Queer is a word with a long and complicated history.
For a long time, the word queer was used as a slur. It was an attack against effeminate men, gay or not. Sometimes it’s still used pejoratively, and older members of the LGBTQIA community refrain from using it because of the word’s painful history.
However more and more frequently, the most recent generation of LGTBQIA people are reclaiming the word queer as either an umbrella term for the entire community, or as a personal identifier.
For me, queer is the only word that I have found that seems wholly encompassing of who I am. In different circles, I use different words to describe my sexuality. Sometimes I say I’m bisexual, and if I’m feeling bold or if I know the people I’m talking to will recognize and accept the word, I use pansexual. I even wrote a HelloFlo article about my preference for the term pansexual. Yet somehow neither of those terms have ever felt completely right to me. I got tired of people assuming that bisexual meant I only liked two genders and it stressed me out having to repeat the dictionary definition of pansexual at every bar in my small hometown. I soon began to dread coming out to anyone, but it wasn’t because I was afraid they would judge me, it was because I felt like I was lying.
I always knew the term queer existed, but I always saw it as more of an all encompassing term than a personal one. It wasn’t until I became more active in the queer community online that I began to understand that plenty of people used queer to describe their own identity.
Just queer. That was it.
I started to use the word more in social circles and found that calling myself queer not only prevented the endless amount of personal questions that I usually got, but it also just felt right.
For me, the term queer fits because it rejects the binary. It doesn’t ask to be broken down into who I will and won’t date, who I am or am not attracted to, or how I feel about my own gender. It allows me to be fluid in who I am and how I feel. It allows me to feel connected to the entire LGBTQIA community instead of just one part of it, and it gives me the freedom to explore my identity whenever and however I want.
Queer does not do this for everyone. For many, queer is a painful reminder of a time when the word was used violently and haphazardly. To those people, queer still feels like an insult no matter who it comes from. Additionally, the freedom I find in identifying as queer is the same freedom that many find with terms like bisexual and pansexual. Just because they felt limiting to me, does not mean they will be that way for everyone, just in the same way that queer will not feel oppressive to everyone.
Some people in the LGTBQIA community feel it is important for us to take back the word queer and to empower ourselves with it. Others want to stay as far away from it as possible. Both are okay and completely valid.
It is not up to anyone, whether they’re apart of the LGBTQIA community or not, to police someone else’s identity. What’s important is that you do your research and find the term that makes you the most comfortable. At the end of the day it isn’t about what exactly your identity is but that you have the freedom to choose it for yourself.
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.