Alex Blaze

I'll play pro to Don's con!

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 25, 2007 10:38 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: language, queer

Don posted earlier today that he doesn't care much for the word "queer". I completely respect his position, but you can't really have a con without a pro. That's like having a defense without a prosecution. Or the other way around since he's indicting the word. I wouldn't know; I'm not a lawyer, I only play one on the internet.

It's no secret that I like the word "queer". I post something every other day on here with that word in the title. I've been doing the "Friday night fix of queer music" posts and trying to do more "100% badass queer people" posts. I do the "Qomics for Queers" Sunday posts as well as maintain another blog by that same name. I was doing Q-Bomb before Bil signed me up to blog here, even though that wasn't really a reference to "queer", it was more of a reference to everything else being taken already on Blogger.

I think one of the things that attracts me to that word is that there really isn't any other like it. I would describe myself as queer, and I can simultaneously describe anyone who's not heterosexual as queer. "Gay" doesn't quite slice it since it excludes oh so many people: bisexuals, trans folk, people who play with gender or sexuality but don't really define themselves, and, to some, lesbian women. LGBT or GLBT or LGBTQ or LGBTTQISQ or whatever alphabet soup also doesn't always work since it again will always exclude someone. Moreover, they're a bit cumbersome in speech, and while I'll use it at times for variety on the blog, I don't really even identify as LGBT since I'm not trans, bisexual, or lesbian.

The next obvious choice is queer. Now that's a whole lot easier than alphabet soup! Instead of focusing on the divisions between various non-heterosexual communities, queer unites us all with what makes us different. It's easy to chop off a letter in a string, or a segment of our communities because we feel that they're too different, but it's hard to ignore someone who's being discriminated against because of the very same thing you are.

That's part of what "queer" means to me.

Another part of it is the fact that my background has made me far less sensitive to it than Don's background has to him. I don't remember it being used as an insult all that much in school. Really, next to the number of times that I heard "faggot" or "that's so gay", "queer" is nearly invisible. Where I do know I've seen "queer" is in my refuge of academia. "Queer theory" describes some academics' attempts to break down barriers between sexualities and categories in a post-industrial, check off the box age. It traces a good part of its beginning to French philosopher Michel Foucault's seminal yet never completed work This History of Sexuality and was followed by many others, including the amazing Judith Butler. "Queer liberation theology" refers to the intersection of religion and sexuality and is where a whole lot of pro-gay Bible interpretation has been coming from. "Queer studies" in general is, well, just that.

A few books use "queer" as well. Queering Christ, by Robert Goss, is a book that attempts to do just that. The Material Queer is a great reader on the relationship between Marxism and sexual expression. I never finished reading it, but Fear of a Queer Planet tried to take queer theory to its limit in rejecting categories, something which the author obviously thought people feared.

I even took a class in college called "Queer religiosities", taught by a very aware lesbian, on queer people's relationship to religions throughout the world. It wouldn't have made sense to call it "gay religiosities" or "LGBT religiosties" when some of the cultures covered didn't recognize sexuality as a monolithic identity as we do today. Native two-spirit people, while definitely not heterosexual in any way James Dobson would buy, were also not simply gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. But how can we identify them and with them without a word creating that possibility?

And yes, the etymology of the word is "strange". But that's a whole lot better than "normal"! It serves as a reminder to us that attempting to assimilate and erase our difference will not only never happen but is also undersirable. Every now and then I use the phrases "establishment queers" and "assimilationist queers" as very intended oxymorons.

Don says that there's a difference between spaces with exclusively LGBTQ people and places, like Bilerico, that are mixed. I absolutely agree, and I'm sure that anyone who identifies as not-straight in any way would as well. We act differently when a straight person is in the room or out in a public space that isn't designated queer in some way. And that can be a little tiring, knowing that a straight person entering a space occupied by queer people has the power and often the entitlement to make that space straight.

I think that it's great that many heterosexually identified people read this website. I really do. And I encourage all you heterosexuals to leave comments so that I can talk with you all a bit. But, when I sit down to write a post here, I write as if I'm addressing an all-queer audience. It completely changes the way that I speak and frees me to say what I think. So yes, I'll say the word "queer" in this context. If our peoples can't even have this space, a mere blog with the phrase "LGBT" up at the top, then where can we go for an open dialogue?

