The Blog

I'm Gay, Not Queer

The term queer is generally acknowledged as more of a middle class phenomenon. As rebellious as it may be, it tends to belong to those who have had the good fortune of higher education, or those who have been lucky enough to be born into an 'arty' familial circle.

The term 'queer' is increasingly being used as a powerful form of discourse within the LGBT community for those who wish to avoid the more straight-cut labels of lesbian, gay or bisexual.

It exists as an umbrella term which is sometimes used to refer to the LGBT community as a whole. However, for individuals who identify as 'queer', it tends to be used to avoid the labelling and classification of their sexuality.

To avoid the confines of society's labels is of course something to be celebrated. To identify as a lesbian often brings with it a multitude of stereotypes, with society sifting through the options and eventually applying the appropriate one to you. So the blurred boundaries that come with being queer are great - they allow you to override society's dire need to put you in a labelled box.

Even heterosexual people have come to use the term to define themselves in order to classify their own gender or sexuality as a fluid part of their identity. Queer heterosexuality can include heterosexual butch women or heterosexual effeminate men.

Academia, too, has sought to include this phenomenon in gender and sexuality studies, with 'queer theory' becoming an intrinsic part of many feminist based degree courses. The social construction of gender and sexuality comprises most of the study in this area and advances the work of feminists who challenge the notion of an 'essentialist self' (in other words: arguing towards the nurture end of the nature-nurture debate).

So it is clear that there has been a reclaiming of the word in that it has come to represent a new wave of how we can choose to identify with our sexuality. It is often received by those outside the LGBT scene (those who haven't become numb to the effervescent glow of the equality rainbow) as radical and rebellious, with something of a chic anarchy about it.

However, the term queer is generally acknowledged as more of a middle class phenomenon. As rebellious as it may be, it tends to belong to those who have had the good fortune of higher education, or those who have been lucky enough to be born into an 'arty' familial circle.

The literal meaning of queer, as odd, strange, puzzling and deviant, has gone through a rebranding process in LGBT circles. A term that was once used to denigrate us has now been reclaimed in order to be 'owned' by us. I can call myself 'queer' and apparently feel empowered by it - but if a stranger calls me this as I walk down the street hand in hand with my girlfriend, it becomes a discriminatory label.

And that's exactly what it is - a label. A label which seeks to defy all other labels, branding them as too rigid, fixed and confining. A label that, I anticipate, will eventually come to be seen as out-dated and generic in years to come.

When individuals identify themselves as 'queer', they present a greater obscurity to those who seek to understand us. Because of this, the LGBT movement is often accused of walking 'too far' down the road of equality, with gender and sexuality being forced into a never ending maze of smoke and mirrors.

I don't know what it's like to have fallen in love with both men and women but I like to think that, if this was the case, I would identify as bisexual or simply state that I have a 'fluid' sexuality.

The problem the LGBT movement is facing is a skewing of terms and understandings that is causing confusion amongst the general public. I was listening to a debate on the radio only the other day about introducing non-binary (or genderqueer) toilets at schools and heard caller after caller discuss this with no idea as to what they were actually talking about.

"I don't mind gay people using the same toilet as me" - one of the comments I heard which bears no relationship to the topic of non-binary toilets.

In a way, it pains me to write against the use of the term 'queer' as it does represent much of what I want the LGBT and women's rights movements to achieve. A society in which one doesn't have to define their gender or sexuality and where we are seen simply as individuals with all our distinctions and similarities.

But when it comes to discussing my sexual orientation, I do not wish to use a term that was historically used to denigrate gay people in order to define my minority status. It seems that any classification of sexuality or gender, no matter how obscure, is automatically granted a connection to the LGBT movement, which has now been extended to LGBTTTQQIAA (lesbian; gay; bisexual; transgender; transexual; two-spirited; queer; questioning; intersex; asexual), merely due to the fact that it's not heterosexual or 'binary'.

In my opinion, we can all fit into many of the categories under this ever growing umbrella. Some days I may feel 'two spirited', or defy the stereotypes of what it means to be a woman; that's not to say that I should suddenly identify as LTQ (a lesbian, two spirited, queer woman).

The thing that used to scare me about 'coming out' was being thrust into this colourful world of blurred boundaries and experimentation. For a gay person, I must be pretty straight because I have no desire to embark on this 'rite of passage' into the gay world. We need to stop marginalising people's fluid sexualities into a never ending array of acronyms which segregate us from our heterosexual 'superiors'.

There are arguably a wide variety of sexualities that exist underneath the heterosexual umbrella but it seems our straight allies do not strive to create such labels to marginalise themselves with.

That's not to say that we shouldn't seek to shape the labels we use to define us. I often speak out against the stereotypes of what it means to be a lesbian. Indeed, there are many ways in which one can be a 'lesbian', the same way in which most of my heterosexual friends differ in how they experience their sexualities.

So to all those who identify as 'queer': I would never ask you to stop using this term for only you know what label you can identify with best. Would I prefer that you used the term bisexual, or fluid instead? Yes. The same way that a black person might prefer for you to use the term brother as opposed to the 'n word'.

Truth be told, there are so many ways in which people experience their sexualities, we would have to get through every letter of the alphabet (with footnotes) in order to even come close to creating an appropriately inclusive acronym for all.

I must be one of those annoying 'wannabe heterosexuals' that the 'queers' at the Pride March hate. I appreciate that LGBT people have had to endure many battles that our heterosexual allies have not, but I'd also like to celebrate heterosexuality and the battles that it, too, has had to endure over the years - from divorce to women's rights.

We're all queer in some way shape or form and that's fantastic. The LGBT movement, however, continues to be depicted as a circus of difference when, in reality, it's just as diverse and exciting as its confused heterosexual audience.