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Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender. Originally meaning "strange" or "peculiar", queer came to be used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires or relationships in the late 19th century. Beginning in the late 1980s, queer activists, such as the members of Queer Nation, began to reclaim the word as a deliberately provocative and politically radical alternative to the more assimilationist branches of the LGBT community.
In the 2000s and on, queer became increasingly used to describe a broad spectrum of non-normative[note 1] (i.e. anti-heteronormative and anti-homonormative) sexual and gender identities and politics. Academic disciplines such as queer theory and queer studies share a general opposition to binarism, normativity, and a perceived lack of intersectionality, some of them only tangentially connected to the LGBT movement. Queer arts, queer cultural groups, and queer political groups are examples of modern expressions of queer identities.
Critics of the use of the term include members of the LGBT community who associate the term more with its colloquial, derogatory usage, those who wish to dissociate themselves from queer radicalism, and those who see it as amorphous and trendy. The expansion of queer to include queer heterosexuality has been criticized by those who argue that the term can only be reclaimed by those it has been used to oppress.
Definitions, etymology, and use
Entering the English language in the 16th century, queer originally meant "strange", "odd", "peculiar", or "eccentric". It might refer to something suspicious or "not quite right", or to a person with mild derangement or who exhibits socially inappropriate behaviour. The Northern English expression "there's nowt so queer as folk", meaning "there is nothing as strange as people", employs this meaning. Related meanings of queer include a feeling of unwellness or something that is questionable or suspicious. The expression "in Queer Street" is used in the United Kingdom for someone in financial trouble. Over time, queer acquired a number of meanings related to sexuality and gender, from narrowly meaning "gay or lesbian" to referring to those who are "not heterosexual" to referring to those who are either not heterosexual or not cisgender (those who are LGBT+).
Early and pejorative use
By late 19th century, the term was starting to gain a connotation of sexual deviance, referring to feminine men or men who would engage in same-sex relationships. An early recorded usage of the word in this sense was in an 1894 letter by John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. Usage of queer as a derogatory term for effeminate men become prominent in the 20th century. In the early 20th century, many individuals with non-normative sexual or gender identities, including English poet and author Radclyffe Hall, preferred the identity of invert. However, in the early 20th century in the United States, queer was used as a self-identification by certain masculine gay men.
In the mid-20th century, the invert identity lost ground and shifted toward the homophile identity. In the 1960s and 1970s, the homophile identity was displaced by a more radicalized gay identity, which at the time included trans and gender-nonconforming people. During the endonymic shifts from invert to homophile to gay, queer was usually pejoratively applied to men who were believed to engage in receptive or passive anal or oral sex with other men as well as those who exhibited non-normative gender expressions.
Beginning in the late-1980s, the label queer began to be reclaimed from its pejorative use as a neutral or positive self-identifier by LGBT people. An early example of this usage by the LGBT community was by an organisation called Queer Nation, which was formed in March 1990 and circulated an anonymous flier at the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 titled "Queers Read This". The flier included a passage explaining their adoption of the label queer:
Ah, do we really have to use that word? It's trouble. Every gay person has his or her own take on it. For some it means strange and eccentric and kind of mysterious [...] And for others "queer" conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering [...] Well, yes, "gay" is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we've chosen to call ourselves queer. Using "queer" is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world.
Queer people, particularly queer people of color, began to reclaim queer in response to a perceived shift in the gay community toward liberal conservatism, catalyzed by Andrew Sullivan's 1989 piece in The New Republic, titled Here Comes the Groom: The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage. The queer movement rejected causes viewed as assimilationist, such as marriage, military inclusion and adoption. This radical stance and rejection of U.S. Imperialism continued the tradition of earlier Lesbian and Gay anti-war activism, and solidarity with a variety of leftist movements, such as seen in the positions taken at the first two National Marches on Washington in 1979 and 1987, the radical direct action of groups like ACT UP, and the historical importance of events like the Stonewall riots. The radical Queer groups following in this tradition of LGBT activism contrasted firmly with, "the holy trinity of marriage, military service and adoption [which had] become the central preoccupation of a gay movement centered more on obtaining straight privilege than challenging power." Commentators noted that it was exactly these "revolting queers" (who were now being pushed aside) who had made it safe for the assimilationists to now have the option of assimilation.
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 similar to the capitalized use of Deaf. The "hip and iconic abbreviation 'Q'" has developed from common usage of queer, particularly in the United States.[better source needed]
However, this reclamation and the use of the term queer is not uncontroversial; several people and organizations, both LGBT and non-LGBT, object to some or all uses of the word for various reasons. Some LGBT people dislike the use of queer as an umbrella term because they associate it with this political radicalism; they say that deliberate use of the epithet queer by political radicals has, in their view, played a role in dividing the LGBT community by political opinion, class, gender, age, and other factors. The controversy about the word also marks a social and political divide in the LGBT community between those (including civil-rights activists) who perceive themselves as "normal" and who wish to be seen as ordinary members of society and those who see themselves as separate, confrontational and not part of the ordinary social order. Other LGBT people disapprove of reclaiming or using queer because they consider it offensive, derisive or self-deprecating because use by heterosexuals as a pejorative continues to this day, and some LGBT people avoid queer because they perceive it as faddish slang, or alternatively as academic jargon.
