Recently, I threw a virtual coming out party. If you weren’t able to attend, don’t worry – there will be more opportunities like this in the future. While I certainly loved having people from all walks of my life joining me to celebrate coming out and having my first drink before a webinar, the best part of the party was learning – from people sharing their personal stories to asking vulnerable questions, it provided an opportunity for us to tackle real, genuine topics in a human way.
There was one question that stood out to me, and I wanted to address it in a way that allowed different opinions to shine through, so my teammate Melissa Martini (follow her here and connect with her on LinkedIn) and I both took a stab at answering from our unique POVs:
Declaring a word as offensive is always hard for me because I realize that just like people, language is constantly evolving. If you asked me if queer was a bad word in high school, I’d say absolutely. Today, I’d say I love the word queer.
It feels inclusive and more broad than a lot of terms. It isn’t missing representation but simply defines this collection of people who are willing to explore and understand and grow outside of the binary ideas of gender and sexuality.
However, I also know people who have rather traumatic histories with the word queer and I want to be respectful of anyone. Generally, my answer is “I don’t say things that offend others” so if you tell me it offends you, I won’t say it. I want to learn from others.
I would expect that we can have a conversation about why so I can better understand as someone who’s curious and interested in other ideas. But, yes, I use the word queer liberally.
As a bisexual woman, my relationship with the word “queer” has shifted throughout the years. Before I came out as bisexual, I often heard the word used as a slur – it was only used in a derogatory manner, hurled at members of the LGBT+ community like a weapon. To be called queer was demeaning. An insult. Disrespectful.
But that all changed when I came out.
I remember catching up with an old friend from high school and we stumbled onto the topic of sexuality. I was beginning to grow more comfortable with my sexuality, so I openly identified as bisexual. My friend, on the other hand, stated that she identified as “queer” because it was “easier that way.”
Easier? To identify as a word I only knew as a slur?
Suddenly, I was a part of a community that had reclaimed the word queer as a self-identifying term. Friends and family called themselves queer as an act of empowerment, taking back what was once used to hurt them and aligning it with their identities. Something they were proud of.
As someone who studied English throughout undergrad and graduate school, I know that the meanings of words can change through the years – that’s one of the things that makes language so beautiful. Gay used to mean happy, and queer used to mean strange or odd. When folks started associating these words with homosexuality, language changed and shifted.
And that’s exactly what has happened yet again. Sure, there are still folks who fling the word “queer” around as an insult. This generation of the LGBT+ community have completely reclaimed “queer” as an umbrella term, an identity that we all share. Granted, for a while I wondered if I was “queer enough” to call myself queer, since I’m bisexual. But somewhere along the lines I realized queer is what you make it – if the person using the word “queer” is using it as an insult, it’s an insult. If the person using the word “queer” is reclaiming it as their identity, then it’s empowering and self-describing.
Intent matters. Language matters. Individual folks’ feelings matter. Just because one person is okay with the word queer doesn’t mean all LGBT+ folks are. And just because one person is calling themself queer because they identify as queer, doesn’t mean the person using it in a derogatory manner is excused.
I wanted to share two perspectives for this post because it’s clear to me that as we start to explore a wide array of genders and sexualities, I think we also have to explore the language we did (and didn’t) use to define our community.
What do you think? What have your experiences been with the term Queer? As a member of the LGBT+ community or as an ally, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.