Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Exploration of Queer

Our class title being "Queer Modernism" meant that we should really explore these two words to understand the class. While exploring the word queer, I discovered that even though we used it positively in class, it still can be used in negative ways. The popular football game known as "Smear the Queer" for example. While words only hurt if you let them, I still associate the word with the original implications of being weird and out of the ordinary. In our modern times it is important that people with atypical sexualities do not feel that the way they were born makes them strange. This causing alienation, and while the word queer does have positive meanings for some now, I explore why it does not go far enough.

A simple explanation of the word queer does not exist. Ranging from the widely accepted definition of “odd or unconventional” to “offensive slang for homosexual.”* Instead of being defined as either of these words, it is more likely that these two definitions show the history of the word as a timeline. When the word first came into usage it was used for something that was not defined, or seemed out of the ordinary. As time progressed it became a derogatory term used against homosexuals. This term was used because homosexuals were deemed strange and abnormal. Now, many members of the LGBT community have taken the word back and use it to put themselves beyond definition. By using this word to define themselves, they are showing that the negative connotations previously associated with the word no longer affect them, though the word still has the "abnormal" meaning for many.

The word queer has been used in media for several shows including Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Queer as Folk. These shows, like most other representations of homosexuals in the media, tend to further stereotypes. The word queer in these cases does not follow the idea of remaining undefined, but follows the stereotype of homosexual men being different from straight men beyond the bounds of sexuality alone. The opening sequence from Queer Eye alone shows how gay men are shown in the media. The word queer is not being used in a progressive way in these cases, but is instead furthering the stereotypes surrounding gay men. As much as the new meaning of queer attempts to be “undefined,” the old stigmas of the word remain.

Queer is a word that, like most words, can change with context. In this class we have learned that this word aims to break categories, and show that not everything has to fit into nicely controlled boxes, but by creating a word that aims to defeat category barriers, it becomes a category itself. Using the word queer no longer offers the empowerment it originally aimed to provide, instead it has just become a word that is interchangeable with all other words that define LGBT community member. What I have learned is that while queer is a valid attempt, it is better to just say, “I don’t classify myself under any term, because by terming what I am, I am putting myself into a box.”

*The Free Dictionary
**Image from Kulturni Center Q


  1. Great post! I see the implications and trickiness of using the word "queer" from your argument. Though there can be a perceived empowerment by "taking back" the word and using it in a positive context, many people still associate "queer" with being wrong or strange. Like you discuss, queer is a term that should not have a definition, and by trying to define it, a definition is created and that definition in our society is rarely a positive one. If someone says that they are queer, then most people immediately think of them as being abnormal. It's hard to discuss not defining a word without giving it a definition, but leaving it open and undefined is hard, though those who see the negative use of the word as bad must try to combat the negative connotations associated with it. It's confusing subject to discuss, but it must not go unnoticed!


  2. I'm thinking about two things after reading this.
    1) In Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues, the "Reclaiming Cunt" monologue. There IS power there. I like the idea of taking back words that have been used in a derogatory way.
    2) The public service announcement with Hillary Duff: "When you say 'That's Gay' do you realize what you say?" And how really, if the phrase that young people should (sarcastic) throw around is, "That's queer!" Because really, that is closer to the intention of that phrase. I don't think that the phrase, "That's gay" means that's emasculating, or, that's homosexual, but really, that's outside of what's socially accepted.

  3. Meg,

    I thought of the Vagina Monologues as well! Maybe taking this class was our first step in reclaiming the word "queer" or at least we can now encourage those around us to use the word with its proper definition!