Intersex bodies as "queer bodies"
Intersex activists have sometimes talked of intersex bodies as queer bodies. Activists and scholars such as Morgan Holmes and Katrina Karkazis have documented a heteronormativity in medical rationales for the surgical normalization of infants and children born with atypical sex development. In "What Can Queer Theory Do for Intersex?" Iain Morland contrasts queer "hedonic activism" with an experience of insensate post-surgical intersex bodies to claim that "queerness is characterized by the sensory interrelation of pleasure and shame".
Emi Koyama describes a move away from a queer identity model within the intersex movement:
Such tactic [of reclaiming labels] was obviously influenced by queer identity politics of the 1980s and 90s that were embodied by such groups as Queer Nation and Lesbian Avengers. But unfortunately, intersex activists quickly discovered that the intersex movement could not succeed under this model. For one thing, there were far fewer intersex people compared to the large and visible presence of LGBT people in most urban centers. For another, activists soon realized that most intersex individuals were not interested in building intersex communities or culture; what they sought were professional psychological support to live ordinary lives as ordinary men and women and not the adoption of new, misleading identity. ... To make it worse, the word "intersex" began to attract individuals who are not necessarily intersex, but feel that they might be, because they are queer or trans. ... Fortunately, the intersex movement did not rely solely on queer identity model for its strategies.
Queer is sometimes expanded to include any non-normative sexuality, including (cisgender) queer heterosexuality; this has been criticized by some LGBT people, who argue that the term can only be reclaimed by those it has been used to oppress, saying "for someone who is homosexual and queer, a straight person identifying as queer can feel like choosing to appropriate the good bits, the cultural and political cache, the clothes and the sound of gay culture, without the laugh riot of gay-bashing, teen shame, adult shame, shame-shame, and the internalized homophobia of lived gay experience."
In academia, the term queer and the related verb queering broadly 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.
Queer studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity usually focusing on LGBT people and cultures. Originally centered on LGBT history and literary theory, the field has expanded to include the academic study of issues raised in biology, sociology, anthropology, history of science, philosophy, psychology, sexology, political science, ethics, and other fields by an examination of the identity, lives, history, and perception of queer people. Organizations such as the Irish Queer Archive attempt to collect and preserve history related to queer studies.
Queer theory is a field of post-structuralist critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of queer studies and women's studies. Applications of queer theory include queer theology and queer pedagogy. Queer theorists, including Rod Ferguson, Jasbir Puar, Lisa Duggan, and Chong-suk Han, critique the mainstream gay political movement as allied with neoliberal and imperialistic agendas, including gay tourism, gay and trans military inclusion, and state- and church-sanctioned marriages for monogamous gay couples. Puar, a queer theorist of color, coined the term homonationalism, which refers to the rise of American exceptionalism, nationalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy within the gay community catalyzed in response to the September 11 attacks. Many studies have acknowledged the problems that lie within the traditional theory and process of social studies, and so choose to utilise a queer theoretical approach instead. One such study was conducted in Melbourne in 2016 by Roffee and Waling. By using queer and feminist theories and approaches the researchers were better equipped to cater for the needs, and be accommodating for the vulnerabilities, of the LGBTIQ participants of the study. In this case, it was a specifically post-modern queer theory that enabled the researchers to approach the study with a fair perspective, acknowledging all the varieties of narratives and experiences within the LGBTIQ community.
Culture and politics
Several LGBT social movements around the world use the identifier queer, such as the Queer Cyprus Association in Cyprus and the Queer Youth Network in the United Kingdom. In India, pride parades include Queer Azaadi Mumbai and the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. The use of queer and Q is also widespread in Australia, including national counselling and support service Qlife and Q News.
Other social movements exist as offshoots of queer culture or combinations of queer identity with other views. Adherents of queer nationalism support the notion that the LGBT community forms a distinct people due to their unique culture and customs. Queercore (originally homocore) is a cultural and social movement that began in the mid-1980s as an offshoot of punk expressed in a do-it-yourself style through zines, music, writing, art and film.
The term queer migration is used to describe the movement of LGBTQ people around the world often to escape discrimination or ill treatment due to their orientation or gender expression. Organizations such as the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees and Rainbow Railroad attempt to assist individuals in such relocations.
The label queer is often applied to art movements, particularly cinema. New Queer Cinema was a movement in queer-themed independent filmmaking in the early 1990s. Modern queer film festivals include the Melbourne Queer Film Festival and Mardi Gras Film Festival (run by Queer Screen) in Australia, the Mumbai Queer Film Festival in India, the Asian Queer Film Festival in Japan, and Queersicht in Switzerland. Chinese film director Cui Zi'en titled his 2008 documentary about homosexuality in China Queer China, which premiered at the 2009 Beijing Queer Film Festival after previous attempts to hold a queer film festival were shut down by the government.
Multidisciplinary queer arts festivals include the Outburst Queer Arts Festival Belfast in Northern Ireland, the Queer Arts Festival in Canada, and the National Queer Arts Festival in the United States.
- "Non-normative" does not mean "not normal", but rather refers to the privileging of "normal" genders and sexualities over the "non-normative". The term "normative" implies that "normal" does not exist in and of itself, but is created. See also heteronormativity for more context.
- Queer Nation (June 1990). "Queers Read This".
- Sycamore, Mattilda Bernstein (2008). That's Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (illustrated, revised ed.). Counterpoint Press. p. 1. ISBN 9781593761950. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
Willful participation in U.S. imperialism is crucial to the larger goal of assimilation, as the holy trinity of marriage, military service and adoption has become the central preoccupation of a gay movement centered more on obtaining straight privilege than challenging power
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