What Does "Queer" Mean? 5 Things To Know About The Q In LGBTQ

Revelers take part in the Gay Pride Parade in Bogota, Colombia on July 3, 2016. / AFP / GUILLERMO LEGARIA (Photo credit should read GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images

Within the LGBTQ community, there's a lot of discussion about what exactly the acronym and its variations mean and why we use them. But while many people both outside and within the LGBTQ community are familiar with the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, fewer people are familiar with the concept of being queer. What does the term "queer" mean? As is the case with many identifying terms, being queer can mean different things to different people; for example, when I refer to "being queer" myself, I am referring to being part of the greater LGBTQ community — that is, I personally identify as a lesbian, but I also identify with the queer community as a whole. On the flip side, however, there are many people in the LGBTQ community who choose to use the word "queer" instead of the other terms encompassed by the LGBT acronym. Still others do not use "queer" for themselves at all. So, with all of this in mind, it's clear that there's a lot to unpack in those five letters.

Just as being queer can mean different things to different people, folks have all sorts of ways of expressing their queerness, too. The choice to be "out" as queer can depend on a lot of factors, from personal preference to local laws that govern employment and housing protections. At the end of the day, though, there is no right or wrong way to be queer, and it's OK to identify with queerness on your own terms, even if it doesn't look or feel the same as someone else's definition. 

Here are five important things to know about the Q in LGBTQ:

1. Your Queer Identity Doesn't Change Based On Who You Date

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If you identify as queer, this doesn't suddenly change or shift based on who you date. Whether someone is in a same-sex relationship, an opposite-sex one, or another arrangement, and no matter what their gender identity might be, their identity is their identity. It's not for anyone else to decide whether someone is "queer enough."

2. Adding "Genderqueer" To Your Vocabulary Is A Good Idea 

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Similarly to "queer" as an overall term, identifying as genderqueer can mean different things for different people. Among the many things to keep in mind about genderqueerness are the facts that gender is fluid, and that being genderqueer isn't limited to what you look like or how you physically present. If you're not as familiar with the term as you'd like to be, Meg Zulch's excellent piece "7 Things Genderqueer People Want You To Know" is a great place to start.

3. "Queer" Is Still Considered Offensive By Some...

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For many LGBT people, the word "queer" is still considered to be a slur. Through the 1950s, "queer" was often used in a negative way to reference LGBT people, in a similar vein to the slurs "d*ke" or "f*gg*t." Over time, some LGBT people slowly began reclaiming the word "queer," hence its addition to the acronym; still, even within the community, there are mixed feelings about the word, and a lot of people strongly oppose it.

Which leads me to my next point:

4. ...And It's Not OK To Foist The Identity On Someone Who Doesn't Claim It For Themselves...

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As I previously noted, many people openly identify as "queer." For some people, this means they identify specifically as queer, and for others, this is a reference to being part of the LGBTQ community; it simply depends on the individual person's understanding of the term, and how they choose to identify with it. That said, though, since it's still a controversial term with derogatory origins, many people in the community do not claim the identity as their own. It's never OK to foist any identity on someone who hasn't claimed it, but in this case, it's worth being even more careful. Definitely better to be safe than sorry, in my opinion.

5. ...But Others Consider "Queer" To Be The Most Inclusive Term

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While a lot of people joke that the LGBTQ acronym can turn into "alphabet soup" because of the growing amount of letters — there are many variations, including LGBTQIA+ — inclusivity is actually really important. All people deserve representation and inclusion, and it's important not to prioritize some voices over others. That's why visibility can make such a big impact. Many people feel that "queer" and "the queer community" covers a wide base, including many other identities that are less frequently discussed than those covered by the LGBT acronym: asexuality, identifying as non-binary, being intersex, being an ally, and more. This may help people feel more welcomed into the community and, hopefully, more comfortable in their own identity.

So, there you have it! When it comes down to it, using or not using the word "queer" is an extremely personal choice; the important thing is to let people identify themselves, no matter what that identity might be. We all deserve the dignity to decide who we are for ourselves.

Images: Giphy (5)

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