Where Do You Stand on Using the Word “Queer”?
Originally Published: September 10, 2019
Revised: December 19, 2019
In my first year of high school, I got my ears pierced for the first time. When the lady at the mall finished, I checked myself out in the mirror. I loved the way I looked and couldn’t wait to show my friends!
My friends were known for making fun of one another, so I expected a few jokes when I went to show them my new look.
“Dude, whhhaaat did you do to your ears?” said one of them, laughing.
“Yeah, man. You look so stupid with those rocks in them,” teased another.
Then, I got a “joke” I didn’t expect.
“Bro, you look like such a queer.” The whole group erupted in laughter. Everyone except for me.
Later that night, I thought about the incident. I didn’t even identify as queer, and the fact that it was being casually thrown around as an insult was wildly offensive. From then on, I vowed to only use the word “queer” if someone was OK with it. Also, I left that group of friends.
The word “queer,” which originally meant strange or odd, eventually became a slur that was used against LGBTQ people. Over the past few decades, though, a lot of LGBTQ people have reclaimed it, meaning they’ve retaken possession of a word that has been used to hurt them. Some now use it as a term of endearment, while others say it’s an inclusive term for someone who doesn’t identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. Others are somewhere in the middle when it comes to using the word “queer.” And for many, the word continues to be offensive. I decided to ask around to get some opinions.
Expressing your sexual identity should be about freedom, comfort and authenticity—not oppression.
Opposed or Mixed Feelings
Matt, 19, of New York City is not OK with the word “queer.”
“I grew up hearing ‘queer’ directed toward me in a terrible way,” he says. “The word is a slur to me and just brings back memories of when I was still in the closet and had so many homophobic people around me. I would be extremely offended if someone referred to me as ‘queer,’ even if it’s coming from another person in the LGBTQ community.”
As Matt says, for many, using the word “queer” can trigger negative emotions and is a reminder of how it has been used in hateful ways.
For others, being OK with using “queer” can depend on the situation and the individual’s feelings toward the term. “People can call me queer if they like, but I don’t usually use it to refer to myself or my sexual orientation,” says Sarah, 18, of Bridgewater, NJ. “To me, it doesn’t matter.”
Michelle, 15, of Chicago, has ambivalence about the word. “I’m still torn on whether to use it for myself,” she says. “But I would never use it to refer to the entire LGBTQ community because I know a lot of them feel oppressed by it.” Michelle brings up an important point. Expressing your sexual identity should be about freedom, comfort and authenticity—not oppression.
Accepting “Queer” With Open Arms
There’s one other group of people when it comes to using “queer”: those who are fine with it. Some choose to use it as a term to describe sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“I couldn’t find a better word to describe myself, so I use ‘queer,’” says Ellie, 17, of Raritan, NJ. “I’m aware of the many different opinions from LGBTQ folks, so I only use it for myself. I’ve reclaimed it to be an awesome word!”
Stewie, 18, of Takoma Park, MD, agrees. “I’m glad that being queer and using ‘queer’ is something to be proud of now instead of something to be shamed for,” he says.
As you can see, “queer” is a loaded word, and there is a range of feelings toward using it, from rejecting it to embracing it. Where do you stand?
*Staff writer Ellie Alpizar, 17, contributed to this story.
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