You may have heard that HuffPo Gay Voices recently changed its name to HuffPo Queer Voices because “queer” is a term more inclusive of gender and sexual fluidity rather than the hard lines drawn by LGBT (a lot of folks who exhibit bisexual behavior, for example, wouldn’t use the term “bisexual” to describe themselves). The problem is that “queer” alienates a lot of people too: those who’ve had it hurled at them as a violent slur feel shut out and hurt by any attempts to reclaim it.
Ah, the limitations of language! What single word could possibly encapsulate the complex variance of human sexuality and gender — it’s impossible; no such word exists. Acronyms like QUILTBAG or GSV confuse people as they fail to catch on, and the loudest critics of “queer” have yet to offer any alternatives.
Activist and author Mark Segal recently suggested that HuffPo should’ve stuck with “gay” or come up with a better word, but stopped short of suggesting one. Sure, Gay Voices could have called itself Rainbow Voices, but that sounds like the name of a choir, a language school or some fruity low-fat ice cream.
Fact is, that this debate breaks down mostly along age lines — older people tend to dislike “queer” more than younger folks, and even some millennials reject “queer” as not inclusive enough, griping “Why do we need labels at all?” while overlooking the need for us to find each other online and through the written word. Meanwhile, academia has largely settled this debate as over 40 programs in America offer certificate and degree programs in queer studies. Teaching it to the young people will help it flourish and remain entrenched henceforth.
We at Unicorn Booty have used the terms “queer” and “LGBT” almost interchangeably even though we understand that “queer” encapsulates people and behaviors that aren’t LGBT self-identified — kink and polyamorous communities, for example, are “queer” even though they’re rife with “straight people”. It’s part of language’s beautiful, unending imperfection.
But let it change, we say. “Gay” had its day. “LGBT” is a horrid little acronym that (while well-intentioned in in its inclusivity) feels foisted upon us by marketing companies. At least “queer” is bold and trangressive, willing to blister even those it claims to represent. Good. Let it destabilize us and make us converse seriously about our values and identities. Then in a few decades it’ll get replaced by some equally insufficient word that we can quibble over.