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”