What is queer?

What is queer?

Story by Eliana Merck, Editor in Chief

What is queer? By Google’s definition, it simply means “homosexual”. But what does it actually mean? From my experience, the word queer is used as an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as heterosexual or cisgender. It can be used as a label for anyone in the LGBTQIA+ who isn’t comfortable with an exact identity. 

But not very long ago, the word “queer” was a derogatory slur used against homosexuals and other LGBTQIA+ individuals. Although it is not entirely clear where the word originated from, a popular theory suggests it was derived from the German word “quer”, meaning slanting or crosswise. It first became a disparaging word for feminine men and others who defied the traditional dress code of gender roles in the early 1900s. 

Nonetheless, as time progressed, those in the community began to reclaim the word as their own starting around 1969, following the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots were a series of violent protests between gay rights activists and police. Organizations such as Queer Nation reclaimed the word as an empowering umbrella term. 

Nevertheless, is it still considered a slur today? Many modern-day lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals, and other members of the LGBTQIA+ community use this term to refer to one another, or themselves. The label of queer ties one to the community, whilst also communicating one’s sexual or gender orientation as other than heterosexual or cisgender. A Truckee High School Junior (who prefers not to have their name in the article) expressed that, “To me, its (queer) is just a more inclusive and casual verson of LGBT.”

However, there are some conflicting opinions on whether or not the word should be reclaimed within the community. A few older LGBTQIA+ members find the word to still be offensive, and prefer not to be referred to as such. The word “queer” used to be thrown at LGBTQ+ individuals to belittle them or make them feel degraded. It was used as the f-slur is today, so it’s completely understandable if one finds it demeaning to use it as a self-label. In a 2019 NPR article, Bob Mondello, a senior art critic, stated, “The usage of (the word) “queer” is simply painful.”

So queer is a term both accepted and rejected by the community. It can’t be used to describe everyone, unless they’ve expressed it as a preferable or positive self-label. So, can other people outside the community use it?

It seems that as long as the person using it isn’t using it in a derogatory manner, then it should be ok.  Or perhaps if one using it is not in the community, they might use a different word that doesn’t risk ambiguous meaning or speaker intention/attitude.