A Case Against The Word “Queer” In Academic Circles

In our day and age, when reclamation is a prominent phenomenon, many words and stereotypes have been decided to be taken back. One of those is the word “queer,” which has been used as a term of endearment and which eventually made its way into academic circles. The case of the word “queer” being used to speak of the entire LGBT+ community collectively has been accredited to the late 80’s and early 90’s gay and lesbian weekly news magazine OutWeek, notoriously known for “outing” – although co-founding editor Michelangelo Signorile has merely considered it reporting, denouncing the term “outing” – various famous celebrities such as Malcolm Forbes and David Geffen.

The most prominent “progressive” use of the word is highly visible in the concept of “Queer Theory,” which, according to Critical Theory, is a field of study that “seeks to answer a series of questions about what is normal, how normal comes to exist, and who is excluded or oppressed by those notions of norms,” usually delving into ideals within the “queer” community. Merriam Webster defines this theory as “an approach to literary and cultural study that rejects traditional categories of gender and sexuality.” There is also New Queer Cinema, “a term first coined by the academic B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound magazine in 1992 to define and describe a movement in queer-themed independent filmmaking in the early 1990s,” and Queer Nation, a nonprofit affiliated with ACT UP, an early AIDS activist group.

What do all these titles have in common besides their connection with the LGBT+ community? All these titles have reaffirmed the notion of “reclamation” within academic circles. The ideology of “reclamation” is a concept of thinking heavily set on the notion that derogatory terms used by their respective peoples, in the long run, counteract the reality of its definition. Yet, as much as I read about it, I can’t seem to fathom why a community of people would take in, almost through osmosis and nurture such a word with a widely derogatory history, especially when words will always hold their history and make groups of people made widely uncomfortable with them.

I do find the entire concept of reclamation rambunctiously flawed — why do we feel a need to inherit words traditionally used against us? Is it because we want to eliminate its impact, the shock factor? I assume that on the surface, the logic is understandable, but it seems like there is no conclusion as to how we, collectively, feel about these words. If I could parade myself, labeling myself with derogatory words used against me, then I’d probably do it, but the angst and feeling of disparagement persist and I am sure it does on others as well. I refuse to believe that I am the only one who feels this way.

If we are honest with ourselves, a niche group of us already are desensitized to words like “faggot” or “queer” (where it must remain; grouped with various other slurs) or “dyke” or “tranny” because we hear them on a day-to-day basis. Not very many days ago, I eavesdropped into a very demeaning conversion in my Physics class between two heterosexual guys behind me. It was about “queers.”

That leads me to the recognition of context that more people should learn to acknowledge. Context has been a heavy conversation predominantly because of its relation to “power dynamics,” something I have recently become highly piqued by. Many people who used power dynamics are painfully oblivious to what goes into power dynamics. It’s not just a blind intersection of age, sexuality, race, religion or class, to name a few. There are many manners in which one can be influenced by another. Sometimes, powers can intersect and sometimes they can’t; for example, a man with a lot of money will ultimately be more powerful than a man without it and that’s an intersecting power. A man can also be white but poor and still hold some power in contrast to a rich black man.

Returning to context, as a society and community, should one blindly prohibit the use of slurs if so a person doesn’t belong in whatever mold the slur forces them in? For example, I’ve had friends around me (not gay) incorporate “faggot” into their conversations around me and I’ve remained unfazed because, contextually, it makes sense with the topic at hand. I’ve also heard (and read) gay people around me use “faggot” in a demeaning way, people who can pass as heterosexuals, but aren’t, but in the end, are still gay. Why, in an educated conversation with my friends, should they censor themselves and run with asterisks? Why should another gay person be allowed to say whatever they please thinking they aren’t homophobic in some sense?

Slurs, in my personal opinion, based on empirical experiences, I frankly do not care about when when coming out of the mouth I deem to not know any better; they have desensitized me. The topic of sensitization alone is a playground of privilege because by being sensitized an implication that, to whatever degree you wish to understand this by, your environment is one that respects you. To be desensitized, as politically incorrect as it sounds, implies that you live in a harsh environment that doesn’t respect an aspect of you, which forces you to be desensitized by a frequent use of slurs. Many people are forced into circumstances that they must learn to live by. However, despite my desensitization, I understand right from wrong as well as context, as explained.

The LGBT community’s definition of slurs is entirely ambiguous, but, the issue, in my case, is the fact that this word “queer”  has been elevated to an academic one, where people are using it in essays, theories, categorizations and organization names. Huffington Post has an entire section labeled Queer Voices. Really? Surely we ought to create various other theories, newspaper sections and “artistic waves” “reclaiming” slurs – “Tranny Theory,” “Dyke Voices,” “New Faggot Cinema” – and react to it as we do with “Queer Theory” or really anything conjoined with “queer” in academic circles.

I have used the word previously, most recently in my article “Young Queer People Should Definitely Be Obliged To Care About LGBT History,” but this I did for purely stylistic reasons; I was emulating the title of the article that I was critiquing. Surely, some of my articles for Affinity Magazine have “queer” littered around, but I don’t regret my use because I treat everything I’ve previously done as a step into who I am today.

And then the question about what one is to do to replace such word and I say, coined directly by the great writer John Rechy in his 1991 essay The Outlaw Sensibility, that we ought to call ourselves “Trojans.” It’s ironic, not offensive and can be associated with the Trojan War, where we are in a mythological war. “Sapphic,” being a term used to refer to women with interests in their same sex, is an example of that.

Getting people on board to a new word would be laborious — and I am very much open to any options — but at least it would be worth fighting for since, after all, there wouldn’t be some negative historical colloquial definition holding some back.

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