‘Queer’ is a word that people hear often these days, in conversation and within medias. But really, should we be using it as loosely as some people or medias are? Some people forget that queer was a discriminatory word used against people in the LGBT+ community for years—it’s origins go back to the 1800s.
Oscar Wilde, the famous poet, was found to be having an affair with John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry’s son Alfred. In a letter to his son, the Marquess called Wilde a “snob queer,” establishing queer as a slur against the LGBT+ community. Very quickly, newspapers snatched this up as a derogatory term, helping to further its course as a slur rather than an identity.
The word ‘queer’ was later reclaimed during the AIDS epidemic, around the 1980s, when chants and slogans like “Not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you,” and “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear,” were created. Queer Nation was an activist group that was formed during this period as well, full of LGBT+ members who were sick of the discrimination against their brothers, sisters, and siblings.
Punks were the core of the queercore movement, rioting during the AIDS epidemic that left just as many of them dying as there were protesting and standing up to discrimination. People wore ‘queer’ as an identity, forcing the then-insult to become a symbol of pride by shoving their queerness in their oppressor’s faces. Saying that they would not be crushed, no matter how hard they tried.
QUEERS READ THIS, was a leaflet written and distributed at a NYC gay pride celebration during the AIDS crisis. Some quotes from this include:
“We come out of the closet, face the rejection of society, face firing squads, just to love each other!”
“Since time began, the world has been inspired by the work of queer artists. In exchange, there has been suffering, there has been pain, there has been violence.”
“Queers are under siege. Queers are being attacked on all fronts and I’m afraid it’s ok with us. In 1969, there were 50 “Queer Bashings” in the month of May alone.”
“And for others “queer” conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering. Queer. It’s forcibly bittersweet and quaint at best—weakening and painful at worst.”
Even reclaimed, queer was still being used in a discriminatory way, causing an indescribable amount of pain to the LGBT+ community. Not only were their loved ones and community members dying left and right, they couldn’t even mourn in peace—they were attacked for this disease, blamed for it, called slurs, spat at in the street by straight and cisgendered people (people who identify with their birth sex and gender).
They were blamed for a disease that devastated their own lives and took their loved ones away from them in a painful manner no one would wish on another. People were using a term that the LGBT+ community had finally been able to reclaim as a slur, and at one of the most painful times of our history.
Obviously, queer isn’t a slur with as painful context as f*gg*t or d*ke. But it’s still a word with a painful and discriminatory history. Now, some members of the community identify with and reclaim the word and find empowerment from it. Others don’t want to see or hear the word—and that’s for people in the LGBT+ community to decide depending on who they are.
With its history, queer is clearly a word that now belongs to the LGBT+ community (at least in American English). Queer is still a slur, and there are words you can use instead—Gay, or LGBT+ community are two that come to mind. If you aren’t part of the community, it’s best not to tread on the history and pain that the word carries and it’s best to use something else.
Media should also be careful about using the word queer. Personally, I think that they should be excluding the word from articles unless it’s a quote or needed for context, like talking about groups during the AIDS crisis. If the media is explicitly LGBT+, then it’s a different story.
As a gay, trans person involved in the community, it makes me feel uncomfortable and very weird when I see people who aren’t or medias that aren’t explicitly LGBT+ use queer–I feel that they view it as a word that is no longer a slur, or a word they can get away with using.
It is still very much a slur. All of the activism, the writing, the harassment and the deaths of the LGBT+ community are packed into each and every slur that we, as a community, choose to reclaim. This includes queer, even if it’s been reclaimed in a more widespread way. It still carries pain within it, and some people don’t have a right to reclaim that pain.