“QUEER” — a.k.a., my ‘trigger’

If I had a personal “n-word”, it would be the “q-word”, but I think it is silly to use childlike abbreviations, so it’s just queer. It’s a word that provokes a visceral reaction from me, and it makes me want to scream and slap the person saying it. From trans friends who argue with one another about words like the “t-word” (“tranny” if you’re not a child), I understand this is my trigger. Of course, triggers are not trans things, or even LGBT things…they are things that set off a flashback transporting the person back to an event of her/his original trauma.

Why do I have such an issue with queer?

REASON 1: As I try to explain to millennial gaybys that I meet in clubs, queer is my trigger because it was the word that was used to insult me, not only by other school kids, but also by my own family members. Having been called that by family, I find the word especially ugly. One of the things LGBT people give to counter African Americans when they assert we have it easier because we can hide ourselves (whereas skin color is obvious to the bigots one encounters), is that African Americans can come home from school and get support from family members who suffer the same slights in society. I don’t believe in “us vs. them” and trying to determine who suffers the most, but I will say that rejection by members of one’s family is rough — and for me it was much more painful than what I encountered at school. Just in case the reader missed it the first time, I don’t believe in “us vs. them” and I’m not trying to say sexual orientation is more difficult than issues of race; I don’t have a clue what African American children experience. I’m just saying that the magnitude of my negative experience was related to my family not being “like me” and feeling very alone when attacked about my sexuality.

REASON 2: As I try to explain to millennial college students who are super excited about their “Queer Studies 101” class, I find their explanation of reclaiming queer for our community condescending, self-important, and insensitive. I went to college. I took a sociology class. I’m not stupid. I understand the concept of minorities reclaiming derogatory language and how that is supposed to dilute its power. I just disagree. There is a huge difference between me not understanding vs. me not approving. It never fails that some child born long after my college days were over believes that he can educate me — and he believes that if he does, I will no longer have a dissenting opinion. The tedium of it is as exhausting as it is infuriating.

REASON 3: As I try to explain to millennial “gender-queer” activists before they go postal on me for having a contrary opinion, I’m not convinced that their use of the word truly constitutes a reclaiming of language by those who were originally harmed by it. In my generation and in my locale of birth, queer was used as a slur against boys (and men) who were considered effeminate. We were the exclusive targets of this word. Some of us eventually self-identified as gay, and others of us now self-identify as trans.

I never observed queer being used as a slur against people such as women who liked to dress in a manner that was gender-ambiguous and/or were uncomfortable with pronouns such as “she”. This makes me question the right that these people have to reclaim my slur. Even if the word was used against them, I am not gender-ambiguous and they do not represent ME. Don’t misunderstand — they can self-identify as anything they wish, and I fully support that. I support their right to dress in any way they want, date anyone they want, have any job they want, and modify their bodies in any way they may want. I donate funds and personal time to make sure their rights are protected as well as are mine. What I do NOT support is the argument that they are doing the “community” a service by removing the hurtful power of this word for everyone. Unless queer was used to hurt you, you do not have the right or ability to “reclaim” it. And if you’re not a sissy boy, you’re not reclaiming it for me and the other sissy boys. You’re just choosing a word you like.

Also, queer seemed to fall out of favor by the time I was in college, with terms such as faggot being more en vogue with the bully types. I question whether any millennial had anachronistic slurs poured upon them, even if they are sissy boys. Again, if no one attacked you with the word in an effort to obliterate your self esteem, it’s not reclamation. You’re just choosing a word you like.

REASON 4: As I try to explain to everyone who uses queer in reference to ME, I do not self-identify as queer, and I (a) should not have to explain to anyone why I specifically do not want to be referred to by a hateful slur (b) nor should I have to plead with anyone not to use it when referring to me and my community. If I politely share with any compassionate human being that I am hurt by certain language, their response should be something like, “I am sorry, I didn’t know. I’ll make an effort not to refer to you using that word”. Period. It shouldn’t be a debate. But it almost always IS a debate, and this makes me hate the word even more. Again, exhausting and infuriating.

REASON 5:  This reason will make you think that I am crazy, stretching, and self appropriating things that I have no right to appropriate, but I still believe it. As I previously mentioned, I think that queer is an anachronistic slur — having been much more popular with bullies in my youth and even more so with previous generations. Here in San Francisco, one doesn’t run into a lot of guys from previous generations. Why? Well, many of them died from HIV/AIDS in the 80’s and early 90’s. I believe that if the thousands of these guys were still here, there would be more voices like mine saying that queer is ugly and it’s not OK for groups purporting to represent all of the LGBT community to adopt the word queer as a lazy catch all for everyone. I’m not a fan of the ever growing alphabet “soup” that is LGBTQI+, but I certainly prefer that to the use of the most hateful slur I can remember. I feel that my voice is being overrun by a new, more populous generation that is insensitive to the earlier generations who made much of their current freedoms possible.

How many times in one post can I insinuate that this is all because of millennials? At the risk of sounding like that crazy old man who yells at children to stay out of his yard, I’ll say it one more time — “millennials, stop using the word queer to refer to ME and MY community!”