Queer is an identity, an umbrella term, and often considered a movement, for sexual and gender minorities, and individuals who fall outside of and/or reject the cultural norms around sexuality, gender identity, and/or gender expression. The word queer can mean different things to different individuals, but the most common definition is someone who is not cishet (cisgender and heterosexual), or someone with varying experiences of orientation, gender, and/or sex. However, equating queer with non-cishet is considered ignorant of cishet individuals that are queer in an aspec way. The queer movement has largely focused on anti-conformity, and the rejection of being forcefully placed into boxes, such as the binary genders.
Queer is often used as an umbrella term for those in the LGBTQIA+ community (though not all individuals in said community identify as queer). One may identity as queer in addition to another identity (ie, queer gay, queer bisexual, etc). It can also be used be as an orientation on its own or as gender identity (genderqueer). As an orientation on its own it is often found useful by, but is not exclusive to:
- individuals who have a complicated identity that is difficult to explain with a single term.
- individuals whose relationships/orientation cannot be classified using gay, straight, or other common terms due to being non-binary.
- individuals who are unsure of their orientation, but know they aren't straight.
- individuals who are not straight but do not want to label themselves with a more specific term.
The term queer is sometimes capitalized as a proper noun, especially when referring to an identity or community, rather than as a general adjective.
Entering the English language in the 16th century, queer originally meant "strange," "odd," "peculiar," or "eccentric." Over time, queer acquired a number of meanings related to sexuality and gender, ranging from narrowly meaning "gay or lesbian" to referring to anyone not heterosexual or not cisgender. By the late 19th century, queer was beginning to gain a connotation of sexual deviance, and was typically used as a pejorative term to refer to feminine men or men who were thought to have engaged in same-sex relationships. Throughout the later 19th century and early 20th century the use of queer as an identity within the LGBT+ community went in and out of fashion.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the label queer began to be reclaimed from its pejorative use as a neutral or positive self-identifier by LGBT+ individuals. An early example of this usage by the LGBT+ community was by an organization called Queer Nation, which was formed in March 1990 and circulated an anonymous flier at the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 titled "Queers Read This." The flier included a passage explaining their adoption of the label queer:
"Every gay person has his or her own take on it. For some it means strange and eccentric and kind of mysterious [...] And for others "queer" conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering [...] Well, yes, "gay" is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we've chosen to call ourselves queer. Using "queer" is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world." (Queers Read This)
At the time there was a perceived shift in the gay community toward liberal conservatism, lead by though who viewed themselves as "normal" and who wished to be seen as ordinary members of society. The queer identity was often associated with a more radical political stance, particularly it was reclaimed by queer individuals of color, gender non-conforming individuals, and other individuals whose existence greatly challenged the status quo who were not accepted by those those of a more conservative view.
In academia, the term queer and queering broadly indicate the study of fields from a non-heteronormative perspective. Queer studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, usually focusing on LGBT+ individuals and cultures. It was originally centered on LGBT+ history and literary theory, but has expanded to include many other fields of study, such as biology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, political science, and ethics.
Several LGBT+ social movements and support groups around the world use the identifier queer, such as the Queer Cyprus Association in Cyprus and the Queer Youth Network in the United Kingdom, and the national counselling and support service Qlife in Australia. The letter Q is commonly added to the LGBT+ acronym standing for queer. Common acronyms that include it are LGBTQ+ and LGBTQIA+.
Some individuals, both LGBT+ and non-LGBT, object to the use of the word for various reasons. Some LGBT+ individuals dislike the use of queer as an umbrella term because they associate it with this political radicalism, which in their view, played a role in dividing the LGBT+ community by political opinion, class, gender, age, and other factors. Other LGBT+ individuals disapprove of reclaiming or using queer because they consider it offensive, derisive, or self-deprecating because of its use by heterosexuals as a pejorative.
|Variant||Similar||Variant describes an individual who does not fall into the expected cultural ideas of roles or self-identification.||Queer individuals may be variant, but that isn't always the case.|
|LGBT+||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||LGBT+ is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|GSRM||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||GSRM is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|MOGAI||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||MOGAI is mostly known for being used to refer to lesser known identities.|
|M.O.V.I.N.G - H.E.A.R.T.S.||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||M.O.V.I.N.G - H.E.A.R.T.S. is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|SAGA||Similar||An acronym meant to refer to support the community, whether they are part of it or not.||SAGA can refer to non-LGBT+ individuals.|
|QUASMINT||Similar||An acronym meant to refer to the community.||QUASMINT is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|QUILTBAG||Similar||An acronym meant to refer to the community.||QUILTBAG is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|Gae||Similar||A term that describes anyone queer or anyone who is an ally.||Gae includes allies while queer does not.|
|GLOW||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||GLOW is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|QANSTIVEM||Similar||An acronym used to refer to the community.||QANSTIVEM is not typically used as an identity on its own as queer may be used.|
|GLS||Similar||An acronym in Brazil used to refer to the community and allies.||GLS is exclusive to Brazilians and includes allies.|
|Conformant||Opposite||A term for anyone who falls into the expected societal ideas for some form of identification.||Conformant individuals may be some form of queer, but they don't have to be.|
|Cishet||Opposite||A term that describes anyone who is both cisgender and heterosexual.||Cisgender and heterosexual are conformant terms and thus considered non-queer.|
Queer is occasionally expanded to include any non-normative sexuality and gender, including "queer cisgender heterosexuality," which, by those who argue for its existence, is said to be a cisgender heterosexual individual who has non-traditional gender expressions, or who adopt gender roles that differ from those traditionally expected in their culture, such as masculine women and feminine men.
