Today's musing is about the "Q" in GLBTQ. Let's dive in.
"Q" is for Questioning. Good. It's important to include those in the process of figuring it out. For some of us, that's a long journey, and to be included in the community, and in the literature, is welcoming and reassuring in a world that can sometime seem to demand labeling you instantly and keeping you there forever.
"Q" is for Queer. Okay, but "Queer" has a lot of different meanings!
Gosh, I really wanted to avoid doing this (it's such a cliche, going for the 'definition') but for the sake of this discussion, I'm going to swallow my pride and desire to be always scintillatingly original and include the dictionary "usage note" from my imac's desktop dictionary (hey, at least it's not the definition - I trust you can all look that up on your own!) Anyway, I thought this would serve well as a starting point:
Usage Note: queerSo what does Queer mean?
The word queer was first used to mean 'homosexual' in the early 20th century: it was originally, and often still is, a deliberately offensive and aggressive term when used by heterosexual people. In recent years, however, many gay people have taken the word queer and deliberately used it in place of gay or homosexual in an attempt, by using the word positively, to deprive it of its negative power. The use of queer is now well established and widely used among gay people (especially as an adjective or noun modifier, as in: queer rights / queer theory) and at present exists, alongside the other, deliberately offensive, use. (This use is similar to the way in which a racial epithet may be used within a racial group but not by outsiders.)
"Q" for Queer is the catch-all term for everyone who is part of the GLBT community. This used to be the word "gay" but many lesbians felt excluded by how to them, "gay" stood for "gay men." Thus, over time, organization names changed to include "Lesbian", and later "Bisexual" and later still, "Transgender." So now there's a whole smorgasbord of titles, like the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center (which, funny enough, is at www.lagaycenter.org) and the "San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center" (at www.sfcenter.org) If you're not intimidated by acronyms, you end up with the clunky "GLBTQ" moniker, which feels inclusive, but doesn't exactly trip over your tongue easily. In fact, the amazing group of YA writers and kid lit professionals that I'm delighted to be part of, chatting in a listserve on yahoo, goes by "GLBTQYAwriters" which is quite an alphabet soup!
Now, what about schoolyard taunts? Is "Queer" the GLBT community's equivalent of the "N" word for the African American Community? Is it a word that only those of us "inside" the community can use, and that is still an insult if spoken by someone "outside"? Even if they're earnestly joining the discussion from an allied perspective? I would say that we've really changed the tone and meaning of "queer," largely due to groups like ACT UP, and chants like "We're Here! We're Queer! Get Used To It!" (Yup, you guessed it - that's what I'm riffing on for the title of this blog!)
While someone being nasty might still use the word "queer" in a derogatory way, I think it's been co-opted to the point that for an out and comfortable member of the GLBT community, the answer might be, "Yes I am!" Which brings me to Gary Coleman. Which is, completely oddly, a reference to "Avenue Q," the broadway musical.
Okay, so in "Avenue Q" (a show about recent college graduates trying to figure out life, told in a Sesame Street way with puppets and humans living together in a crappy area of New York City) there's a song sung by the best puppet friend of a closeted (gay) puppet. One part of the lyric goes like this:
If you were queer.The music and lyrics are by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx.
I'd still be here.
Year after year.
Because you're dear to me.
Okay, this is a show that won the Tony Award for Best New Musical. (Oh, and if puppet on puppet sex doesn't freak you out, it's a hoot!)
Now, Avenue Q is by no means a "family" musical. Let me digress to how the show's creators explain who Avenue Q is appropriate for:
Adults love AVENUE Q, but they seem a little, er, fuzzy on whether it's appropriate for kids. We'll try to clear that up. AVENUE Q is great for teenagers because it's about real life. It may not be appropriate for young children because AVENUE Q addresses issues like sex, drinking, and surfing the web for porn. It's hard to say what exact age is right to see AVENUE Q - parents should use their discretion based on the maturity level of their children. But we promise you this - if you DO bring your teenagers to AVENUE Q, they'll think you're really cool.
"Avenue Q" is a fascinating example of how the word "Queer" as a catch-all has come such a long way.
"Q" for Queer is for more confrontational, gender-challenging identities and presentations, such as Drag Queens, "gender illusionists" or our flashy sisters - think the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Now the Sisters may be men who identify as gay, but their role as heavily maquillaged roller-skating habit-wearing nuns has very little to do with being a guy physically and emotionally attracted to other men. I think it's more about shock value, about making people stop and think, about taking religious iconography and turning it around so we think of what it means to be holy - not what it looks like, but what are the actions that make someone on a journey to help others? (And they do help others! Check out The Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence here.) Okay, and they look fabulous, to boot. But what they're doing isn't about being men attracted to other men. It's very "Queer!"
What's wrong with just using the term "homosexual?" Well, think about it. It's all about the 'sex' then, isn't it? (amazingly enough, the failure of the word "homosexual" was explained to me by a wonderful straight woman I met years ago, the mother of a gay son, who was deeply involved with PFLAG (Parents, Familes and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) As she put it, once you've said the word "sex," even in the middle of a word, no one's listening anymore.
Look, we really don't want to think about what someone else does in bed, unless it's someone we're attracted to, right? (Does anyone want to think about their grandparents being sexual beings? Hell no!) Well, shouldn't we be able to have a discussion about members of this community without it being solely about sex?
And are "heteroSEXuals" (see? you've stopped listening and are thinking about SEX!) completely defined by their sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex? What about the whole universe of what makes up a person? What about romance? emotions? spirit? All those millions of other things that make us each unique and full of light?
That's why "homosexual" as a term doesn't work in a broader sense. So we're back to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender. Or Queer.
Hmmm. One little letter packs a wallop! (we should have known from it's high "10" point count in Scrabble, huh?)
Is "Q" something we should keep solely for "Questioning?" Should the word "Queer" be used as a catch-all instead of GLBTQuestioning? Should "Queer" be saved for other expressions of gender and sexual non-conformity besides emotional and physical attraction? Should the word "Queer" be used at all, given it's hate-filled origins? Should we re-consider the word "homosexual?" What about other words? Uranians, from the Victorian Era? (Though I think that sounds like we're from the planet Uranus, which is a bit too much of a set up for being mocked - I remember High School, thank you.) Do we need a brand-new term, without so much baggage? (Though in the field of made-up terms, Esperanto didn't do so well, did it? For an upbeat take on the 'international auxillary language', Esperanto, click here)
"Q" is for Questioning.
"Q" is for Queer.
And "Queer" is for...
Let me know what YOU think in "comments," and we'll have a dialog.