An Alternative to the Word Queer
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
Now that we’ve talked about the case both for and against using the word queer in writing, you may be reconsidering the ways that you use queer. Though I still personally think that queer is a powerful and inclusive word, there’s definitely a lot of reason to be mindful of how you use it.
Part of that mindfulness, of course, is having some alternatives on hand to use if you need them! So today, we’re going to talk about some pros and cons to alternatives for the word Queer that you can use in your writing.
(Or LGBT+, or LGBTQIA+)
These are the most technically correct and inclusive alternatives to the word queer (especially LGBTQIA+), but they come with the added issue of being a bit clunky to use in prose. It can be done, especially in modern settings, but it can be challenging.
This also comes with the challenge of not fitting in to fantasy/sci-fi/historical or other “genre” fiction that isn’t set in our modern world, since the acronym is such a modern invention. However, when we’re talking about a broad term for the entire community, this is the most widely acceptable and recognizable.
“MOGAI” is an alternative acronym to LGBTQIA+ which stands for “Marginalized Orientations, Gender Alignments, and Intersex.” It’s also sometimes spelled MOGII, swapping out “Alignments” for “Identities.”
It was designed as a more inclusive version of LGBTQIA+ which would allow the community to grow and expand to more niche identities without having to constantly add to the acronym. It also has the advantage of being a somewhat pronounceable word — I could easily see a sci-fi/fantasy world in which “mogai” or some variant was used to refer to people within the queer community as a whole.
MOGAI, however, has its own caveats. It is somewhat controversial in the queer community, as it sometimes makes space for such identities as “otherkin” or “xenogenders.” These are seen by some as “cringey,” and this is partially where that classic “special snowflake” idea came from.
I’m not here to make any judgement on those communities, but it’s important to recognize that as an alternative to the word queer, MOGAI has a very “Tumblrized” connotation, if people are familiar with the term at all (which, really, a lot of people aren’t).
QUILTBAG is another alternate acronym which stands for “Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual/Aromantic, and/or Gay.” Like MOGAI, this acronym has the advantage of being actually pronounceable, and the explicit inclusion of “queer” and “undecided” help to make it somewhat more inclusive than the standard LGBT. I’ve also occasionally seen QUILTBAG+ used to account for identities not included in the original acronym
QUILTBAG, however, comes with some pretty big drawbacks. The first is that it still tries to name each identity in its acronym, which can exclude certain populations. The other (and perhaps more pressing) issue is that the term is rarely used and relatively obscure, meaning that it would be difficult to just drop it into your fiction and expect a random reader to understand what you mean without some amount of explanation.
Or, as my fiance and I call it, “Capital-G Gay.”
“The Gay Community” and “Gay People” are both often used as catch-all terms for the broader LGBTQIA+ community. This can be nice because, similar to queer, it’s a short monosyllabic and easy to rhyme word that will be familiar to your readers.
It does, however, come with its own caveats. A lot of queer people from more marginalized identities — such as trans, nonbinary, and asexual folx — take issue with the fact that “gay” largely implies only same-sex attraction, and does not account for the wide breadth of gender, sexuality, and attraction variation across the LGBTQIA+ community.
The word “gay” also tends to refer specifically to gay men. This is a double-edged sword of annoyance: gay men don’t like that their identity is lost when the word Gay is used to refer to the community, and the community doesn’t like being reduced to a “standard” image of (often white) cis gay men.
So, while gay could in theory be used as an alternative to the word queer based on common vernacular usage, it’s use as an umbrella term has almost as many caveats to the word queer, which is why so many people have pivoted to the language of “queer rights” or “LGBTQIA+ rights”
There’s a very real case to be made that an over-reliance on umbrella terms actually serves to obscure the specific identities you’re exploring in your story. Rather than searching for an alternative to the word queer to use in your world, you can name each identity individually, and illustrate your setting’s broader LGBTQIA+ community in the way your characters interact.
This approach also has the added benefit of increasing the visibility of specific identities in your fiction — because, as I’ve touched on before, erasure is definitely something to be avoided.
“People like me”
If you’re writing about a queer character, they might just refer to their community as people who are like them. This can be extremely versatile — does the character mean people of their specific identity? Others who are marginalized like them? That’s up to you and your characters, and allows for a lot of flexibility in what constitutes your character’s community without getting tripped up on specific, potentially fraught language.
A word of caution, though: a lot of straight/cis folx have this tendency to say “people like me” and then just… never actually SAY what that means! This is especially pervasive in fiction about bisexual characters, and simply serves to put your characters in a nebulous ~queer space~ without actually taking the plunge in identifying what that queerness is.
The honest fact of the matter is that the LGBTQIA+ community doesn’t have a lot of terms to refer to it as a whole that aren’t somehow rooted in hateful language. That’s why acronyms are so powerful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most elegant solutions in writing.
Honestly, the best alternative to the word queer is to just name each character’s individual identity, and allow their interactions to show the community that they’ve built in your setting — you don’t necessarily have to name it!