LGBTQIA+ history month: Oh dear, we are so queer!
February is LGBTQIA+ history month. At DIH we decided to publish 8 articles in this period that cover all the identities in this acronym – lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual/aromantic persons and other identities under +. The articles do not necessarily talk about history, they are just a short insight into some interesting facts, persons or otherwise connected to the specific sexual orientation or gender identity.
Another letter on the LGBTIQA+ spectrum represents the Q. We know what the other identities of the spectrum mean, but many times we are not quite sure about the Q. The reason behind this can rely on the fact, that people use the term queer relating to different meanings. Some of us use it when we are making references to the whole LGBTIQA+ spectrum and don`t want to spell all the letters every time. So we use the word queer as an umbrella term for everything related to the community. We can talk about queer people meaning all the individual identities of the LGBTIQA+ spectrum, we can talk about queer art, queer events, queer studies, etc.
Others use the term queer when talking about their own identity. If someone doesn`t identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or any of the other identities and feels that they don`t fit to any other identities on the spectrum, when someone is questioning their own identity or just doesn`t want to use other labels, they might identify themselves as queer. Also, the queer identity often fits the best to non-binary persons or people who are fluid in their sexual or romantic attraction.
However, the term queer used to be and sometimes is still being used in a derogatory way as an offensive word aimed toward the members of the LGBTIQA+ community, so some might not feel comfortable using it when referring to the community or themselves. That is why it is very important not to refer to other people using the term queer unless they identify themselves as queer.
The term queer appeared in the English usage in the 16th century meaning “strange”, “odd”, “peculiar”, or “eccentric”. There are more possible theories of the origin of the word queer, one of them claiming the word to be of the Old High German origin coming from the word “twerh” meaning “oblique”, that has roots coming from “terkw-” meaning “to turn, twist, wind”. Firstly it was used when referring to something suspicious, strange or a person with socially inappropriate behaviour. Later on, at the end of the 19th century the term took on the connotations of a sexual deviance until in the 1900s it was associated with homosexuality. Throughout the 20th century it was used as an offensive word when referring to the LGBTIQA+ community, especially in the 50’s and the pejorative use of the term hasn`t disappeared completely yet.
Since the 80’s there have been consistent attempts to reclaim the term queer. Probably the most important part in the process of reclamation by the LGBTIQA+ community represents the leaflet titled “Queers Read This” issued by a of group of activists called Queer Nation in New York 1990. At the end of the leaflet the explanation of the usage of the word queer can be found:
“WHY QUEER? Well, yes, “gay ” is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we’ve chosen to call ourselves queer. Using “queer” is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world. It’s a way of telling ourselves we don’t have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalized in the straight world.”
However, the usage of the word queer in this manifesto can be seen as an opposition term against the socially accepted heteronormative norms. It took over to function as a politicized identity linked to activist commitments trying to unify the LGBTIQA+ community in a resistance movement aimed against the normative societies. That is one of the reasons why many people associate the term queer with something that is anarchist in the nature and aimed against all the traditional values such as a monogamy or family. Seeing the queer movement from a militant point of view, many members of the community choose not to use the word queer.
Apart from this perception, the queer identity today appears to gain a lot of popularity in popular culture. More and more people, among them celebrities, label themselves as queer and the term is being used in many associations as a umbrella term for everything connected to LGBTIQA+ community, queer musicians, queer movies, literature, other forms of arts, queer studies and similar. Although this continuing spread of the term queer in the usage can be seen in a very positive way, entering the mainstream culture when the straight people identify themselves as queer on purpose, using the identity in order to gain on popularity, can also be counterproductive in terms of empowering the LGBTIQA+ community and of an effective allyship. In the words of Hollis Robin, drummer of queer feminist punk band “Teenage Caveman” :
“Queer is a very broad term that encompasses many aspects of sexual and gender identity. Society needs to be deprogrammed, subverted, or queered, and that involves a process of unlearning and de-conditioning white supremacist, cisnormative, and heteronormative behavior and values. Straight and cisgender people engaged in that work could be considered queer but I feel it’s not a label/identity cis and straight people are entitled to claim, more one that they need to earn. In the same way cisgender men can’t just declare themselves feminists, or white people can’t just declare their activism intersectional, they have to be held accountable to the people society places beneath them.”
With this closing we would like to appeal to you, members of the LGBTIQA+ community as well our cis and straight allies, to get informed on the correct usage of the term queer as well as other terms while referring to the LGBTIQA+ persons or topics. Hence we share a guide on how to be more welcoming and inclusive of queer people, that you can find here.