This term has been criticized, and is largely not accepted by LGBT+ individuals, who argue that queer can only be reclaimed by those it has been used to oppress. It can be seen as cis-straight individuals, who do not experience oppression for their sexual or gender identity, appropriating what they see as the fashionable parts of the terminology used by those who are oppressed for their sexuality.
"For someone who is homosexual and queer, a straight person identifying as queer can feel like choosing to appropriate the good bits, the cultural and political cache, the clothes and the sound of gay culture, without the laugh riot of gay-bashing, teen shame, adult shame, shame-shame, and the internalized homophobia of lived gay experience." (Vice)
However, those that argue against queer cisheterosexuality tend to ignore those that are queer/non-conformant in an aspec way, such as a cisgender heterosexual greysexual. In these cases many individuals do not believe aspec identities to be queer at all.
Flags and Symbols
One of the first flags created specifically as the "queer flag" was created by Pastelmemer on or before August 17, 2015. The shades of pink next to each other and shades of blue next to each other represent same-gender attraction. The orange and green are for non-binary individuals. Black and white are for asexual, aromantic, and agender spectrum individuals.
The most commonly known queer flag is the chevron flag, which originated with with a flag made by Tumblr user istudyhumanhope on October 3, 2016. Lavender was used because it’s a queer color. White is used because in white light there are all the colors of the rainbow. The shape was chosen because it is not straight. An alternate version (and currently the most commonly recognised queer flag) was created by Bizexuals on October 4, 2016, due to complaints about the original being a sensory trigger. This version had a pure white background, but by October 5, 2016 the version with an off white background was created. The off white background represents the queering of identities, and the inherent non-straightness of queer identity. The chevron is reminiscent of militaristic imagery, reminding everyone of queer individuals' pride in the radical anti-assimilation of queer identity.
The purple and white queer flag was created by bihetnaomi as an alternative to the chevron flag in 2016.
Another alternate queer flag was created by Tumblr users officialqueer and the-thought-museum on October 3, 2016. It features the colors of the rainbow flag (in pastel to distinguish it from the rainbow flag) and grey in between to represent a spectrum where someone would rather identify as a broader term than be forced to commit to a more specific identity.
- "What Does the Word “Queer” Actually Mean? Experts Explain Its History" Cosmopolitan, 21 May, 2022, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a25243218/queer-meaning-definition/.
- "What does "Queer" mean anyway?" Minus18, 1 Sep, 2022, https://www.minus18.org.au/articles/what-does-%22queer%22-mean-anyway.
- Cheves , Alexander. "9 LGBTQ+ People Explain How They Love, Hate, and Understand the Word "Queer"" Them, 4 Jun, 2019, https://www.them.us/story/what-does-queer-mean.
- "About cishet aces." The AVEN, Ace Of Dragons, 23 Jan, 2021, https://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/207734-about-cishet-aces/.
- "queer" Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/queer. Accessed on 26 Jan, 2023.
- Chauncey, George. Gay New York [electronic resource] : gender, urban culture, and the makings of the gay male world, 1890-1940. Edition 3, New York : Basic Books, 1994. https://archive.org/details/gaynewyork00geor/page/13/mode/2up
- QUEERS READ THIS. June, 1990. http://www.qrd.org/qrd/misc/text/queers.read.this
- Gamson, Joshua (August 1995). "Must Identity Movements Self-Destruct? A Queer Dilemma". Social Problems. 42 (3): 390–407. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3096854?seq=1
- QLife, https://qlife.org.au/. Accessed on 26 Jan, 2023.
- McMahon , Mary. "Is "Queer" a Derogatory Word?" Language Humanities.org, 21 Dec, 2022, https://www.languagehumanities.org/is-queer-a-derogatory-word.htm.
- Mortimer , Dora. "Can Straight People Be Queer?" Vice, 10 Feb, 2016, https://www.vice.com/en/article/avy9vz/can-straight-people-be-queer-435.
- pastelmemer. "Queer (1)" DeviantArt, Pride-Flags, 18 Aug, 2015, https://www.deviantart.com/pride-flags/art/Queer-1-554425236.
- "My friend luca and I saw you idea @officialqueer and they made a quick draft!" Tumblr, istudyhumanhope, 3 Oct, 2016, https://istudyhumanhope.tumblr.com/post/151300952133/my-friend-luca-and-i-saw-you-idea-officialqueer.
- "more queer pride flags/variations" Tumblr, bizexuals, 5 Oct, https://bizexuals.tumblr.com/post/151401412287/more-queer-pride-flagsvariations-see-if-you-can.
- "Queer Pride Flag " DeviantArt, bihetnaomi, 10 Dec, 2016, https://www.deviantart.com/bihetnaomi/art/Queer-Pride-Flag-2-650418588.
- Tumblr, OfficialQueer, 2017, https://officialqueer.tumblr.com/post/151277458988/this-is-my-and-the-thought-museums-take-on-a.