Am I Queer?
Are you as sick as I am of listing the entire alphabet to refer to our community?
By the time I type LGBTQ+ I’ve forgotten the rest of the sentence. And readers are catching some ZZZZs as well,
So am I just plain queer?
That’s one solution proposed for replacing the current alphabet soup with a self-affirming umbrella term: calling us all queer. The HuffPost has a Queer Voices section, Queer Eye is back on TV and the Urban Dictionary has tapped us all as one big Queer family.
Certainly, being simply queer is shorter and less complex. Quite descriptive, actually. And yes, all encompassing.
But is it comfortable? Nope. Calling myself queer gives me the yips, though I am trying hard to embrace it. Many in my generation probably agree, having grown up when being called queer was harrowing and hurtful. The word was often hurled at us in homeroom, at recess, or as we waited for the school bus, even before we ourselves knew we were, as was also the popular term at the time, homosexuals.
Whether out or closeted, we got called dykes and queers. Sometimes even faggots by clueless bullies ignorant of the proper gender slurs. And it was painful.
But, more than a half century ago (!), in the mid-1960s, prior to the 1969 Stonewall riots, our community started to usurp the lovely dictionary word “gay,” turning its meaning from “a carefree person” to “a homosexual person.”
What a great idea! It worked for me.
Once the Stonewall Inn erupted and newspapers and talk shows started coming to reluctant terms with the existence of homosexuals, there was lots of talk about gays. As a placard at the first Pride parade shouted, “Gay is Good!” And it was.
But the airwaves and newspapers mostly talked about gay men. People started seeing the term gay to mean men—mostly drag queens, leathermen, and sadly, men dying of AIDS.
People hardly ever heard about gay women. And the word lesbian was seldom seen. Gay was good, but for the women it was the beginning of the long-standing lesbian invisibility crisis.
So smart lesbians everywhere set about correcting the record. The fight for the L word was on.
I remember being part of an argument, in the mid-1980s, with the editor of the Washington Blade—which, by the way, started life as the Washington Gay Blade. I was lobbying for inclusion of the word lesbian on the front page of the newspaper. It took lots of letters, conversations, and heated exchanges from a lot of women, but the L-word finally appeared under the Washington Blade banner. Victory! We had a newspaper for gays and lesbians.
What followed in quick succession was the rise of the L word, both as a common descriptor in communications and eventually on television with the brilliantly bitchy and beloved TV series of the same name.
So gays and lesbians were now more visible but what about our bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters? We happily added them to the discussions, but by this point writing or saying gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender was becoming a bit of a mouthful, absolutely no pun intended.
Ergo, we got the shorter, snappier LGBT—yes, less specifically visible for each, but inclusive of all.
But it wasn’t actually all. What about the young people who were questioning? Or those reclaiming the slur queer? Or intersex folks, or others wanting inclusion? That’s how we first got LGBTQ+ and now it’s a whole, dizzying list of letters. Try using LGBTQIAEIEIO in a sentence.
So people are thinking we should get back to calling ourselves just plain queer. Of course, for some of us, it gives flashbacks from the hate-strewn past.
A couple of years ago I went to a college campus to perform my show, Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay. They gave me a large sign to post on my car’s windshield so I wouldn’t get a parking ticket. In big block letters it announced Queer Conference. I have to admit, seeing the word queer splashed across my windshield gave me the vapors.
But something has to be done. It’s no longer possible to fit the whole laundry list of letters into a readable column, or effective conversation.
For my part, I wish we could just use the G-word, calling all of us gay. But if not, I will accept that we are all queer, we are all here, and everybody better get used to it. Myself included.
So call me what you want, but don’t call me late for happy hour. ▼