23 May 2007

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

Anybody who's been reading my blog for any length of time knows that the word "queer" is anathema to me! I hate that this demeaning term (facetiously coined in the early 1990s by Outweek editor Gabriel Rotello) has now become the preferred way for homosexual men and women to describe themselves. Like baggy jeans worn without a belt, it's a dumb-ass fad that refuses to die; now it seems there's no usage that's too blatant or inappropriate, and no manner too ludicrous for the word to be used in!

A book with Gay subject matter is called "queer literature." A movie with Gay characters or a Gay storyline is an example of "queer film." A course on Gay American history qualifies as "Queer Studies." A painting, sculpture or performance piece by a Gay artist is labeled "queer art." Whatever happens to be going on in a Gay ghetto gets called "queer culture." Non-White Gay people get branded "queers of color." When Gay teenagers get together, the gathering must needs be called a "queer youth" group. A same-gender couple with children gets singled out as a "queer family." A Lesbian or Gay man who believes in Jesus Christ is now supposed to be a "queer Christian"!  WTF? Can you say "blasphemy"?

As if that wasn't bad enough, what about "queer Bible study?" That one almost made me lose my lunch when I heard about it. We all know about the infamous TV shows "Queer As Folk" and "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy"; thankfully, one has gone off the air, and the other has all but ended production. However, I wouldn't be surprised if some Gay writer or producer weren't busy devising a new show that incorporates "queer" in its title. It seems the more I rail against this rotten word, the more common it becomes! Would you believe even some of my Straight acquaintances have begun using it around me? As you can imagine, this has led to some very tense moments.

Sometimes, it seems as though I'm alone in my disdain for denigrating language. Twenty-first century Amerian culture certainly is awash in it: From Conservative pundits calling presidential candidates "f*ggots", to comedy routines riddled with insulting dialogue, to inner-city parents screaming unspeakable names at their infant children in public. It's got me in a perpetual state of shock!

Yet I'm heartened by the outrage that greeted radio host Don Imus when he casually used a sexual slur to describe a women's basketball team. I'm also encouraged by the serious discussions now taking place about bigoted, hateful and demeaning song lyrics. Even some Gay activists are getting the message! Yesterday, I picked up a copy of a local Gay periodical, and found something inside I had despaired of ever seeing: An editorial that takes LGBT folk to task for adopting obscene monikers. Frankly, I was overjoyed to see it!

The author of the editorial is Ms. Stephanie Bottoms. She's a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, where she served as editor of Vanguard, a campus newsletter for LGBT students. The use of "queer" is especially popular among young LesBiGay adults, but thankfully, Ms. Bottoms isn't typical of her age group. Somehow, she's managed to rise above the okey-doke mindset of current political analysis. She understands what constitutes minority group empowerment, and what doesn't. Her essay got down to the real nitty gritty, and I found it  refreshing to read! Here are some key excerpts:

Some people choose to embrace the word "queer" because they believe it is an all-inclusive term for individuals who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersexual. It's a one-syllable word that puts us all on the same playing field, right? Let's consider that. Imagine you have just moved to the big city, and after being taunted in your small town with names such as "queer" and "f*g", you are so excited and relieved to know that you are coming to a place with a higher acceptance (of) LGBT individuals. You start looking at a list of local organizations, trying to find the Gay-Straight alliance in the area. You're ready to get involved and start living your life as a happy, "out" individual. And what do you see as your heart sinks? The "Gay-friendly" local organization is called Queers United! All-inclusive? Try telling that to this person.

Here, Ms. Bottoms smashes the lie that our frequent use of "queer" cleanses the word of its hostile connotation. As if we had the ability to erase its traditional meaning! What a joke! We can't even agree among ourselves on what the revised meaning should be (see my previous essays on this topic).

Even if we could, it's hardly enough to just re-define a word! You have to get everybody to accept your new definition. Bigots and bullies will never accept a benign version of "queer"! Not when the derogatory version gives them so much power. It has always enabled them to view LGBT folk as inferior and contemptible. It's a weapon of supremacy that they're not about to give up; radical "queer" activists are chasing a linguistic pipe dream!  And they could be making so much better use of their time!

Moving forward with her analysis, Ms. Bottoms takes aim at the language fascism currently practiced by arrogant Gay leadership:

So how do (Gay) organizatons justify using this word in their names? In 1997, Queers and Allies at the University of Kansas published a response in its organization's magazine . . . regarding its (controversial) name change. As the Vanguard stated, the group decided to change (its) name "because 'queer' is a word gaining wider and wider acceptance in political and academic circles, and we consider ourselves to be part of the forefront of this movement" . . . I understand that LGBT groups are always trying to . . . keep the Gay Rights movement rolling. However, coming out of the closet is hard enough, and "queer" alienates prospective members and supporters. If some members of the LGBT community want to use the word to describe themselves or their friends, that's fine, but leaders of organizations should not take their personal opinions and impose them on citywide and national LGBT populations. Isn't (that) creating more of a gap among members of (the) community?

It most certainly is creating a gap. To say the least, it's insensitive to lump disparate groups of people together under a demeaning name with no regard for how they might feel about it. How dare an elitist cadre of Gay activists presume to manipulate the public's perception of me? That's no different than what Right Wing propagandists do!

I, for one, refuse to affiliate myself with any group calling itself "queer"! Surveys have shown that older Lesbians and Gay men, political Conservatives and most people of color aren't likely to do so, either. I don't agree with Ms. Bottoms that it's ever OK for LGBT individuals to identify with the Q-Word, but her point about the divisiveness of derogatory labeling is well-taken. And she doesn't stop there:

The LGBT community is constantly battling Conservatives, bigots and all those who generally disagree with our beliefs. What do you suppose they call us behind our backs? How can they take us seriously if we are the ones calling ourselves "queers"?

More important, how can we take ourselves seriously? How can we effectively fight our oppressors by adopting the very language they use to oppress us? As political strategy, it's nothing less than insane!

"What About The Word Queer" continues with Part Four.