I recently had a fascinating and eye-opening discussion on threads about the word ‘queer’ and how I’ve never been comfortable using it as a self identifier. It was genuinely interesting to see how people responded to my position on the word, and while no one attacked me for not using it, it was clear that those who do identify with it feel quite strongly about how right it is for them. Their clarity and articulations were so inspiring! I’ve never had any issue referencing ‘the queer community’ or using ‘queer’ to describe someone else, (if that’s how they identify), but applying it to myself has always felt strange and uncomfortable. Despite being an out bisexual for over 6 years now, the word ‘queer’ has always felt complicated and negative. As a teen in the 90s no one in our high school was out. There was a lot of bullying and aggression around being gay or being different in any way, and ‘queer’ was used as a particularly violent insult. As a young person I didn’t think that this meant queer people were bad, I knew much better than that having been raised in a very liberal family with parents who had lots of gay friends. The word queer just felt wrong to use. It felt judgmental and insulting, it seemed unkind and hurtful. So as I got older, and when I came out in my thirties, I found myself looking at the word ‘queer’ and processing how complex the meaning and intention behind that word felt.
Part of what has made the term queer so uncomfortable for me is that as a bisexual who came out later in life I’ve had countless experiences where it has been implied as well as clearly stated, that I’m not queer enough. Because I’m straight passing, and married to a man, and my sexual/romantic connections with women are few and far between, it has felt like that privilege precludes me from labeling myself queer. The people who I have gotten the most criticism from have been queer themselves so the queer community at large is a bit of a scary place for me. Straight privilege is real, I completely acknowledge that, and yes, generally speaking I’m more comfortable in straight spaces than queer spaces because my queerness is almost always questioned. So you can see how after being so explicitly taught that queer was a bad word, and being treated shabbily by members of the queer community, it’s a hard word for me to adopt. But then one day it happened.
Before the discussion on threads about the term queer, I had more or less accepted that it was not a term that I was likely ever going to use for myself and that it would always put a little bit of distance between me and the rest of the community. That’s okay, I’m not a natural conformist by any means so being on the outside of things isn’t necessarily the worst experience for me. However, talking through what queer means to other queer people and being encouraged to find whatever term fits must have seeped into my subconscious because within a couple of weeks of mulling and considering things, I had a moment of clarity where the term queer just clicked. It no longer felt too big and amorphous, it no longer carried the hateful edge that I had heard it used with so long ago. It just sort of … fit; like pulling on a shirt that’s just the right size for you: not too warm, not too cool, not too restricting but also a comfortable protective layer. To be honest I’ve only used it self-referentially a couple times, with caution, because I’m still getting used to it and still getting comfortable with it, but the core negativity of the term has washed away.
I’m particularly grateful to everyone who participated in that conversation with me because it was encouraging and provided some perspectives and context that I hadn’t really considered. Upon reflection I realized that by holding on to what queer once meant to me I was preventing myself from allowing myself to go forward in my life as queer in whichever way I am. Admittedly I don’t exactly know what that looks like yet. I use the term bisexual because it’s more comfortable to me than pansexual, but ultimately I don’t think I really care about someone’s gender identity or anatomy if I connect with them. The Bisexual Manifesto has made bisexual a broader term than its etymology implies it to be, but again, generationally bisexual feels more comfortable than pansexual. Perhaps my default will ultimately just be queer, which would be a full 180° from where I began.
A part of me wishes that labels didn’t matter to me. Sometimes I think that labels get in the way and make things more complicated because they restrict the parameters of our self-definitions. On the other hand they help us navigate and inform others how to navigate alongside us, making them incredibly useful. For myself I think the greatest learning here is that the labels can and will change. reminding myself that sexuality is kind of its own entity, its own organism, that will change and grow, and change again, in relation to your experiences, is something I find comforting. As someone who’s always struggled with the terminology of my sexuality it’s nice to know that whatever term I land on does not have to be static and doesn’t have to last forever. I’m glad to be over the roadblock of ‘queer’ and in a more self accepting space. I can now see how I might find my place in the queer tapestry, if I chose to weave my way into it. I’m also learning that homogeneity and the desire to fit in, while certainly human, is also a very straight habit. Different is okay. Queer is okay. What the heck is ‘normal’ anyway?
I’m excited to continue thinking about and looking at the word queer and how it applies to me, what parts fit and what parts don’t. I’m excited to see if there’s freedom in that word. My sense is that embracing it would grant me license to a sense of individuality that I have sometimes shied away from. I’ve also now had a glimpse at the powerful kinship of queer community when its accepting and welcoming. I want to feel that more, and I want to be that for someone else. For the first time I feel quite at peace with my sexuality, how its’ defined, how it’s expressed. It’s a new sensation, but it makes me feel hopeful. I’m hopeful that queer fits, and fits well, at least for a while.