it..I wasn’t suggesting Tyra should only date men taller than her. Its just that in my my day to day discussions with my male friends, almost each one of them is for the idea that dating a woman taller than them can be intimidating. Maybe its the height that intimidates them or maybe it’s a macho thing?? I dont know….Maybe you right, Tyra dating someone shorter than her “would make her queer?” Whatever that means, you made me laugh…

  21. ephilei on March 8, 2009 at 9:43 am

    ef – i – lay

    I wasn’t picking on you but picking on the idea that cisgender, heterosexual people need to date some that fits into gender stereotypes like height. Funny too that Tyra has lots of reasons to intimidate men – wealth, fame, beauty, strong personality, etc – yet it’s ok in our culture for a woman to be “taller” in those categories.

    I wonder – do queer people think about height? I don’t. That’s a nice perk I never thought of.

  22. ephilei on March 8, 2009 at 9:45 am

    PS, my name is Greek for “beloved” or “the whom is loved” as in the Gospel writer who always identifies himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” rather than his regular name.

  23. Sheriah-SA on March 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Wow, we seem to have something in common there! My name is french, meaning beloved! And yes, men seem to sometimes get intimidated by beautiful women and especially if you are intelligent too!! And I agree, I too find Tyra very attractive, with or without the fake hair. I have never met her, but i must say she looks gorgeous on tv! Yes, Tyra’s intimidation of guys must soar to different levels with her fame, money and fame! So, are you male or female? By the way, you can visit my myspace page if you wish, at or my music page at Oops! Does Peterson allow page dropping on his blog? lol

  24. Sheriah-SA on March 8, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Interesting though, Tyra has admitted on her show that what we see of her on tv is just glam for tv. When she gets home, she washes off her make up that takes hours, she takes off her wig, and its just her normal her. But I think she would still look nice, well maybe not exactly like on tv! I just wish we could see more of her natural hair on her show! Av seen her once in corn raws and she looked nice, a cute fresh kind of nice..One thing I see for real is with tyra, she has a killer body!! Go Tyra.

  25. Anonymous on March 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    And, Ephilei, let’s leave the Tyra issue…Am a huge fan of Tyra by the way! I love women who are so intelligent, FUNNY(I am), confident and crazy (crazy in a good way like Tyra). I wouldnt be talking about her if Peter didn’t mention how tall she is in person…We have more serious and pressing issues on this blog, like people crying out for help because they are not treated with dignity, just because they are trans this, or trans that….Even am a woman who is none of these, I hear their pain, and I send trans-people my heartfelt feelings as they fight for equality..

  26. Sheriah-SA on March 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Oops, I forgot to put my name to my comment.. Ephilei, lets leave the Tyra issue…Am a huge fan of Tyra by the way! I love women who are so intelligent and FUNNY(iam), confident and crazy (crazy in a good kind of way like Tyra). I wouldnt be talking about her if Peterson didn’t mention how tall she is in person. We have more serious and pressing on this blog like people crying out for not being treated by dignity just because they are trans this and trans that….Even am a woman who is none of these, i hear pain, and I send trans people my heartfelt feeling as they fight for equality..

  27. Angelia Sparrow on March 8, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Sheriah, first, most Christians do not feel the need to live by the Leviticus holiness code.

    Many of us find we could not be both Christian and gay. So, we change what we believe–by finding gods that love us as we are–rather than who we are. It’s easier to change your mind than your eye color, to mix a metaphor.

    I don’t believe El has much use for women in general–see Genesis 2, for his experiment in a female-less world– and even less for intelligent bisexual women. Mother, on the other hand, loves that about me.

    Peterson believes differently. His version of the Christian God does not rely on laws about temple prostitution and mixed fibers and his people setting themselves apart through diet and appearance. It’s a version I could almost believe in.

    You have said nothing that we haven’t heard a million times.

  28. ephilei on March 8, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Is not the fact that the femaleless world failed proof that the God of Genesis believes women are necessary?

    Well I don’t think Gen 2 was a womanless experiment anyway. Rather I think the chapter indicates that Adam (whose name means Humanity) was both male and female. Adam was the first transgender person in the Bible! When God took “a side” from Adam (not a “rib” as some poor translations say), God was taking the female side and formed it into an individual person and what was left in Adam was only male. I wrote an article about it on my website:

    Oops! Did I just drop my own site?

  29. Sheriah-SA on March 8, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    Ephilei, yes, u just did! ha ha. I think “site dropping” is necessary for reference, clarification and well, sometimes additional information..Back to Leviticus, I choose to stand firm on the grounds on which I hold my decision, and nothing will change that… Look, we all choose what we believe or think is true..In time, am sure the TRUTH about God’s word and His purpose for us reveals itself to us, sometimes when we least expect it..In life we must agree to disagree..I wish you well….

  30. queermergent on April 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    i think EVERYONE’S story is important BUT we must respect each other’s views. i ID as a queer woman and don’t have the negative experiences with that term. Many in the younger generation of today have also embraced that term. i know transsexuals who hate the term tranny while i have met some who love it and id that way. i think we need to be respectful but at the same time recognize the diversity within our community. If someone does not like or id’s as queer or tranny, respect that. Yet, at the same time, those who are ok with those terms, allow them their space and don’t criticize.

    Existential Punk

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