If you look up the word “Queer” in the dictionary you find two separate explanations for it. The first is the original meaning of the word which is; strange; odd. Then there is the other explanation for it. It’s the other explanation that terrifies many LGBT people. Reclamation is messy. The word Queer holds so much power, in both its pain and its empowerment.
I remember the first time I was called a queer across the playground at school by somebody who I didn’t particularly like. I still feel the sting in the words. For many, it is a word with so many negative connotations that bring back so many feelings of pain, resentment and hurt, and until very recently it did the same for me. Until I made a conscious decision to embrace it as a positive and a term of endearment.
To reclaim the word and use it positively and inclusively, you have to accept and recognise the complications of the word. We have to accept that those taunts in the playground or the office happened, and we have to within ourselves accept that this is a word that is going to be around us for a long time. The moment we accept that it gives us the power to reclaim it. Queer is a word we should use with both respect and love
Gender identity has been a massive talking point over the last few years, with people becoming more confident about living their lives their way and not giving any fucks. I’ve never been a fan of labelling oneself and putting myself in a box regarding the way I look and the way I act. I have always been a flamboyant person, pretty camp and very unique in my fashion taste. I like to bend the rules a little bit. What’s wrong with that? Nothing – it’s an expression, and it’s an extension of who I am. Queer seems to me like a more fluid term that matches the way I view my identity and my persona – which isn’t always a rigid thing.
“For some, the word queer is just too painful to reclaim. It’s been used to defame and hurt so many times, that it’s hard for people to embrace.”
It’s important to understand, that it’s not for everybody. For some, the word queer is just too painful to reclaim. It’s been used to defame and hurt so many times, that it’s hard for people to embrace. For a long time, I was very much like that. The number of times that I’ve had that term hurled at me in the street, or seen it used to describe who I was as a lesser human being. It’s about the way we use the word. Embracing the word Queer into the LGBTQ community encompasses a more diverse range of identities and experiences. It allows those who don’t wish to label themselves to feel a part of this family.
To me, the definition of Queer is now; “describes sexual orientations and gender identities that are not exclusively heterosexual or cisgender”. What is not appropriate, is to still use the word as a slur.
The gay community has this thing about labels. It’s almost a necessity to put yourself in a box. Whether you’re a top or bottom, a twink, otter, daddy, masc or femme. Labels have become synonymous within the gay community, but what is the difference between identities and labels? Simple; identities are about unique qualities of an individual – which is used to set themselves apart from others whereas labels are often more rigid and defined by stereotypes and expectations.
Remember, Queer is a label that is adopted by some and rejected by others, and it will probably stay that way, but we need to be more receptive how people wish to identify themselves. I think the younger generation are more tuned to that. I guess I’m in that funny demographic where for some its fine, and for others, it’s a word to be avoided as it still poses problems to some members of our community. It’s icky. I asked a few friends about what they thought about it and a lot of them were very against it because for them it’s so ingrained in them as a slur and it invokes so many unwanted and upsetting feelings.
It’s also important to remember that some people feel, and I can understand, that queer is going to be a get out of jail card for ignorance if you don’t know somebody’s identity. Ask questions, but never assume. I would rather somebody took the time to ask questions and try to gain some form of understanding, rather than just put me in a box and leave it there. I’ve had the experience of this first-hand over the last couple of years. Outside of the column, and to pay the bills, I work in a very heterosexual industry, and I’m pretty sure for some of them I was one of the first openly gay people that they have met. I’ve had conversations with them, and they’ve taken time to ask questions and understand what makes me tick, and it was appreciated, because not only did they want to understand me, they wanted to expand their understanding. It’s encouraging to see this happen.
If we are to truly reclaim the word, then we have to start with education. I’ve talked a lot about this in recent columns, but I think it’s essential. Education is the starting and the basis for true equality. If the use of the word queer as a derogatory term is condemned at an early age, and education encourages the use of the word more positively and inclusively then we are halfway there. As the older, more conservative generation dies out and is replaced by a more liberal demographic then we can improve the lives of queer people. There’s always going to be small-minded bigots in the world, and we have to accept that – we cannot change everyone’s minds.
I think that what I’m trying to say is that we have the freedom and the right to choose how we want to live our lives at the end of the day. If we want to identify as queer or as gay that’s up to us, or whether we wanted to identify as a toaster oven – we have the right to choose, and you have the right to be accepted as that. If I’m completely honest, I guess I’m coming around to the idea of using queer as a way to describe me. I’m not one hundred per cent there yet. But the more I discover parts of myself, then the more of me I understand. The change comes from within, you might not ever feel comfortable reclaiming queer and it’s fine but think about it for a while and you might just change your mind.
Somewhere north of the Watford Gap, Al was born and raised in a conservative East Yorkshire town. Having escaped to London aged 18, and overseas into the world of Holiday Tourism, Al can now be found propping up the bars of Leeds, searching for that elusive Mr. Right.
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