Tuesday, 23 March 2010

What A Queer Thing To Say

Queer. What does that word bring to mind for you? For me it brings to mind the idea of someone who doesn't like to be labelled, Foucault's queer theory and perhaps a little voice at the back of my head going "Queer is also a bad word". But it's a very small voice and, from time to time, I've been know to identify myself as queer as opposed to gay. Queer, to me at least, is a positive "reclaimed" word and one I would have no problem with anyone using except if they said it a certain way.

I'm very much someone who thinks the way something is said changes it's meaning and thus a word is but a tool and not something we should demonise. Nazi for instance: if I shout and sneer the word at you, I'm probably being insulting by suggesting you're political beliefs are equivalent to those of the German Nazi Party of the thirties. But if I say it with a smile and a bit of a flair, I'm probably joshing you for your bossiness. See?

So when the GLBT group at our work, of whom I am a member, released our opening statement on the intranet (in which I had no part), with a mention of a "queer perspective", I didn't think anything of it.

But one member of my very own team did. He was deeply insulted by the use of the term which suggests to me a little bit of over sensitivity. I reasoned that some might find other word (such as gay itself) offensive too so why all the fuss over queer?

I've done a straw poll on Twitter and it looks like most people dislike the word too. Or use the argument it's okay when gay people say it but not when straight people do "like the word nigger". I hate that argument. It's special pleading. Either the word shouldn't be used or it should. You can't ban a word for some, but I agree a style guide might forbid it in a working environment.

So what do you think about the word queer, especially in this sort of context? Is "a queer perspective" simply not appropriate in a working environment?

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


Paul Brownsey said...

I get a bit narked when the right-on in-crowd, usually self-selected, comes up with decrees about the words that we must now all use or not use.

As for "queer", in some contexts I wouldn't mind it, but I imagine that your LGBT group is trying to address ordinary non-gay co-workers rather than an advanced-theory sect, and in that context I think "queer" is unwise. Your co-workers, especially if sympathetic, may well have come to thin of "queer" as an offensive term, and it might confuse them and get in the way of fruitful interchanges if the group insists on using it to them. It's probably a waste of eneregy to try to explain to them how and why we're now trying to reclaim "queer", and they probably won't think it's a point of much substance. I can imagine someone saying, "God, if you can get het up about 'queer' instead of 'gay' you can't have much to worry about."

Incidentally, don't you mean queer *perspective* rather than prospective?


Bear said...

For many of us who grew up / came out in the 70's and 80's, "queer" will always have an abusive ring to it.

efan78 said...

Hi Jae!

I'm afraid my respose didn't really fit the comments format so I had to blog it instead! http://efan78.com/140/Queer