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.