People, namely men, have been using the word “gay” to describe themselves in regards to homosexual orientation since the 1920s, if not earlier.
But how many of these men knew the original implications of the term?
Not all of the homosexual men of the early 20th century may not have been aware, but society was generally very homophobic at the time. Even though these men were calling themselves gay, many heterosexual people were also using it as an insult against them! Hundreds of homosexual men were considered perverts, pedophiles, diseased, and mentally deranged. And hundreds of those men knew the pain of having all of those implications attached to the word “gay.”
Just because some homosexual men in the past were okay with it doesn’t mean they all are currently.
Even today, many homosexual people have parents reject them for being “gay,” and consistently complaining about how they don’t want a “gay” child. So of course, it makes sense to not want to associate with the phrase. Yet so many people keep referring to the LGBT+ community as the “gay” community, and so many homosexual men are called “gay.” Even bars and clubs meant to foster a welcoming environment are called “gay bars.”
This word is everywhere, and it shouldn’t be. It is a slur. Just because some people are okay with using a word that has decades of abuse attached to it doesn’t mean all of us are.
Have I persuaded anyone to stop calling themselves “gay” yet? Probably not, and I can only guess why. Isn’t it strange that we in the LGBT+ community so regularly accept words like “gay” (even though it was historically used as an insult), but we feel the need to censor ourselves from using more inclusive terms like “queer?”
It’s the same argument. We can use queer to describe ourselves (sometimes), but not the community as a whole- it’s a slur that “not everyone has reclaimed.” Maybe I’m just a hermit, but I don’t ever remember filling out the international “LGBT survey” that lead us to believe that everyone has reclaimed anything.
The most there is to go off of is contemporary LGBT+ communities, and for the most part, it does seem that the vast majority of us are okay with the word “gay.” But the same can also be said of the word “queer.” Despite the innumerable people actually preferring the term as a more inclusive descriptor, the minority that object to it are often the loudest.
I’ve also heard personal accounts justifying the objection to the word queer. One such story was from a cis lesbian (and told to a rather well-known trans woman who was using the term to refer to the LGBT community) that sounded a bit like this:
“I am NOT a ‘kweer!’ My father has screamed that word at me so many times while I cried in the shower or curled up in bed, and you have no idea what it feels like to have people force that word on ALL of us just because some people are ok with it! I am NOT AND NEVER WILL BE a kweer!!!” (Evidently even spelling out the word properly was too much for her to handle)
The problem is, that isn’t at all a unique experience. Far from it, in fact. And the word “queer” in that situation can be replaced with any word we used to describe ourselves or the community. For example, the woman from the above example preferred the term “lesbian.” But no doubt you could substitute “lesbian” in the above situation, and it would be a real-life experience that hundreds of people could relate to.
Essentially, all of our words have been used against us and are therefore slurs.
And since there is no way of knowing how many people have which personally history with which specific words, it would be safer to abandon them all.
Problem solved, right? Obviously not.
The problem is people, not the words.
Even if we were to create a whole new LGBT dictionary, those words would inevitably relate to some people just as the old ones did. They would all have the potential to be used as a slur because people are still ignorant and prejudiced.
Insisting that “queer” still counts as a slur, despite it being used to self-identify in the community perhaps even earlier than the word “gay,” is just a way of telling assholes that their definition matters more than ours does. It allows them to take some aspect of our identity away, which is exactly what they want.
If we want to prevent the emotional abuse associated with our identities, the solution isn’t continually making more words that mean the same thing. The solution is continuing the fight for equality, positive representation, normalization, etc.
I’m not going to deny that a word is applicable to me if it is. I am a brunette. That is a fact. But even if I am continually harassed over that fact, it is no less of a fact. Calling myself “brown-haired” won’t make any difference in the long run, because in the end, those harassing me are doing so because of who/what I am, not merely because of what I call myself. So if people were to shout abuses at me regarding my hair color, I’d wonder what the hell was wrong with them.
The same goes for being queer. And, incidentally, hating someone for their gender or sexuality is just as asinine as hating someone for their hair color.
Even if a word is used regularly by the majority of the LGBT community, if someone specifically asks you not to address them or refer to them with a certain term, it is best to respect that request regardless of how odd it might seem. This is in individual circumstances, rather than references to oneself or the community as a whole.
It is also important to note that what is and isn’t a slur varies from community to community, and from culture to culture. For example, the consensus on terms like “faggot*” and “tranny” is that they are not yet reclaimed and not typically used to self-identify. In some cases, reclaiming a certain slur may not be uncommon, but it is still seen as generally inappropriate to refer to a whole category of people with it. Terms offensive in the United States may not be offensive in some Eastern nations. It all depends, but all in all, you should probably refrain from dictating how someone refers to themself or their community (should it usually be seen as an acceptable way of doing so).
*In fact, in a Facebook group I was in, a cishet woman banned several gay men for calling themselves “fags.” And that is definitely inappropriate.