20 August 2006

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

1. Strange; odd.
2. informal, derogatory: Homosexual.
3. British, informal, dated: Slightly ill.
(noun)informal, derogatory: A homosexual man.
(verb)informal: To spoil or ruin.
ORIGIN: perhaps from the German quer, meaning ‘oblique, perverse’.

Definition taken from the Compact Oxford English Dictionary

These days it's distressing to see the word "queer" mainlined into our arts and culture. There is "queer film," "queer comedy," "Queer Studies" . . . some people with cultural positions of power are trying to convince the rest of us that this word is now politically correct (and) that all Gay people want to "reclaim" and "re-dignify" it. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, I've spoken at youth conferences, done parent outreach, served as a commissioner, addressed the LA Board of Education. No way would I stand at the front of the room and use the word "queer" and hope to get the message of tolerance across to Straight people! Indeed, you will seldom hear the Q-word from ANY sensible Gay people who work in K-12 education. Gay students are struggling for the right to be safe at school. "Queer" is what our kids get called when they're slammed into lockers or assaulted in the bathroom, along with "f*g" and other words. The landlord who evicts a Lesbian couple uses the word "queer." Homophobes in uniform who beat young Gay soldiers to death with baseball bats use the word "queer". Indeed, ECHO reported on a Phoenix hate-crime where the word "queer" was spray-painted on a Latino man's house. Who knows? Maybe "queer" was the last word that Matthew Shepard heard before he died.

You've just read an excerpt from an Oasis Magazine essay called "Down With The Q Word", written in the year 2000 by Patricia Nell Warren. Ms. Warren is the author of the best-selling Gay novel The Front Runner. Access the entire essay at:


Over the weekend, I got into a rather heated argument online with another Gay man who insisted on calling me "queer." He literally tried to force acceptance of the word down my throat, and after using it on me in a clearly derogatory manner, he then had the nerve to claim it wasn't derogatory! He declared that it was merely a synonym for "different or unusual." The official definition, which I've reproduced here, puts the lie to his declaration. This wacky idea that casual use of slurs robs them of their sting will send me to an early grave! Have we gone insane?

I grew up in the Black community, and as far back as I can remember, there always were African-Americans who used the word "n*gger." Some of them were members of my own family. Thirty years ago when I was a child, it was used to connote a lack of class, a no-good person. Somewhere around the time I entered junior high school, some Black people began throwing it around as a "term of endearment." Slowly but surely, it began to replace "brother" as our main greeting.

By the late 1980s and early '90s, "n*gger" (and its Hip-Hop culture variant, "n*ggah") were being used more and more openly. Is it just an accident that casual acceptance of this disgusting word coincided with the rise of the thug aesthetic, lethal gang violence, Gangster Rap records and videos, and crack cocaine abuse in the Black community? I don't think so.

Words have power, especially hateful words with a bloody history like "n*gger." So it doesn't surprise me that increasingly open use of the word "queer" over the last fifteen years has coincided with a rise in drug and alcohol abuse, self-stereotyping in the media and unsafe sex practices among LesBiGay folk!  If you start thinking of yourself as a "n*ggah" or a "queer", you'll act accordingly; your self-esteem will suffer, and your behavior will show it.

Nowadays, you just can't escape racial and sexual slurs. I can hardly believe what I'm hearing! Pejoratives are everywhere, no matter whether you're talking about visual, print or electronic media, or a street corner in your own neighborhood. This pervasive hate-speech-as-popular-culture ethic encourages minority groups to adopt slurs, and to fool themselves into believing that they become benign with frequent use. Sure enough, large numbers of marginalized people now embrace these horrible terms of degradation (clutching poisonous things to your bosom . . . wonderful practice! Incredibly smart.  NOT)!

Last I heard, though, bigots were still using these words in their original, virulent sense as much as ever, if not more often. Nobody can convince me sexual slurs have lost their sting when I hear about gangs of street thugs screaming them in outrage at Lesbians and Gay men, then following them up with several choice blows from a blunt object. Yes, Virginia, that kind of thing still happens on a regular basis! It happened just a couple of months ago in New York City to a performance artist named Kevin Aviance.

Jesus Christ was right about humanity; we are hard to teach (Matthew 19)! Isn't it time we stopped being so stupid? Why can't we admit that we can't change the meaning of a slur just by changing it for ourselves? In order to accomplish such an ignoble feat, we'd have to change the meaning for everybody in the world, and with
beaucoup fundamentalist ministers, imams and rabbis out there condemning our existence every weekend, that ain't hardly gonna happen! You can take the hate speech out of its hateful context, but you can't take the hateful context out of the hate speech! And why the Hell do we want to "reclaim" these ignorant labels in the first place? What's the percentage in it?

I desperately want people of color, blended gender people and women to stop dishonoring God by using wicked words to describe themselves. B*tch!  C*nt!  F*ggot!  D*ke!  N*ggah!  Queer!  It's a lexicon of shame! And guess who it is that wants to shame us? That's right, Church Lady: Satan! He knows that we are God's children, and he despises us! He places evil epithets into the mouths of those he controls, and then he directs them to insult us relentlessly.

I know how much it hurts to be assaulted in this way, but we need to take care how we respond. If we respond by embracing curses in the mistaken belief that we can harden ourselves against them, we're also embracing Satan. We're cutting off the connection to Heaven that is our birthright, and essentially agreeing with our enemies that we belong in Hell! We might as well curse God and die . . . and when I see how self-destructive our behavior has become, I fear that may be exactly what we're doing.