Image Credit: Matt Rogan
As I’m writing this from my room in York, it’s just turned June – which means it’s Pride Month 2021! I can honestly say Pride Month is one of my favourite times of the year. Why? Because it’s a chance to appreciate queer culture, learn about queer history, find new queer artists and authors, and celebrate queerness!
It’s a chance to celebrate diversity and appreciate how far we’ve come in over 50 years, since the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1967. The fight for queer rights is It’s not always a smooth ride, – the first Pride itself wa sa riot after all – but one thing I have come to truly appreciate, one thing that has changed for the better over the years: is the way the LGBTQ+ community uses the word “queer”.
I’d like to start by unpicking the acronym LGBTQ+. The acronym it-self stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer and + (which represents wider identities: asexual, aromantic, pansexual, intersex, etc). In June, we celebrate and appreciate all identities encompassed by the acronym LGBTQ+, however a lot of people tend to use the term “Gay Pride”. I myself used the term, until a few years ago when a friend of mine explained I should just say “Pride” or “LGBTQ+ Pride”, instead. I asked why, out of curiosity, and they explained that it seems odd that we should focus on the G in LGBTQ+ Pride when the first Pride itself was started by black, trans women.
That’s something I try to emphasise in social media posts during Pride month: Pride didn’t come about from cis white gays dancing to Born this Way by Lady Gaga; it came from black trans women and drag queens rioting. Since that conversation with my friend, instead of describing Pride month as a “celebration of all things gay”, I’ve found it a “celebration of all things queer”. But, given that the word has traditionally been used with negative connotations, it may seem odd that I want to celebrate it?.
If something is described as“queer”, you might be implying that it’s something unusual, strange, funny, odd?. There are a thousand synonyms I could write for the word here. For the LGBTQ+ community, this was a word used in a derogatory way. Many men had this word used against them if they were effeminate or thought to have had same-sex relationships, in an attempt to degrade them. The word’s use even goes back to the 1880s, where it was used during the trial that imprisoned Oscar Wilde. At face value, this is a word that means “strange”and is used to insult LGBTQ+ people; thus it may seem weird to suggest we celebrate a word that’s been used since the 1880s as a slur. Queer is an example of a reclaimed term, now used in a positive, affirming way. So, when I say we should celebrate queerness, I use the word as an affirming mention of the whole LGBTQ+ community!
One of the first times that queer was used as a reclaimed term was by Queer Nation, formed by four members of a group known as ACT UP, who were a group of (arguably controversial) activists campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility. The group would work with other movements such as OutRage! to lobby for these rights in Parliament.
Following this, the term would be used in TV shows such as Queer as Folk by Russell T Davies, as well as the reality show Queer Eye, and the phrase “queer” could be seen at Pride marches, in the context of celebrating the community.
Nowadays, the phrase remains prevalent within the community and is used to encompass everything LGBTQ+ (which is a lot less syllables to say!) as well as a means of identifying oneself as non-normative.
I asked my partner, who uses queer to identify themselves, why they use it. They told me that queer works as an umbrella term. It allows them to define their sexuality and gender in a way that shows they’re not cis-heteronormative, while at the same time not making them always feel pressured to rigidly stick to one label or another. It lets them self-define without necessarily understanding everything about themselves or feeling as though they must stick to one label forever.
During this conversation, I couldn’t help but think about so many people I’ve met who worry about using certain labels because they wonder: “is this really right for me?”. I’ve been there myself! In recent years, I’ve used the term pansexual to describe myself rather than bisexual, only on the basis that “pan” means“all” and “bi” means “two”, hence I feel the former fits better.
However, for some people, they might not be aware these terms exist, so “queer” acts as a way of describing any non-normative sexuality/identity.Coming back to my discussion with my other half, they added that they feel identifying as “queer” allows for growth, change, and a sense of freedom. They also added that the term represents inclusivity for those who don’t feel that any label properly fits them and so, seeing “queer” gradually be reclaimed from a slur brings them nothing but joy, and I whole-heartedly agree with them!
The word queer has gone from being used to damn one of the world’s most famous poets and playwrights, to being a word that celebrates diversity, inclusivity and the beauty of everything LGBTQ+. In 2021, there may still be a fair amount of discourse which debates whether the word is acceptable given that it is rooted in oppression, but I believe in 2021 we can proudly say: "we're here, we're queer."