It should be no shock at this point that I identify with the label of queer – it’s part of the name of this blog, I’ve written briefly about it before, and I’ve shared my struggles around feeling validity about my sexual orientation and gender. During a lot (but not all) of my questioning, I’ve identified with the label queer because it’s allowed me to do that same soul searching while also having some stability. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the term and label and whether or not I should keep identifying with it.
So many questions and doubts have been consuming my mind lately about identifying with queer: should I keep identifying as queer? Do I still have any claim on the label because I’m not currently active in any LGBT community? Who am I?! What does it all mean?! You know – the usual twenty something identity crisis.
Rather than stew in my own thoughts, I started reading as much as I could online, which in part ended up with me staying up way too late on multiple occasions but also ended up with me finding a bunch of stuff. To begin: the term has a loaded history – a part of that includes being used as a derogatory and sometimes violent slur, which why many do not like it. (“Smear the Queer” ring a bell?)
But that doesn’t mean that everyone in the community hates it – some, like the group Queer Nation, have reclaimed it and used it as a way to push back, especially in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. And while I don’t agree with everything Nadia Cho wrote about what being queer means, there is something about the following that I do appreciate:
Being queer means constantly questioning what’s considered “normal” and why that norm gets privileged over other ways of being. It means criticizing who sets these norms and recognizing the privilege that comes with being able to identify as “normal.” Being queer means confronting all forms of oppression and bringing as many unheard, minority experiences and stories to light. Being queer means addressing and understanding the intersectionality between race, gender, sexuality and class and how it affects each person’s experience and identity differently.
…Being queer means constantly looking for ways to be as inclusive as possible in order to create a world where everyone feels safe and accepted, in which there is true equality for every single person.
I also keep coming back to something that Hari Ziyad wrote in an article about three differences between gay and queer:
For some, there’s simply too much pain associated with the word for so many people. I understand that. As for me, I’m all about reclamation and taking power from oppressive systems whenever and however I can. You can’t tell me that you get to change a word with a meaning as beautiful as “peculiar” and I don’t get to take it back from you. I’m also young and haven’t lived through the widespread use of queer as a derogatory term, so my feelings are admittedly biased.
I’ve also been thinking about the ways in which my whiteness impacts and interacts with my sexuality and gender (and there are so many different ways) because so often in media and many mainstream LGBT organizations (looking at HRC here), the queer/LGBT people shown are white. But there are so many LGBT people of color and understanding sexual orientation and gender through the lens of race and colonialism is so important, especially if you are white like me.
A part of this (in an offshoot sort of way) is also that I don’t really feel like I’m a part of the LGBT community anymore. In college, I had a community and I spent time with other LGBT people. But being back home, I don’t know any LGBT people and it’s not only been incredibly lonely but it’s also been rather unsettling. I often question if I’m actually a part of the LGBT community anymore not because I don’t identify as bisexual and nonbinary (because I do) but because I just feel like there’s not a place for me there.
The past few days have been filled with more self doubt and confusion than normal with the debate of queer swirling in my head. But at the same time, I’m glad that I’ve been pushing back on my own assumptions not only about myself but also about the history and context of many of the terms I’ve regularly used. Self reflection and accountability is important for any person.
Ultimately, I still think that as a person, I’ll keep using the term. But like before, I also realize that not everyone else feels the same way and forcing it on anyone else is a pretty awful thing to do. And finally, I also think that the reclamation of queer should remain solely by people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender – the term isn’t for people who aren’t LGBTQ+ or queer.