07 June 2006

What About The Word "Queer"? (Part One)

For quite some time, I've been wanting to address the use of the word "queer" among Lesbians and Gay men on my blog. I was thinking seriously about how I wanted to address it when the opportunity to do so landed right in front of my nose.

I picked up the latest edition of a local Gay publication and found an appalling editorial inside. A Lesbian activist had written a spirited defense of the word "queer" and was actually encouraging its wider use! She claimed it was a term with the potential to unite sex and gender minorities. I responded immediately with a letter to the editor. It may or may not be published, but that's not important . . . my main purpose in writing the letter was to reproduce it here:

I harbor no illusions that I can ever come between Ms. (name withheld) and her enthusiasm for the word "queer." That said, I'm going to do my damndest to try! Let me say first that I can sympathize with her desire to pull Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexual persons, Transgendered persons, leather fetishists and Pansexualists under the same protective umbrella. We'd all like to protect everybody from gender and sex discrimination, wouldn't we?

The problem is, the umbrella hasn't been invented that will cover so many different kinds of folks at the same time! Certain people will get coverage, and others will simply be left out because there isn't enough room for them. For example, people like me who do not identify with the word "queer", find its usage reprehensible, and resent having it applied to us against our will.

In her editorial, Ms.(name withheld) cites over fifty diverse designations (not all of them homosexual) that are supposedly covered by the word "queer." It's absurd! She's piled on so many meanings, she's rendered the word all but meaningless. She hasn't made "queer" a radical statement, she's made it a joke . . . but not a very funny joke, in my opinion.

I wonder if it ever has occurred to people like Ms.(name withheld) that many Lesbians and Gay men have no desire to be radical? We are quiet souls who are comfortable with our sexuality. We don't see our sexuality as falling outside of what's normal or natural. We have no need to politicize or radicalize it.

We refuse to live our lives in perpetual reaction to the activities of bigots. We refuse to associate ourselves with the most hedonistic and bohemian elements of society just because some people (both pro and anti-Gay) think that's where we belong. Ms. (name withheld) talks about how important it is to stand up for yourself, and to come out of the closet. She's right, but let me remind her of something that's equally important: Defining yourself for yourself and not allowing others to do it for you!

This isn't the first time I've heard this scurrilous argument that Lesbians and Gay men who refer to themselves by hateful terms like "queer", "f*g", "d*ke", "fudge packer", "rug muncher" and "ass pirate" are draining those insults of their negative power. I'd like to pose a few questions to everyone who makes this argument. Why does it still hurt to be called such names by a bigot? If we've made them into such positive and affirming terms, why do they continue to carry their derogatory connotations? And why do we have such a strong need to embrace such dehumanizing terms?

I have an answer to that last question myself. Let me quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady character from "Saturday Night Live" here: "Could it be . . . Satan?" Could it be that our love of sexual slurs is anything but a revolutionary re-invention of language? Could it be our deep-rooted self-hatred manifesting itself? Could hidden shame be the real name of this word game?

I'm acquainted with a man named Neil Brian Goldberg, a popular songwriter. He's not Gay, but he's got a theory about why minority groups are attracted to unsavory words like "queer" and "n*gger". He says that using those rude words on ourselves is a form of psychological self-torture, a subconscious way of identifying with your oppressor. You convince yourself that you're doing otherwise, he explains, but all the while you're reinforcing your own feelings of shame and victimization. Neil told me:

When someone calls one of their own (by a slur), they are assuming the persona of the old masters and bigots! It makes them feel safe, like (saying), "I'm one of you" to the haters. They are denying their own heritage and siding with the enemy to feel safe, as all appeasers do . . . it is wrong! (It is) bad language, and should be shunned.

I concur with his theory. Look at the way our Civil Rights struggle has stalled! I argue that the stagnation of our movement has as much to do with our disrespectful attitudes toward ourselves as with the influence of the religious Right Wing. We can be our own worst enemy.

In Nazi Germany, a majority of people believed that persecuting Jews was the right thing to do just because their governing officials told them so. In the southern United States not so long ago, a majority of people believed that disenfranchising African Americans was the right thing to do just because their governing officials told them so. Just a few years ago, a majority of Americans believed an unprovoked invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do just because their governing officials told them so.

Now a majority of Lesbians and Gay men are starting to believe that presenting themselves to the world as "queers" is the right thing to do just because their equivalent of governing officials is telling them so. Lord, deliver me! When are human beings ever going to act like they've got sense in their heads and start distinguishing what's right from what's wrong? We absolutely must reach for a higher standard of intelligence!

I refuse to unite with anybody under the banner of "queer"! I refuse to engage in verbal self-flagellation. I refuse to disrespect my sexuality. I know that my sexuality is a creation of God. I know that God loves me, and wants me to love myself. And I know that nothing, absolutely nothing that God creates is "queer"! I consider it a sin to refer to myself and others in that way, and no number of bigots and/or misguided Gay activists will ever make me believe otherwise.