What is Queer?

25 May

Days like today, where I wake up to what might as well be night time with stormclouds thundering quietly all morning, make me want to stay in bed and hibernate.

But, while I’ve been spending this morning hibernating, I’ve also been letting my thoughts hibernate a bit too… or maybe germinate might be a better term.

Image via.

Over the past few months, I’ve been asked the titular question in a few random situations and have realized, each time, that the answer is harder and harder for me to define.

For today’s post I wanted to see what the internet has to say, to try and give myself (and others) a simpler answer (or at least a nod in the right direction) as to what the constantly evolving idea of queerness actually is.

Of course, the obvious place to start is always Wikipedia which has this to share on this topic (and yes, I have purposely left all the hyper-links to other wikis just in case you need them):

Queer is an umbrella term for sexual minorities[1] that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. In the context of Western identity politics the term also acts as a label setting queer-identifying people apart from discourse, ideologies, and lifestyles that typify mainstreamLGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) communities as being oppressive or assimilationist.

This term is controversial because it was reappropriated only two decades ago from its use as an anti-gay epithet. Furthermore, some LGBT people disapprove of using queer as a catch-all because they consider it offensive, derisive or self-deprecating given its continuous use as a form of hate speech. Other LGBT people may avoid queer because they associate it with political radicalism, or simply because they perceive it as the faddish slang of a “younger generation.”

For the rest of the article go here.

I think that these two short paragraphs already raise a lot of points that are important to think about when looking into what it means to be queer.

Primary for me is that the word queer now, while still sometimes holding on to its past offensive life, is really trying to embrace what actually causes people discomfort: it is embracing the ineffable, the indefinable, the gaps between the reality of sexuality and gender and the vocabulary that only works to identify limitations of how societal rules have previously (and still to a large part) view them.

And I can say that even I, who have always identified myself as straight, have started to feel more and more uncomfortable with these concepts of identity limitation.

So, what may be a more accurate question then is, what is queer theory? Because that’s where so much of the surrounding ideology of what is means to be queer is getting discussed.

I found a random course description along with the picture above that does a nice job of summarizing what it is that Queer Theory looks at:

The term “queer,” according to Annamarie Jagose, “focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire.” As a school of thought and method of analysis, queer theory provides a range of theoretical approaches that challenge fixed, essentialist identities, drawing the attention to the incoherencies in the allegedly stable sex/gender system. Placing queer theory in its historical context, this course will provide a survey of contemporary arguments and critical terms used in the field of queer studies. In our class discussions we will combine cultural representations of queerness (in fiction, film, and photography) with a substantial number of critical and theoretical essays on queer theory. Looking at a series of queer practices, we will examine the ways in which these texts frustrate and delegitimize heteronormative knowledges and institutions.
For me, this is where the term “Queer” begins to represent more than just the LGBTQ Community because, if we start with the aforementioned ideas you can easily see how Queer Theory becomes more than the occurrence of being queer; it allows for one to seek the queering of our societal fixations with binaries and essentialist ideals.
In short, for me, the use of the word queer is already outgrowing its status as Wikipedia has described it.
Instead, we can look at the recent conversation about the woman raising her children to be genderless and actually keeping one child’s gender secret as an exercise in the real world queering of expectations.
When it comes down to it, for me, Queer-ness has a lot to do with the freedom to live outside of societal roles. It’s grounded in the recognition that if history has proven anything, it’s that there is no one right and wrong way to be.
And while raising a child without any identified gender seems a little audacious, I have to say that anything that hopes to allow a person to fulfill their full potential as a human being without ever being made to feel marginalized or forced into a certain role because of pre-set societal roles, is a noble goal.
If this piques your interest and you are looking to find more resources to find out about Queer Theory or the LGBTQ Community, there have been a proliferation of LGBTQ Resource Centers across the nation— often in universities.
However, here are a few on-line resources I’ve found that might interest you:
  1. It Gets Better: Created by Dan Savage, you’ve probably heard of/seen the videos that have come out of this campaign that shows support for any kid who feels marginalized, especially kids from the LGBTQ community. This is probably popular enough that I probably didn’t need to mention it but it’s still just awesome. Here’s Mr. Savage’s video:
  2. Princeton’s LGBT Center: This site has one of the most comprehensive lists of resources I’ve found on-line. You should especially look at this if you want to see how large and diverse the LGBTQ Community really is, something that people often overlook or forget.
  3. The Cool Page for Queer Teens: Okay, so it doesn’t necessarily look super cool but it gets major Brownie points for not being overwhelming or scary. Instead, it looks like a good resource for teens who are looking for helpful advice. I especially like the breakdown they have on coming out to your parents.

These sites are just a start and there are many more out there. Feel free, or maybe even feel empowered, to comment on this post if you have anything to add or even disagree with.

As I said before, this term (how it’s used, how we understand it, etc.) is constantly evolving and that means there needs to be a lot of discussion to help more people follow along.
However, I feel certain that the positive possibilties are endless 🙂

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