Queer. Either you love it or hate it, but it’s a word that has existed for generations and is beginning to take the early stages of reclamation in the LGBT community. Or is it? A few years ago, I decided to use the big Q as a way to identify myself, my community and the movement, and had no idea what kind of reactions I would provoke. From the surprising acceptance of some to the disappointingly closed minds of others, I have started to utilize this word as a universal unifier. That and I’m sick of all those damn letters, but that is beside the point.
This past weekend, I was honored to witness the swearing in of the newest lesbian State Representative Kelly Cassidy. At the reception, I hastily took a seat where I thought I would stick out the least among many of the most influential people our community has seen in the last 50 years. When I looked up from my mimosa and Ann Sathers sweet roll, I found I was sitting across the table from Vernita Gray, longtime activist and leader, Tom Chiola, the first openly gay candidate in Illinois elected to public office, and Bill Weeks, who is a member of HRC’s board of Governors. (Not to mention the Representatives, Alderman and Commissioners who were scattered about the room). While it took me awhile to decide I had something important and intelligent enough to say to these people who have paved the way for what I am doing today, I finally eased into a conversation.
After I thanked them for what they have done for our community and told them of the inspiration they are, I brought up the topic of The L Stop and told them that for my next piece I would be discussing the word queer. As groundbreaking activists and politicians from a generation much different than mine, I was prepared for a little bit of backlash. The word queer was once solely used as an expression to describe the strange, the weird, and unfortunately, the homosexual. Instead of hearing the expected “I don’t identify, but you kids are living in a different world” or “Why take on a word that has caused some so much pain”, I heard an array of supportive and positive comments.
As surprised as I was to hear the feedback, I soon realized that they too understand what is going on in our community. With a culture so obsessed with labels, we fail to realize that with their increase of popularity, we are creating divisions that are making it harder than ever to come together as one. What was once just thrown into the common category of gay transformed into GLBT, which was soon pushed in many places to change to LGBT. From there, Queer/Questioning and Ally were thrown into the mix. Do you think that’s enough? Nope! Some people, desperate to be all-inclusive slapped on the forgotten Q, the Intersexed, the Pansexual, and a slew of other terms to further the ideals of leaving no homo behind.
While I have no problem whatsoever with inclusion, which mind you is why I am writing this blog, I have always felt as though the increasing labels have muddied the waters of the original “family”. Many groups are exclusive to a certain letter within the acronym, and others believe themselves to be but in fact fail to focus on the broader issues that affect us as a whole. The groups that solidify themselves within their identity are helpful to many in the process of self-acceptance and even survival, while the so called “inclusive” result in more disparity than unity.
When I was a kid, my extended family would use the word Queer to describe something a bit… Off. Never did my hippy-minded parents use the word, and never did I hear it in a derogatory manner like many of the other words you hear in the schoolyard. When I finally came to terms with being a “lesbian” something happened- I dated a trans-man (female to male). Let me tell you, the only thing harder than finding your “label” is thinking you found it and then realizing that it’s just not going to work! How can you be a lesbian if you are dating a man? What I do know is that I am not attracted to cys-men (biological males) and I did not find any comfort or identity in being bisexual. So what is a girl who hates the theory of labels to do?
Enter the word Queer! I realized that I was only rushing to label myself so that everyone else around me could be comforted in knowing who/what I was. News flash! I am not your lesbian friend Lauren, not your Bisexual friend Lauren, just Lauren. From that day on, I let myself identify with how I felt, and refused to be put in a box again. I am a part of an entire community, not just a letter, a gender or sexual preference, but an entire people that has no choice but to come together.
Some people are more accepting of this umbrella term than others. My dad began doing computer work for a theatre in Minneapolis and went on a weekend retreat with the staff- which surprise, included many gay co-workers. On Christmas Eve I was getting ready for dinner and drinking my eggnog when out of nowhere my dad shows up outside my door and says “So, are you Queer?” I kind of laugh, because this is not something we really talk about, and out of my mouth comes “Hell yeah”. He explains to me how at his retreat the gay people were talking about the new usage and all of that jazz. With a nod and a smile from pops, that was that.
Surprisingly, some of the most push back I have seen has come from the lesbian community to which I am so close. One girl I dated had a huge problem with how I identified. I live in the lesbian community, have a lesbian lifestyle, and play in a lesbian sports league so why couldn’t I call myself a lesbian? I could. But I don’t want to. The idea is that we shouldn’t be pressuring the next generations to divide like we have, to force them to choose a side, and maybe that way we can actually make something happen.
At the end of the day, we need to learn to work together, learn together and change together. The comfort in having a community within our own is something I would struggle without, however it is easy to forget that there are many other people that have the same fights to fight, and that a whole force is much more powerful than a slew of separate voices trying to be heard. I wrote this first post as a disclaimer- I will be using this word with pride, and doing so often. I am not trying to offend anyone or take the spotlight off of the lesbian community by any means, but instead aim to unite us all as one. As individuals we have a voice, but as one we have power- a power that has more potential and force than ever before.
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Lauren was born and raised in South Minneapolis and like many other innocent midwesterners got sucked into the black hole of Chicago politics 4 years ago. As the LGBT Coordinator for the Gery Chico for Mayor Campaign she attempted to take on the entire city and hasn’t looked back since. Now working for a communications firm, she spends her extra time running around with cases of PBR playing in different sports leagues, hosting couchsurfers from all over the place, and deciding how she is going to change the world. A simple lady at her core, she has decided that the first person to send her an edible arrangement must be the one.