What does it mean to be queer?

There are many interpretations, applications, and definitions for the word. Google’s first one is “strange; odd”, the second “spoil or ruin”. Urban Dictionary has “something that is odd, different, strange or non-mainstream” as its first one. Merriam-Webster defines it as “worthless, counterfeit”. The gay definition comes a bit lower on the list for each of these, and most revolve around some iteration of “homosexual man”.

Queer has a convoluted and tattered history. It’s an umbrella term that so many condemn where others embrace it. No one seems to agree to what it is exactly, which to me seems the best summation of the word. So, while I can’t define it for you, I can tell you what it means to me. It’s a state of being where every second of awareness around it creates a rock and a hard place pushing up against me in a warm embrace.

For me queerness is built through the little things, more so than the big ones. It’s the hesitation before writing the word god, the split-second decision to not capitalize it like I was taught to do in school. It’s the stubborn refusal to utter “under god” during the pledge. It’s the rage I feel whenever a politician withholds a right from me because his favorite fanfic, the “New Revised Standard Edition”, told him to do so, somehow. It’s the pain I feel for the queers who are religious, who have their faith tested every day of their lives, who can’t attend houses of gods because their devotion is the wrong kind, tainted by sin.

Queerness is the aversion of my gaze from the people I perceive as same, in the fear that someone around me will see them too and taint it with a curse or a slur. It’s the nook of my closet where a folded rainbow flag is hidden, and the book shelf proudly displaying a litany of clues to what I am, with the safe knowledge that only those like me will pick up on the clues. My queerness is hidden pride. It’s a list of suggested labels, and the philosophy that we don’t need them in the first place. For me queerness is a forced display of my self, it is the expected disclosure of my intimacy, it’s the perceived parading of my life as a giant middle finger to everyone who is inconvenienced with my affliction, my phase, my choice. It is a shackle that keeps me leashed, with the fear that getting loose will shatter the foundation of my family. It is the longing to embrace it for myself on my terms despite not having the space to do it. It is the inability to articulate.

What is “queer” to you?

“– what it takes to make the description ‘queer’ a true one is the impulsion to use it in the first person.” – Eve Sedgwick, “Tendencies”


  1. Queer has a lot of baggage in the LGBTQ community. Those of us who are of a certain age/generation remember it wielded as a weapon, and that’s why so many who are older don’t like to use the word to self-identify.

    “Queer” as a pejorative wasn’t used as much when I was coming of age, though “dyke” and “faggot” were then and still are directed at me. Many of us who ID’ed as cis and lesbian (and I’m sure some trans lesbians did, too) worked to reclaim “dyke” and for a while, my circles used that word a lot. I stopped using it a few years back and found that I actually preferred to use “queer” because it seemed to be a word that could expand to encompass so many different identities and explorations outside the often rigid binary interpretations of gender.

    But I do understand that there are those who will never be able to use that term for themselves, and that’s legitimate.

    For me, “queer” is the way I have chosen to live my life, skirting the edges of the gender binary and the sociocultural expectations of what I’m supposed to do (and totally not doing it) whether it’s in terms of appearance, actions, or reactions. It’s a recognition that I and many others like me must constantly subvert our surroundings to carve space out for ourselves and others in this community and other marginalized communities. It’s an understanding that I will not ever fit the dominant and oppressive narratives of the societies and cultures in which I move, and that every day I exist is a form of resistance to those forces and hopefully, another mile in the road to equality that so many of us are building through actions large and small.

    “Queer” is my rallying cry, my anthem, my mantra, and my battle call.

    It’s my big, joyful dance parties, friend gatherings, and a shared glance of recognition while passing on a street.

    It’s dangerous, contentious, rousing, and woven into every fiber of my being. I’m not me without it, and so I embrace it, always mindful of the thorns.


    • It’s such a divided thing within everyone I’ve talked about this with. Everyone seems to be along some line of “it’s good but bad” or “it’s ours but tainted”. This seems to be the case for many of the identities that aren’t accepted in the governing majority, and while there’s intersectionality with many of these it seems to be a secondary thought and not even acknowledged that these experiences are similar to many of those that people who oppose us experience.

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