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Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, or gender-binary. While the term has had a pejorative meaning through most of the 20th century, some political and social LGBT groups began to reappropriate the word in the 1990s to establish community and assert a political identity. Additionally, some academic disciplines, such as queer theory, have used the term to denote a general opposition to binary thinking.
Since its emergence in the English language in the 16th century (related to the German quer, meaning "across, at right angle, diagonally or transverse"), queer has generally meant "strange", "unusual", or "out of alignment". It might refer to something suspicious or "not quite right", or to a person with mild derangement or who exhibits socially inappropriate behaviour. The expression "in Queer Street" was used in the UK as of the 1811 edition of Francis Grose's A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue for someone in financial trouble.
Queer as Folk is a reference to the common expression unrelated to homosexuality "There's nowt so queer as folk".
In the 1904 Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Second Stain", the term is still used in a completely non-sexual context (Inspector Lestrade is threatening a misbehaving constable with "finding himself in Queer Street", i.e., in this context, being severely punished).
By the time that story was published, however, the term was already starting to gain a connotation of sexual deviance (especially that of homosexual and/or effeminate males), which is already known in the late 19th century; an early recorded usage of the word in this sense was in a letter by John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry to his son Lord Alfred Douglas.
Subsequently, for most of the 20th century, "queer" was frequently used as a derogatory term for effeminate gay males who were believed to engage in receptive or passive anal/oral sex with men, and others exhibiting untraditional (i.e., trans) gender behaviour. Furthermore, masculine males, who performed the role of the "penetrator" were considered "straights".
One of the most famous attempts by the LGBT community to re-claim the term "queer" was through an organisation called Queer Nation, which was formed in March 1990; a few months later, an influential though anonymous flier was distributed at the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 entitled "Queers Read This".
Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations, and is often preferred by those who are activists; by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities; by those who reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight; and by those who see themselves as oppressed by the heteronormativity of the larger culture. In this usage it retains the historical connotation of "outside the bounds of normal society" and can be construed as "breaking the rules for sex and gender". It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows "queer"-identifying people to avoid the sometimes strict boundaries that surround other labels. In this context, "queer" is not a synonym for LGBT as it creates a space for "queer" heterosexuals as well as "non-queer" homosexuals.
The term may be capitalized when referring to an identity or community, rather than as an objective fact describing a person's desires, in a construction akin to the capitalized use of Deaf. In the late 2000s (decade) and early 2010s, a number of internet communities started to use the term "LGBTQ", with the "Q" standing for "queer", to represent forms of sexuality that fall outside of the original LGBT acronym. The term has a similar function to that of LGBTI, except LGBTQ focuses on sexuality rather than gender.
Some LGBT people disapprove of using queer as a catch-all because they consider it offensive, derisive or self-deprecating given its continuous use as a form of hate speech. Other LGBT people may avoid queer because they associate it with political radicalism, or simply because they perceive it as the faddish slang of a "younger generation."
Inclusivity and scope
The range of what "queer" includes varies. In addition to referring to LGBT-identifying people, it can also encompass: pansexual, pomosexual, intersexual, genderqueer, asexual and autosexual people, and even gender normative heterosexuals whose sexual orientations or activities place them outside the heterosexual-defined mainstream, e.g., BDSM practitioners, or polyamorous persons.
For some queer-identified people, part of the point of the term "queer" is that it simultaneously builds up and tears down boundaries of identity. For instance, among genderqueer people, who do not solidly identify with one particular gender, once solid gender roles have been torn down, it becomes difficult to situate sexual identity. For some people, the non-specificity of the term is liberating. Queerness becomes a way to make a political move against heteronormativity while simultaneously refusing to engage in traditional essentialist identity politics.
In academia, the term "queer" and its verbal use, "queering", indicate the study of literature, discourse, academic fields, and other social and cultural areas from a non-heteronormative perspective. It often means studying a subject against the grain from the perspective of gender studies.
Arts, entertainment, and publishing
Some television shows that use "queer" in their titles include both the British and North American versions of Queer as Folk, Queer Eye, and the cartoon Queer Duck. This commonplace usage has, especially in the American colloquial culture, recently led to the more hip and iconic abbreviation "Q".
- Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures
- Sexual minority
- Queer nationalism
- Gay shame
- Queercore (formerly "homocore")
- Queer Youth Alliance
- The Telegraph If one is bankrupt, one is in Queer Street. This originates from the word query which tradesmen and merchants would write against the names of persons who were late in paying. Another theory relates it to Carey Street off Chancery Lane in London which housed the bankruptcy courts.
- Jane Czyzselska, untitled, Pride 1996 Magazine (london: Pride Trust & Gay Times, 1996) p15
- A TALE OF TWO SEXUAL REVOLUTIONS; STEPHEN ROBERTSON AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF AMERICAN STUDIES Quote: The most striking addition to the picture offered by D’Emilio and Freedman is a working-class sexual culture in which only those men who took the passive or feminine role were considered ‘queer.’ A man who took the ‘active role,’ who inserted his penis into another man, remained a ‘straight’ man, even when he had an on-going relationship with a man who took the passive role.
- Text of the "Queer Read This" flier. Retrieved 4 February 2010.
- "Information About: Queer". Retrieved on September 2, 2010.
- "Alphabet Soup: Labels and Empowerment". Retrieved on September 2, 2010.
- " Queerbook, What's In A Name?" Retrieved on September 2, 2010.
- Anon. "Queercore". i-D magazine No. 110; the sexuality issue. (1992).
- Crimp, D. AIDS DemoGraphics. (1990).
- Katlin, T. "Slant: Queer Nation". Artforum, November 1990. pp. 21–23.
- Tucker, S. "Gender, Fucking & Utopia". Social text, Vol.9, No.1. (1992).
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