Originally published february 16, 2012 in PQ Monthly.
By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
Why does PQ Monthly use the word “queer” in reference to the LGBTQ community and (though abbreviated) in the title of the publication?
I recognize that the word “queer” can mean strikingly different things to different people. Whether you love it, hate it, or tolerate it, you are certainly not alone. Our polling on Facebook made that clear.
So why would a publication seeking to give a voice to every letter and color in our diverse community use such a potentially divisive term?
The short answer is, it’s the best fit. People often joke about the “alphabet soup” that is our ever-expanding community acronym, while quietly fretting over the sequence of the letters and how many to include. We are a community comprised of smaller groups, each with particular, if often overlapping, subcultures. Despite our distinct identities and the unique challenges and experiences that come with them, we are all bound together by the shared oppression we face based on our non-conformity to society’s gender and sexual norms.
Now, some folks may say there’s nothing abnormal about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender — that we should focus on what we have in common with our heterosexual and cisgender peers. Jonathan Reitan told PQ he hates the word queer: “I’m gay, not queer. I don’t wish to have my sexuality described as being ‘odd’ or ‘unusual.’”
Others will argue that we ought to celebrate our difference, our “queerness,” and stand in opposition to the oppressive gender and sex roles placed on us by society. Jack O Elliot wrote: “The queerer the better! I still cherish the bright crimson glow of some faces when confronted with camp, cosmic drag, gender f**k, etc. There is no such thing as too queer. It is our heritage and lest we become assimilated to a nice shade of beige — it is our hope.”
If you ask me, it’s a false dichotomy. Who says we have to choose between assimilation/acceptance and pride in our difference/deviance? The truth is there are some quirky, freaky, downright strange heterosexual, cisgender folks out there. There are also some exceptionally “vanilla” LGBTQ folks, for whom sexual and gender identity is but a minor part of who they are and no large contributor to their cultural reality. In such a beautifully mixed up world, what does it mean to be different, to be queer? And what does that have to do with our acceptance as full citizens with equal rights and respect?
It all comes down to visibility. Not just in society at large, but within our own diverse community. That we are different (in varying ways and degrees) is a simple fact of life and one I consider worthy of celebration. Our difference, and society’s historical reactions to that, helped us forge a patchwork culture that sustains us in times of trial and gives us the collective strength to fight the good fight. To reject that history and culture, to me, feels disrespectful and self-defeating.
On an internal level, the benefits of the word queer are clear. It serves as an umbrella for all those who reside outside society’s gender and sexual norms, whether or not they explicitly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, or any of the other shades of the great gay rainbow. Beth Mattson told PQ she loves the word as she loves “all phrases that sound like I should be shouting them to counteract them as epithets. Also, it’s easier to say than LGBTQ and often younger and more inclusive than ‘gay.’”
By adopting a term that reflects what we have in common with one another, we can divert our attention from brainstorming better ways to arrange the letters to the important work of building community and fighting for justice.
That said, the word queer is not one size fits all, and I recognize that it’s not reflective of everyone’s individual identity. That’s why I always ask folks how they identify, in their own words. But when it comes to the community as a whole, I believe that “queer” is the most inclusive and least awkward way to say we are all family.
-Erin Rook, PQ Monthly staff writer
Are you a lesbian puzzled by gay men? A transgender person pondering bisexuality? A straight person perplexed by queers of all stripes? PQ is here to help you through your “questioning” period. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Query a Queer in the subject line.