Isn’t that queer?

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=LGBT&iid=882689″ src=”2/f/5/1/05.jpg?adImageId=9264383&imageId=882689″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]So the other day, I was listening to Savage Lovecast, one of my growing list of must-have podcasts, when a girl called in asking for advice about her relationship. In the first few sentences, she talked about her queer identity and then proceeded to explain a problem she was having with her long-term boyfriend. I had a complete “wait … what?” moment, and I realized that I had been defining “queer” solely as “gay”.  So I started thinking about what it really meant and who falls under the umbrella of the queer identity.

Now, far be it from me to tell people how they should or shouldn’t identify. People can identify as whatever they like, regardless of the life choices that they’ve made. Nor are people required to take on an established label for themselves. Forcing others to conform to my understanding of the word “queer” is not what this post is about. I simply wanted to take a closer look at what it meant to me and how people in the queer community use it to talk about themselves.

What’s fascinating to me is the breadth of meaning that it seems to encompass. For some, “queer” is a handy term that refers to pretty much anyone in the LGBT community without having to fit them neatly into a category or use that clunky acronym. Some even prefer it because it avoids the basic assumption of a gender/sexuality binary. Yet for others, the term still carries too much of a derogatory meaning. Even assuming that the queer community has done a little linguistic reclamation of the slur, it still has its original meaning of “strange”. Why should we call ourselves strange, when the existence of non-heteronormative relationships are as old as time, they ask. And that is a fair point. After all, even if homosexuals are in the minority, they are hardly out of the ordinary. You might as well call racial minorities weird.

I think the most insightful comment I read was by a person named Alex at Kathy’s Lesbian Life Blog. He or she says:

I think that any term is not going to fully fit anyone’s understanding of self; our lives are much bigger than the words we use to describe ourselves.

And that, I think, is the most important point. Rather than making an assumption about someone’s life based on the term they most identify with, we should get to know them better and understand what they mean by it. Advice that is no less valid outside of the world of gender and sexual orientation, no doubt.

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