What’s in a word: the definition of queer
May 17, 2013
Posted by: gaycity
A few weeks ago I did a write up for Mo-Wave, a queer music festival, which led to a discussion between editor and I about the word queer and its many meanings. I consider myself part of the queer community though I tell most people I’m a gay man.
The definition for the word queer can be hard to place. In the past queer was used as an offensive term to refer to homosexuals, and still is today. By literal definition it means odd or strange.
Seattle is a great place to be a queer. I think people here regard the word with a very open mind and give it mostly positive connotations. When I first came to Seattle I did not have good feelings about the word, though. I have learned a lot since then and my ideas have definitely changed.
I wanted to get a better understanding of what queer means for other people. So I asked around my social circle to see what people had to say. I talked to people who considered themselves queer and others who did not. The first thing I asked all of them was, “What is your definition of the word queer?”
We all had an idea of what we thought a queer person was. But all of our definitions were open to interpretation and, although along similar lines, were each a little different from the others. I noticed those who had not spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to queer beforehand had to really contemplate their answer. They may have understood exactly what I was asking, but putting together the right answer was no easy task. This was a relief for me, since I had the same problem when I thought about it myself.
I use the word queer as an umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t identify in the norm. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bi, trans, or questioning there is room for you in my definition.
Every conversation I had after asking someone the question was very eye opening. I definitely learned a lot of new things about the people I asked and about what it means to be a queer.
Chris defined it as “ ...sort of defining the indefinable. It’s for anyone who does not fit into the heteronormative box of sexuality.”
Chris considers himself queer, and tells others he is a gay man. When he tells people he is gay he is giving them a clear definition of his sexuality. In the situation where sexuality is being discussed in depth, he will define himself as queer because that is a more appropriate definition for himself.
I think hearing someone tell you they are gay versus queer is much easier to digest. Queer can be an open ended word and so it leaves a lot of room for questions. The word gay is more specific and less open to interpretation. If you ask five people how they define queer you might get five different answers. Whereas if you ask five people how they define gay, they will probably gay men who have sex with men.
Jaye, another person I talked to, is someone who has identified as a queer for a long time. Jaye was very interesting to talk to and challenged my perspective on queer the most. She has spent time developing thoughts and reasons for her identity. To the untrained eye, she presents as male but she identifies as female. She divulged that her attraction is to masculinity, not to a particular gender. For her it is the characteristics of a person that are attractive, not what is between their legs.
To her, gender and sexuality are extremely fluid, so queer can be the word used to describe those who don’t fit into the classifications male, female, gay, bi, straight or what have you.
We also talked about how there is a lot of pressure from society to define yourself. How we place ourselves in the parameters of gay or straight, male or female. If you find yourself identifying with these terms easily that’s great, and there is nothing wrong with it. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with not identifying with these terms either. That’s where the word queer can come in.
I talked to Ray, a straight friend of mine as well . We grew up in similar environments, but our perspective are much different because of our respective sexualities. He had been using it as a slur when he was a kid. He used in front someone who spoke out and explained why it was wrong. Ray took it to heart and began to change his ideas.
“When I think of queer, I think of homosexuality,” he said, offering me his still narrow definition. He has gay friends, and hangs out on Capitol Hill, so he sees queer culture but from an outside perspective. When it comes to defining queer he doesn’t think about gender or sexual fluidity. For him things are more strictly classified.
When I was a child I thought being queer was a bad thing. That thought came from a homophobic stepfather and society. If someone were to ask me what being queer means to me now I still wouldn’t have a definite answer. Queer is whatever you need it to be. I can say there are groups of people who I include in my own definition, but there is no one I exclude from the definition. It’s great and it’s something that should be celebrated or at least respected. You define yourself however you see fit and we’ll accept it.
by Joe the Intern