Queering Language

Pride and the power of words

Words undeniably have power. And because they have power, it makes sense to use them thoughtfully.

For example, the word “queer” has a lot of meaning attached to it. For some folks, it has been used as a weapon to invalidate them and their experience. But others have come to use the term as a symbol for community and to wear it as armor.

Recently, more and more LGBTQIA+ people have been reclaiming the word “queer.”

Historically, “queer” refers to something that is strange or odd. In the past (and sadly, even today), it has been used as a slur against folks who were perceived as LGBTQIA+. Some may even remember the schoolyard game “smear the queer,” which could sometimes take a violent turn. There are times that queer may be used to attack people who may not be LGBTQIA+ but don’t seem to fit in, regardless of the reason.

Much like the disabled community has begun to reclaim the term “crippled” by self-identifying as “crip,” in the LGBTQIA+ community, many people are reclaiming queer. When folks name themselves as queer, they are taking away the power of the word to hurt them. Instead of being used to cause pain and to invalidate, it is used to give a sense of power, strength and agency.

Self-determination is a powerful tool to fight back against a world that would marginalize LGBTQIA+ people.

“Queer” has also been taken to mean intentionally looking at something through a different viewpoint. For example, the phrase “queering sex” may refer to challenging the ways that we have normalized a certain type of sexual interaction. The images we are presented in dominant media are frequently of a cisgender man and woman whose sexual interactions are shown in a limited number of ways.

But queer sex does not have to look like straight sex. We cannot assume that a partner likes a certain kind of interaction or that our genitals fit in a specific way. We may utilize aids like sex toys to help us have sex the way that we want.

To queer sex, we must fight the ideas of what should be and look instead at what could be. Queering sex means that we communicate. We ask a lot of questions and check in with our partner(s). (Although we hope that all consenting adults are engaging in clear communication about sex!)

Queering may also refer to the political action of disrupting the status quo. In this instance, it is a verb used to show action against the dominant viewpoint. 

Queering the curriculum, for example, may be adding in information that is not typically presented. This might include viewpoints from LBTGTQIA+ folks, but it is not exclusive to queer community.

Queering something also means including the intersecting viewpoints of other marginalized people.

Of course, there are LGBTQIA+ people who find “queer” offensive and do not want to refer to themselves or others using that word. And that’s OK, too. For some, the word is still associated with discrimination and trauma.  They may never feel power in using the word to describe themselves.

No one should be forced to identify with “queer.” That’s really against the spirit of reclaiming the word. So if someone asks not to be referred to as queer, you should respect their wishes.

This year, for Eugene-Springfield Pride, we encourage you to think about what queer means to you. If you are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, how do you describe yourself and why? If you are not, how do you show up for your friends and family who are part of the queer community?

Remember, Pride began as a riot. How are you queering your life?

Keisha Janney, MS, LMFTI, is a part of the Eugene Intimate Health Center, and does individual and relational counseling in private practice. For more info, visit: eugeneintimatehealthcenter.org.