The Case for Using the Word Queer
The word “queer” has an understandably loaded history and continues to be a point of contention within the LGBTQIA+ community. While many people identify strongly with and use the term, many others in the community find it offensive or harmful. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to discuss some of the arguments for and against the word “queer,” with some focus on how this topic relates to writing, as well as some possible alternatives and their merits.
To kick things off this week, I’m going to start with the positive aspects of using the word queer.
The Case in Favor of Queer
I have to admit: I’m personally in favor of using the word queer. It’s my go-to self-identifier, and one that I’ve found a lot of fulfillment and power in over the years. This is because there’s a lot of flexibility as to what “counts” as a queer identity.
I’ll use myself, a bi trans woman, as an example. On the surface, my identity seems easy enough to understand — I’ve got two whole words I can use to succinctly describe myself! In practice, though, it’s not actually that simple.
For one thing, my attraction manifests varies for different genders — I even experience the attraction I feel toward my genderfluid partner in varying ways depending on how they are presenting on a given day. This nuance, however, isn’t really captured by the word “bi” — especially when I use it around people who don’t really get what bisexuality is.
I also identify as “non-op,” which means I really don’t have a desire to undergo any gender-confirming surgeries. Because of this, and the fact that I don’t experience genital dysphoria, there’s a pretty large contingency of people who think I don’t “count” as transgender.
This is why I find so much power in the word “queer.” For years, I didn’t think I was LGBTQIA+ because I didn’t fit into the popular conceptions of what it meant to be bi or trans. But when I started using the word queer to describe myself, it allowed me to explore my experiences and understanding myself more deeply.
Using the word queer also allows folx to obscure aspects of their identities they may not be comfortable disclosing in certain situations.
I don’t always want to be seen as trans, because it isn’t always safe for me to reveal that part of myself to everyone I meet. Similarly, a lot of people still have a lot of casual vitriol toward bi people, and so sometimes it’s helpful to just sort of not reveal that piece of myself. By using the word queer, I can identify as LGBTQIA+ (and explain my femme-presenting partner) without revealing personal information about myself that might put me in danger.
And, again, I’ve got it relatively easy with two well-known identities. For a genderfluid or asexual person, who might not know if people within the queer community are going to accept them, using the word queer can help them gain access to supportive communities without putting them in danger. This is why making someone prove their “queer cred” is problematic bullshit. Just because you can’t see how a person is queer doesn’t mean they aren’t queer!
“LGBT” was coined in the late 80s, and since then various letters have been added, giving us the modern “LGBTQIA+”. Though these acronyms technically include unnamed identities, intentional inclusivity can be an extremely powerful tool.
Intentional inclusivity makes explicit space for certain individuals, so they don’t have to wonder if they’re included in a certain definition or discussion. It’s why I use the term “folx” on this blog as opposed to “folks” — it signals to those outside the gender binary that when I say folx, I’m intentionally including them in the conversation.
However, there are countless nuanced queer identities that aren’t captured in even the most extensive acronyms. My partner, who is genderfluid, doesn’t identify as trans. They also, however, do NOT identify as cis — but in LGBT+, only the “T” specifically refers to gender expansiveness. Where, then, do they fit in the acronym?
Using the word queer allows someone like my partner to take their place among the broader LGBTQIA+ community without having to justify or explain the nuances of their identity. This opens up the LGBTQIA+ community into a larger, more accepting space.
Using the Word Queer in Writing
So, how does this fit into writing?
When it comes to describing genre, it’s simply an easier and more inclusive term. It’s something that I personally use a lot — I talk about queer fiction and queer representation, and have described myself as a “Queer SFF” writer. Hell, the name of this blog is Queering the Narrative!
That, however, is a personal preference — these terms certainly makes folx uncomfortable (which I’ll talk about next week).
In actual writing, however, I think using the word queer is helpful for a few reasons.
Firstly, the various acronyms don’t flow well with a lot of prose. Some people can make it flow — and I applaud them — but especially when you move into the intentionally inclusive space of “LGBTQIA+”, it gets to be way more difficult. Though this may seem a shallow reason, good flow in prose is extremely important to keeping your audience engaged!
Secondly, when writing certain genres — especially fantasy and historical fiction — it doesn’t make any sense to use the acronym. A lot of modern LGBTQIA+ language makes little sense in these genres, and it can be difficult to find historical terms which aren’t inherently derogatory.
Because of these first two issues with the acronym, a lot of author hand-wave characters’ identities (something that I myself am guilty of), as they cannot find actual language that doesn’t feel clunky or anachronistic. This, however, is absolutely a contributing factor to the erasure of various identities in fiction!
As I’ve discussed in various “Tropes to Avoid” posts, not naming an identity is erasure! There are some ways to work around this, but this can be cumbersome and difficult for an author outside that character’s identity to pull off.
Queer probably isn’t the perfect solution to this problem — I’ll get into why next week — but as a distinctive monosyllabic and widely recognized term, it’s a step in the right direction!
All this, of course, doesn’t address the very real problems with the word queer — and those are not to be ignored! Unfortunately, I’ve run out of space to discuss that here today, so check back next week for a follow up about the case against the word queer. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!