16 June 2007

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

Gay Family

This is turning out to be the longest series of essays I've ever done! I didn't intend to follow up on this topic so soon, but recent events made it necessary. Over at Pam's House Blend, a Straight ally solicited suggestions as to how Straight people could better aid the Gay Rights cause. Noting that she used the word "queer" to refer to Gay people, I advised her that she could really help the cause by not continuing to do that! This resulted in several people, both Gay and Straight, weighing in to defend her usage.

One submitted that the word "queer" is now acceptable because its use has become widespread in academic circles. I guess he didn't know that ignorance sometimes thrives in academia as easily as it does anywhere else! Another made the outrageous claim that every single person who lives in the San Francisco Bay area uses "queer" as a synonym for LGBT identity. Arrogance is its own trip wire! Yet another asserted that ignoring the hateful connotation of slurs makes them less powerful; like too many other Gay people nowadays, he suffered from the delusion that casual use destigmatizes hate speech!  I think he actually wanted me to start using it casually! I systematically refuted all of these scurrilous arguments. Dr. Jerry Maneker, my cohort in consciousness-raising, urged me to blog my responses, but I resisted.

Then, I opened the latest edition of CAMP, my local Gay newsweekly, and found inside an opinion piece titled "In Defense of Queer". It was the rebuttal to a previous piece written by Stephanie Bottoms. In Parts Three and Four of this series, I showcased Ms. Bottoms; a bright young college activist, she offered a thorough critique of LGBT people who adopt sexual slurs. One of CAMP's regular columnists, a Transperson named Jamie Tyroler, disagreed and wrote this new essay in protest. She chose to completely disregard Ms. Bottoms's main points! What's more, she trotted out several of the myths "queer" activists routinely spread about sexuality and gender. This was more than I could stand!

I prepared a rejoinder and submitted it to CAMP's editor as a possible guest editorial. However, after two consecutive weeks of "queer" controversy, the editor will probably decide that the topic has run its course. I'm tempted to let the matter go, but I just can't! Ms. Tyroler's reasoning is so filled with distortions, I feel that clarifications are necessary. If those clarifications don't appear anywhere else, at least they'll appear here at Christ, The Gay Martyr! What follows is most of what Jamie Tyroler wrote in response to Stephanie Bottoms (copyright restrictions prevent me from reprinting her entire essay), immediately followed by my full response to Ms. Tyroler.

In Defense of "Queer" . . . It's a Flexible Word

In the Pride issue of CAMP, Stephanie Bottoms wrote . . ."When LGBT Groups Embrace The Word 'Queer', That Hurts." I do understand and appreciate where she is coming from. "Queer" isn't one of my favorite words to use, either. Unfortunately, living in a world where gender identity and sexual orientation grow more fluid and our traditional beliefs no longer seem to adequately fit, the word "queer" has become the default umbrella term for the LGBT et. al. (sic) communities. Part of this "queer" community includes those who identify as two-spirited, as in several Native-American traditions, people who identify as neither male nor female, people who fluidly move their gender identity between male and female or who do not feel compelled to follow the gender binary . . .

Recently, I participated in a survey on race and gender . . . at the University of Michigan with the collaboration of the National Center of Transgender Equality in Washington, DC. Among the choices that I selected to describe myself were: Transgender, Lesbian, Gender Queer, MTF (male-to-female), and Queer. "Queer" seems to be one of the few all-inclusive words available, both for gender identity and sexual orientation . . .

When we limit our "community" to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, we are still not entirely inclusive of the diversity that we have. We still tend to look at gender identity in binary terms. We used to look at race in . . . black and white terms, although we know that there are multiple races and ethnicities and that quite a few people are multi-racial. The question becomes: How do we define ourselves when the existing language is no longer adequate? Do we start using terms that allow for more diversity, such as "pansexual", which is kind of a catch-all term for sexual orientation that allows for gender fluidity?

. . . would some Lesbians feel ill at ease by my identifying as a Lesbian because I wasn't born with the correct genitals? Are Lesbians who were once married to a man and bore children less of a Lesbian? Can Gay men be sexually attracted to women occasionally without losing the label of "Gay"?

The existential angst that many people go through at various points in their lives . . . is exacerbated for those of us who do not fit in one of the most basic categories: Male or female. It is very difficult to develop a self-identity when the words don't exist to help define yourself. For many people, the word "queer" becomes one of the only words that seem to work in self-identity. The use of the word is not to offend those who have better-defined identities. "Queer" has been a word of hate, as have many other words. The difference between "queer" and other words such as "d*ke", "f*ggot" or the N-word is that those people can claim several options, while those of us who do not nicely fit in with any of our more common categories need to find a way to identify ourselves. Perhaps other words are available, but not in common use. But right now, "queer" seems, for some people, the only word that allows the flexibility of having a fluid identity.

Alrighty, then! Hate speech is flexible! Gender and sexual attraction change just like chameleons do! God gives Transpeople incorrect genitalia! Gay male identity allows for sexual attraction to women! Lesbianism can be lessened! There are multiple races of human beings on Earth! When you lack a word to describe yourself, it's best to choose a sexual slur! I'll explore these not-so-amusing notions after the jump.

"What About The Word 'Queer'" continues with Part Six.