I ran across a wonderful writing on the usage of the word “queer.” As many of you may remember, back when Alternative Resources of the Triad was battling it out with Graffiti Ads of Winston-Salem (see archive for more), certain members of the “blogosphere” and community questioned the use of the word “queer” in the name of the group I was heading: The Queer College & Youth Network of the Triad.
While I have never been the one to call myself or label myself a “queer” and while I usually never use the word myself (I usually say something like “the LGBT community,” “LGBT people” or just simply “gay”), I did have to realize that in working primarily with college students the word “queer” is something that is not only used, but embraced by a majority of them.
This writing, from James Kirchick, is awesome and it expresses some of what I feel about the word, even though I am at times forced to use it or feel as though I need to.
Young, Out, and Gay—Not Queer
First published in the Yale Daily News on February 14, 2006
There is one word that drives me nuts.
It’s not a curse. Its timbre does not make me cringe. Rather, it is the way in which this particular word is used—often to describe me, and others like me, totally against my will—that I find to be so offensive.
The word, if you have not guessed it by now, is “queer.”
I do not mind the proper literary usage of the word, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, in appearance or character. Also, of questionable character, suspicious, dubious.” I have a problem when gay activists and certain academics use the word in an affirming sense to describe gay people. There is certainly nothing “strange, odd or peculiar” about homosexuality, which has existed, arguably, for nearly as long as human history itself.
The use of this word abounds. At Yale alone there is QPAC: the Queer Political Action Committee. The Yale LGBT Co-Op’s e-mail list regularly solicits submissions for “Queer,” the “only undergraduate literary and cultural journal related to queerness.” The Co-op has also initiated a program, “Queer Peers,” to help questioning students by matching them up with an openly gay mentor.
What is a non-queer gay person to do?
Those who popularize the word queer—that is, gay leftists and some gay academics—will not let gay people escape from their queer clutches. Simply by being gay, you are a “queer” whether you like it or not, as its practical use implicates all gay people. When a gay activist or academic speaks of the “queer community” or “queer rights,” he, ipso facto, has labeled me a “queer,” regardless of whether or not I accept the label.