While all this change has occurred regarding the word queer, I realize that the biggest indicator of differing opinions on the word is not how well-read or comfortable with being queer one is, but of what generation one is. Don also acknowledged that. I completely respect his opinion on the word and would never call him that now that I know his feelings on it, but I just don't see a substitute for it. And that's not even getting into "queer" as a verb.

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Don Sherfick | April 25, 2007 1:49 PM

Alex: My day wouldn't have been complete without your supplying a "pro" to my "con" in the subject. I see there have also been some thoughtful comments posted to my piece, and maybe the declared "winner" of this Q-uestion of the week will be he who gets the most favorable comments....if one can sort out what's favorable and what's not. I'll probably wait a bit, digest what's been said on and in response to both of our respective posts, and then do a follow up. In the meantime, no fair having all of your young friends post comments supporting your thoughts. Most of my older friends have blogsite phobia, placing me at a disadvantage. Remember, I'm not a blogger....I just play one on the Internet!

A. J. Lopp | April 25, 2007 4:13 PM

If I may weigh in (don't I always?), my take is that there is no "right" or "wrong" answer --- popular usage determines everything, just like is it "right" or "wrong" for black hip-hop artists to refer to their homeys using the n-word. It's not "P.C." but it also isn't offensive (at least to me) because it isn't meant to insult or dehumanize.

My current policy: Use the word "queer" at your own risk, and using it within the LGBTQ community is obviously safer that using it in mainstream/hetero society. Also, as Alex mentioned, "queer" can be a welcome shorthand once all the various flavors of non-hetero sexualities have been previously indicated.

If I've only said the obvious, then maybe I'm not the only one who is getting a little bored with this question.

Remember, I'm not a total pompous asshole ... or maybe I am ... but I definitely play one on the Internet every chance I get. That's how I get my orgasms.

Bruce Parker II | April 25, 2007 5:59 PM

I use the word queer for a couple of reasons - gay doesn't seem to name my attractions in a meaningful way as someone who dates gay men, transmen, genderqueers and the occasional queer woman - I also think it has a political/radical kinda connotation that I really appreciate.

Remember, I'm not a blogger....I just play one on the Internet!
Ha ha!

I don't have enough friends that can sway this. Most of them who know about this blog are too lazy to even leave a comment (Hey Kevin and Qiming!) I don't know if there really can be a "winner" to this, though. Shouldn't we be trying to, as Goss would say, queer the categories of right and wrong?

In formal (read: straight) circles I shy away from using the term 'queer.' Heck, it's likely that if I did in some forums, the management such 'clobber words.' So when I want to speak of all non-straight people, I eithr put it in that negative term or say gay-peoples. Ugh! Sounds so dang formal.... I've had queer slung at me over the years, but dangit, I still will use it.

Queer is a freeing term, with real power. A "yeah, so what! That's what I am (so screw you)" term. And as to pro and con, one has to be proQueer to attend a QueerCon. So I think there's only one way to go.... QUEER!!

Allen, Lynn - Totally agree. In formal scenes, I don't know about queer. Like if the ENDA just said queer, I'd be like, ummmmm, no.

Don - Didn't get to respond to your comment more extensively earlier today. I don't know about there being a "right" or "wrong" here, just personal preferences. Like I can see where you're coming from on your other post. (Count this as a postive comment for your post, Don!) And I have enough respect for my elders not to try to change your opinion. In fact, feel free to smack this kid around, call me a bad boy and verbally spank me if I say something out of turn on here.

Uh, I think I revealed too much with that last sentence. Oh well.

I was just trying to present the other side of the argument is all. I don't think that the way I use queer is the equivalent of the way that some gay guys use faggot or fag. But I'm probably wrong.

So if you post an update with responses to what I wrote out here, I'll prolly just comment: "THANK YOU, SIR, GIVE ME ANOTHER!"

Don Sherfick | April 26, 2007 10:23 AM

Alex: About my smaking you around, calling you a bad boy and verbally spanking you: in a prior part of my life, perhaps....not sure I could lift the paddle board...or whatever it is you have a fancy for. You're correct: there likely isn't any "right" or "wrong" answer here, but it does raise a lot of interesting questions as to words, role of intent, familiarity with the listener, how some words are mostly considered off-limits and why others aren't, and what controls the difference.