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Umbrella Term for Sexual Minorities
Queer has traditionally meant odd or unusual, though in modern use it often pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Additionally, it is being applied more and more to a broader category of sexual minorities, including a range of gender variant and non-normative heterosexual people.
Its usage is considered controversial and underwent substantial changes over the course of the 20th century with some LGBT people reclaiming the term as a means of self-empowerment.
The term is still considered by some to be offensive and derisive, and by others as a re-appropriated term used to describe a sexual orientation and/or gender identity or gender expression that does not conform to heteronormative society.
In contemporary usage, some use queer as an inclusive, unifying sociopolitical, self-affirming umbrella term for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexual, genderqueer, or of any other non-heterosexual sexuality, sexual anatomy, or gender identity.
It can also include asexual and autosexual people, as well as gender normative heterosexuals whose sexual orientations or activities place them outside the heterosexual-defined mainstream (e.g. BDSM practitioners or polyamorous persons). Queer in this sense (depending on how broadly it is defined) is commonly used as a synonym for such terms as LGBT.
According to Merriam-Webster,
Queer as a term referring to homosexuals or gay and lesbian
people was often disparaging and sometimes offensive.
Over the past two decades, an important change has occurred in the use of queer. The older, strongly pejorative use has certainly not vanished, but a use by some gay people and some academics as a neutral or even positive term has established itself. This development is most noticeable in the adjective but is reflected in the corresponding noun as well.
The newer use is sometimes taken to be offensive, especially by older gay men who fostered the acceptance of gay in these uses and still have a strong preference for it.
Power of Words: Reclamation and
The pink triangle was originally used by the Nazis to denote homosexuality in male concentration camp prisoners. It has since been reclaimed. Many LGBT-related organizations use the inverted pink triangle as a symbol of queer resistance, gay pride and gay rights.
Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations, and is often preferred by those who are activists, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities, by those who reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight, and by those who see themselves as oppressed by the heteronormativity of the larger culture.
In this usage it retains the historical connotation of "outside the bounds of normal society" and can be construed as "breaking the rules for sex and gender." It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows "queer"-identifying people to avoid the sometimes strict boundaries that surround other labels. In this context, "queer" is not a synonym for LGBT as it creates a space for "queer" heterosexuals as well as "non-queer" homosexuals.
Wikipedia: Gender Queer
Derogatory and Offensive Words
or "faggot" are slang terms that are considered to be pejorative and offensive
to gay and lesbian people. The use of these words is intended as an epithet or
slur, meant to demean or insult.
Similarly, slang expressions like "homo," "fairy," and "dyke" are considered to be derogatory. Referring to gay and lesbian people as "sodomites," "deviates," "pedophiles," or "perverts" is clearly meant as an insult.
Often such disparaging language is part of the hate speech used by bullies to verbally abuse, harass and threaten those they consider to be gay or lesbian. Such vocabulary is also used by hate groups and other ideological organizations to intimidate, defame or vilify gay and lesbian people.
Additionally, using the word "gay" as a general insult is disrespectful and offensive, as in the expression, "That's so gay," in which the speaker uses the term "gay" to mean "bad" or "stupid."
The Q Word
Several television shows, including British and American versions of Queer as Folk, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and the cartoon Queer Duck have also used the term in their titles. This commonplace usage has, especially in the American colloquial culture, has recently led to the more hip and iconic abbreviation "Q".
The term is sometimes capitalized when referring to an identity or community, rather than merely a sexual fact.
There has sprung up a variety of special interest categories and subject matter than employ the positive use of the term queer.
Queer Studies as an academic discipline is now established at many universities. There is a sociological perspective known as Queer Theory.
You can also find Queer Culture, Queer Nation, Queer Cinema (See: Queer Lounge), Queer Theology, Queer Nationalism, Queer Literature, Queer History, and Queer Youth.
Queer Theory is a field of
critical theory that
emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of
LGBT studies and
feminist studies. It is a
kind of interpretation devoted to
queer readings of texts.
Heavily influenced by the work of
Michel Foucault, queer
theory builds both upon
feminist challenges to
the idea that
gender is part of the
essential self and upon
gay/lesbian studies' close examination of the
nature of sexual
gay/lesbian studies focused its inquiries into "natural" and "unnatural"
behavior with respect to homosexual behavior, queer theory expands its
focus to encompass any kind of sexual activity or identity that falls
Queer Theory Home Page
PFLAG: Definition of Queer
Terms and Definitions
Wikipedia: Gender Queer
LGBT on Wikipedia
Polari: Gay Slang
Gay on Wikipedia
Lesbian on Wikipedia
Dictionary of Queer Slang and Culture
Homosexuality on Wikipedia
Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama