WELCOME TO QUEERDOM
I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way over the last two years or so, I've gradually shifted away from using the term 'gay' to describe myself and towards the term 'queer' as my new preferred self-identifier. This is something that everyone has probably started to pick up on, but for me, it was such a gradual transition that I didn't even realize it had happened until one of my good friends/mentors pointed it out while we were having lunch the other day.
We were sitting in the dining hall of my old university where she works, catching up on all the different life happenings that had transpired since the last time we had seen each other, and she mentioned there was something she wanted to ask me. She noted that I had been referring to myself and many of my friends as 'queer' rather than as 'gay,' 'lesbian,' or even just 'LGBTQ' as I had in the past and was curious about that shift in language. The question took me a little by surprise, not because it struck any particular sensitivities, but because I hadn't been fully aware that I had changed the way I referred to myself until that very moment.
I'VE GRADUALLY SHIFTED AWAY FROM USING THE TERM 'GAY' TO DESCRIBE MYSELF AND TOWARDS THE TERM 'QUEER' AS MY PREFERRED SELF-IDENTIFIER
As I thought about that question and formulated my answer, I realized that there was actually quite a bit of internal work and coming into myself that had preceded and accompanied this change in self-descriptors, all things that hadn't been brought up to my surface level awareness until my friend/mentor had asked me about it.
Also, I should note that I'm actually really glad that she brought up this question. My undergrad background being in linguistics, language and choice of words are and have historically been quite significant to me, and this shift from 'gay' to 'queer' is no different. I'm of the faction that believes we talk about things in a certain way for specific reasons, so I was intrigued by my own internal process as I sorted out the answer to her question.
In case you didn't already know, 'queer' is a term that's historically been used in a derogatory manner towards LGBTQ people, but it's also a term that the younger generations of LGBTQ people have reclaimed in recent years, which is a linguistic victory in and of itself. I can actually still remember hearing 'queer' and 'queers' being used as an LGBTQ slur when I was younger, which contrasts beautifully with the way that so many LGBTQ people have redeemed it and begun using it as their own self-identifiers, myself included.
Something else that's important to note about the term 'queer' in order to understand my shift away from 'gay' and towards 'queer' is that in recent years, it's been the term that's been embraced by BOTH sexual minorities AND gender minorities (for the most part) as an umbrella term. This is important, because countless media outlets have made the mistake of mixing up the terms 'sexual identity' and 'gender identity' when talking about the other, which is unhelpful to both, but especially to gender minorities who often face more marginalization. In this way, 'queer' provides a more inclusive umbrella term that encompasses both gender and sexual minority identities. Within this new shared context, 'queer' is meant to generally describe people who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender.
queer provides a more inclusive umbrella term that encompasses both gender and sexual minority identities.
All of that to say, I think the term 'queer' more fully encompasses who I feel like I am at this stage of my life, and it's the term that I feel most comfortable using to describe myself. While there's nothing wrong with using the word 'gay' to describe myself, and I often still use that word to clarify if people ask, it just doesn't feel quite right when I use it to refer to myself. For a long time, I wondered if that had to do with some deep-seated internalized homophobia, but what I've been discovering is that it just truly didn't feel like the right identifier.
'Queer' just carried a bit more openness with it and a great deal more inclusivity. It feels less rigid and more fluid. Though it's been embraced and used in a broader way these days, I think the word 'gay has historically been associated with just gay men, specifically white cisgender gay men, which often excluded other people within the LGBTQ+ acronym and was sometimes problematic when it came to issues of intersectionality. I also personally feel as though the term 'gay' tends to feel one dimensional and doesn't fully include people who have multiple layers to their sexual and/or gender identities.
For me then, describing myself as queer is one small way I can continue to ally myself with other members of the queer community who face more marginalization than I do, as well as continuing to break down some of that stigma and keep promoting normalization.
On top of that, because 'queer' has come to embody notions of both sexual identity and gender identity, I think it incorporates the parts of myself that don't always feel stereotypically male, especially in terms of the way I dress and present myself. Generally, I tend to describe myself as androgynous, in terms of the way I dress, the way I talk, and the way those lines blur on a daily basis. While the term 'gay' personally feels a little polarizing, in that many people assume that gay, lesbian, or bisexual people need to present primarily as specifically feminine or masculine, I see the way I present myself and interact with people as androgynous, which again is the word I personally use to describe that blurring of the lines.
I THINK IT [QUEER] INCORPORATES THE PARTS OF MYSELF THAT DON'T ALWAYS FEEL STEREOTYPICALLY MALE, ESPECIALLY IN TERMS OF THE WAY I DRESS AND PRESENT MYSELF.
And beyond all of these very conscious reasons why I choose to describe myself as 'queer,' something I've found as I've talked to several of my other queer friends is that there's just something about the word 'queer' that feels the most right to us, something that feels like the truest way of relating to ourselves. Maybe it's because of the fluidity and nonbinary-ness of it. Maybe it's because of the inclusion factor.
But maybe it's also just something that can't really be quantified that just feels right. All I know is that 'queer' is a word that so many of us have come to rally behind and a word that feels like the truest version of ourselves for many of us.
Queer is the defiant version of ourselves. Queer is the reclaimed version of ourselves. Queer is the truest version of ourselves.
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