Learn 4 Change
Greetings beautiful humans!
If you’re new to the blog, hello! I’m so glad you decided to join our BRAVE family. If you’ve been excitedly awaiting the next installment of my series, welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the suspense. Today’s episode of Unpacking Words, a Learn 4 Change series about the power of words, is brought to you by me, Sarah, AKA BRAVE’s AmeriCorps VISTA member. This post will be the last of my series, so you’d better believe I’m going to make it count.
Remember that “hella queer conversation for another time” I mentioned in the last post?
IT’S HERE, IT’S QUEER, AND IT’S COMING OUT LOUD AND CLEAR
(yes, that was a pun)
Today’s word to unpack, queer, is an umbrella term for the LGBTQIA+ community. An umbrella term is a word that encompasses many other similar words under it, like an umbrella does for us in the rain. Sometimes (like in this case), it creates a community for humans to find others and themselves. It also provides a space to form common language and share thoughts on life. LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (as in, one’s gender or sexuality), intersex, asexual/aromantic/ally, and the plus is for every other possible identity that is in no way less valid just not listed in the acronym I happen to use. We don’t have time to go into all of those in this post, but I encourage you to check out this source because it never hurts to learn more about the diversity of humanity!
I love the word queer. I identify so much with this word. It’s just ambiguous enough for me to not feel limited by it.
What does that mean? Let’s unpack it.
Queer takes into account gender, sex, expression/presentation, and sexuality. Remember intersectionality? Queer can be combined with other identities to reflect a more specific community, such as “queer person of color” or “queer and disabled.” It’s fluid, which means it’s based on individual experience and it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Queer can mean “gay” to one person, “transgender” to another, and “bisexual” to someone else. It can mean “nonbinary” and “lesbian” at the same time. It’s a word with a lot of freedom, and that takes into account how unique we all are. I think it reminds us that we’re all just humans living life.
But, Sarah, it’s also a slur.
You’re right, it is. “Queer” literally means “strange” or “odd,” and people still use it in a hateful, derogatory way to call LGBTQIA+ humans unnatural and enforce their otherness. This started in the late 1800s and continued for a century until the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. It has been reclaimed in the last 40 years, meaning that people reframed it and turned it into something positive. However, it is still a triggering word for those who have lived through the hate. I’ve only ever known queer as a safe and comforting word, and I don’t want to invalidate those who hear it with a sense of dread. It’s important to be cognizant of the changing connotations and appropriate balance in using the word queer. It’s going to require some intentional and consistent self-awareness, but it can be done! I try to use the acronym (LGBTQIA+ or any of its derivatives) when talking about the community as a whole or about people that I’m not sure vibe with queer.
To me, queer is a powerful word because it’s ambiguous, but unifying. It’s an identity, but it also feels limitless. I have the freedom to make queer what I want. The most powerful part of queer is that it is reclaimed. It’s amazing that activists were able to use something that was created to tear them down and use it to build the community up. I think it’s beautiful to be able to reframe something hateful into something productive. It inspires me to delve into the power of words and reminds me that every seemingly insignificant action has the ability to become a source for change.
WHO’S READY TO CHANGE THE WORLD?
Whether you identify with the word queer or not, here are some things you can do to support the LGBTQIA+ community:
Reflection: Think about your own perceptions. What do you think about the word “queer?” Do you think it’s okay to use, or is it still derogatory? Have a conversation with a buddy about this. It doesn’t have to be a long, emotional discussion. Just voice your thoughts. It may be hard, and that’s valid, because it requires honesty with your buddy and with yourself. Sometimes that is what it takes for us to truly understand what we believe.
Perspective: Check out Marina for some thoughts on “queer” and “LGBT.” I talked briefly through 2 points of view on the word “queer.” What others can you find? Here and here are some places to start. I think we should absorb as many perspectives as possible before making an informed decision.
Accountability: Say something when someone makes a homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, queerphobic, or anti-LGBTQIA+ comment. It could be as simple as saying “was that necessary?” Believe me, it works.
Support: Donate to organizations that show they make a difference. We need more safe spaces! Also, stay up to date on the injustices happening every day. Using one’s own privilege to help those who are marginalized is one of the most powerful feelings.
You can do it. I’m with you and I believe in you.
Also, happy holidays and thanks for joining me on this Learn 4 Change journey!