...And Have You Not Get Pissed?
I've been seeing various people mention how the meaning of certain words shift, most recently with the discussions surrounding "nigger." I was over at another blog earlier today, and I saw someone comment that "queer" has been re-appropriated by gays to mean something different or more positive. It was a slur that has become an acceptable way for many GLBTQs to refer to themselves. And my interpretation of how the person was referring to this phenomenon was that he/she felt it was a bad thing. In fact, other comments I've read to various people's posts have indicated they think any re-appropriation of "formerly bad" words is a negative.
I don't think "queer" and "nigger" are comparable. No, this is not another "one is worse than the other because of history" or "one is worse than the other because one group is treated worse than the other in the US" debate. This is me saying...the two words really are not all that parallel. If anything, "faggot" is the "gay slur" most comparable to "nigger." I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've heard "queer" hurled at a gay person, most--if not all--of which were on the tv show "The O.C." in scripted fashion. Instead, my experience with "queer" is pretty limited to other gay people taking that term for ourselves.
Second, the way we use the term is so incredibly different from the way many blacks use "nigger." "Nigger" is almost a false positive that makes absolutely no sense. And, depending on who you are and how you look at it, it doesn't make any sense. We know this big, huge story behind "nigger" that many of us don't know with "queer." It's a derogatory term that is tied to so much mind-blowing negativity that I don't even want to think about, and you have black people running around using it in a "positive" fashion, an exclusive fashion and a derogatory fashion. I suppose "nigger" means something like "homeboy" when used in a "positive" fashion, but the extremely loaded nature of the word, as well as the multiple uses existing today for it, make it incredibly easy for that positivity to get lost.
To me, "queer" has always signaled "weird," which, as we know, anything that is different in America is "weird." So, baseline, "queer" means "different" to me. Hell, I am different! We are different! And many of us who call ourselves "queer" do so because we don't feel like we fit G, L, B or T...which, once again, makes us different! Funny thing is the people getting all up in arms about "queer" are those who do fit G, L, B or T. But I think that when we use "queer" today, it is pretty--or at least relatively--easy to know how it's meant, especially by most gays. If someone really wants to call you something bad just based on your sexual orientation, they will pull out "faggot" or "dyke." "Queer" is not exactly the "it" slur for us right now. "Nigger" is, and has always been, the "it" slur for blacks.
I know that "different" sometimes is taken to mean that something else is normal and you don't fit it. That is not at all what I'm trying to say. I'm just recognizing the truth of the matter, which is that, in society, when you have more people who are X than Y, X is considered the norm. It works this way for skin color. It works this way for religion. It, too, works this way for sexual orientation. I am not one of those "pride" people, because I have never understood being proud of something you had little or nothing to do with. To me, you should be proud when you've worked hard and earned something, which means any accomplishments you've made in spite of are worthy of pride, not the identity that made it more difficult to accomplish. I am black, I am a woman, and I am queer. Honestly, I wouldn't have chosen any of those things had I the choice, so no...you're never going to hear "black pride" or "gay pride" come out of my mouth in relation to those identities, although I accept that I am these things. In fact, I do like that I am different. Although I wouldn't have chosen to be black, I value being able to see the world in racial terms for, I feel, how it truly is...a skill that is truly lost on most people, I believe. Since I love knowledge, I think I would kill myself if I walked the earth as clueless as I feel most white people are. But I digress.
Because I like to be different, I have no problem with calling myself "queer" since that's what the word means to me. Not only am I different from heterosexuals, I am different from other gays--the ones who fit the G, the L, the B or the T. It makes life harder, but it makes me smarter, for I can see things that most other people can't even begin to imagine without my telling them about it. And I absolutely pride myself on being smarter than everybody else. ;) Which I can because I have worked at it...I like to think that this blog is an example of one of the ways in which I have worked hard at being smarter.
I do think gays tend to forget or fail to realize that we don't all fit nice, neat categories. At least for me, it was recognizing that "queer" does mean I don't fit heterosexuality or homosexuality or transsexuality. It means I am, once again, left out, once again without a label, and that was the best term that is still different enough from other terms to not cause confusion--a term that lets people know my sexual orientation is, at the very least, not heterosexual and is affiliated somehow with homosexuality or transsexuality. If you say "I don't have a label," it's too many words and it, to me, doesn't tell people enough about who you are. That could relate to not having a sexual orientation label, not having a gender identity (male/female) label, not having a gender role (femme/butch) label, or anything else related to identity. If you say "I am different," it doesn't tell people in what way. Similarly, if you tell people "I'm not straight, but I'm not GLBT," then you still haven't answered the question for them--they don't know what else is left. And simply saying I'm "homosexual" will lead people to think I am a lesbian, which is not exactly true.
True enough, some people won't know what you mean by "queer," but then I think that's getting into their lack of education more so than your lack of specificity. You have told them what fits you best, and they simply don't know what that means. But they somewhat get the point either way--they know you are some sort of homosexual and are not heterosexual, which is really all I was trying to reveal to them in the first place.
I think the gays who are complaining or think using "queer" for something "good" is negative are among the people who simply don't get what "queer" means. I believe many of them think we are interchanging "queer" with gay, lesbian, transgendered...and some people might be, but not all of us. I call myself "queer" because nothing...else...fits! You might think it's as simple as "you either like your sex or you don't," but it's not for all of us--I have so many posts that demonstrate that it's not that simple for me. Many of them are included in the category list to the right entitled "Suggested Reading for Newbies." As the title indicates, I suggest you take a look. For me, calling myself "queer" is just not at all about taking a derogatory term from the majority and turning it around.