The word, of course, being “queer.”

I’ve been getting this reaction, or some variation thereof, when discussing idenity politics with folks at Yale. And my response so far has been to try to explain the politics of reclaimation in gltbq communities, and how they might differ from the use of say, racialized language (Hi, Kramer!). I get a little frustrated that there’s still this weird aura around discussion of queer issues, the one that loves to talk about mawwidge equality and how terrible those bigots are, but gets squeamish if the discussion turns to broader topics. I don’t just mean “sex” and i’m a big beleiver that intrusive discussions of sex are not cool. But talking about the other intersections of queerness with political and social life often gives the hint that some of us aren’t in it for the Het Norm, and may not think that state sanction is the be all end all. So what about these identities that don’t map back onto heterized Alisa and Eve or Adam and Steve?*

If you have a problem using the language that I have chosen to use to describe myself, I have a request. Do not erase that choice by using language that I reject. Do not compromise your own conscience.

Repeat after me.

“Name, who self-identifies as queer, whatever you were planning on saying that I hope are nice things that intelligently reflect upon the nature of queer idenity…”**

This places the contest of language back into queer communities, and absolves the speaker of anything beyond the courtesy of describing a person as they have sought to be described. It’s up to us to create Queerdom, since it’s a lovely and fictitious place anyhow. The only real grievance I have here can’t be with the fact that some folks don’t like saying the word queer. It’s a word with plenty of ugly history to it, so I have been deliberate about choosing it despite that. I still twitch at “fag,” and I know plenty of good folks who use that. So the problem came down to feeling like some people were, because of issues of language with varying causes, were simply bypassing the whole deal. It’s their prerogative to determine their relationship with queerdom, the language thereof, and how they fit into the wider picture of how values, cultures and politics get expressed through sexual and gender idenity.

As long as they are calling people by the names that they have chosen.


* Heterize – Verb. To apply “traditional” standards and mores to queer cultures, and make them “just like us.” Also, the conflation of middle class white values with the “real” nature of homosexuality that emerges as repression recedes. Example: The Party Boy and Butch Dyke are both stereotypes that scare Het Folks into giving queer people rights in the hope that they will heterize themselves.

** This generally doesn’t work for personal pronouns. Verbally marking them off tends to be the linguistic version of airquotes in that situation. Reserve this for language that you have a problem with as a whole, not just applying to an individual. I’m willing to bet you say “she” or “his” all the time.