Slurred Lines: Why I Quit Using The Q-Word


© Margaret Killjoy

“I hate that word, it gives me chills just hearing it. Don’t you know people used to use it with violence?”

We’re sitting outside in the anaemic Scottish sunlight during the summer, myself and a number of older LGBT people, that extended LGBT family we often talk about. In the midst of drinking coffee and catching up I casually refer to myself as queer and one of the women, someone I love and respect, says the above. “It turns me cold,” she adds. I start to talk about the reclamation of slurs, the things that the word queer means to me but it’s obviously not enough to turn the word around for her, and we awkwardly agree to disagree. I don’t understand entirely, I wasn’t there in the 70s, but I understand enough to empathise – their experience isn’t mine and I have no right to dismiss it because of that.

I first met queer as an identity when I was just venturing into the wider LGBT community and I loved it. It was a word that could refer to, be used, by any LGBT person, no matter their sexuality or gender alignment and to me that meant solidarity and belonging – identifying as queer meant we all belonged to each other, we made a united front and no-one had to explain themselves if they weren’t sure of all the details yet, they were just queer. One of us. Then there was the reclamation aspect, ever since I was little I’ve loved to take the words meant to insult me and embrace them, making them something to be proud of. I am proud of who I am and if its something other people think I should be ashamed of then I’m happy to wear their label and make them look right at it and my lack of shame.

Of course queer isn’t a word like nerd or goth or any of the other ultimately harmless things teenagers hurl at each other. It’s often been the last word people have heard after a traumatic experience: scarred into countless people’s minds to match the physical marks on their bodies. I’m happy to take that word and throw it in the ‘phobes faces but not everybody is, and we need to respect that. I’ve watched over the years as the conversation about the word queer has become more nuanced, as we’ve started recognising it as word that isn’t alright to use to describe people who haven’t actively claimed it for themselves. That for a lot of people, especially older members of the community, its a word associated with pain and terror, and its use makes them feel isolated and cast out.


© Juli Shannon

Anecdotally speaking, from talking to the LGBT people around me, queer seems to have fallen out of favour as an insult for our generation anyway, and I wonder if that’s a part of why we’re so keen to embrace and reclaim it – because for us its a word that’s lost much of its sting already and so it doesn’t burn us when we apply it. I don’t share the experiences of the people I was sharing coffee with but I don’t have to to be able to empathise with them, and I certainly don’t have the right to tell them their pain is illegitimate or that its a necessary sacrifice for progress.

This is why it’s so disappointing to see the Huffington Post rename Gay Voices as Queer Voices. The word queer is an incredibly divisive one within the LGBT community and for a move that’s meant to be inclusive its actually going to alienate a lot of people, especially those more vulnerable members who laid the groundwork for what we have today and who we should be going the extra mile to support. The worst part is that there’s an obvious alternative that works just as well, why not rename it LGBT+ Voices? If that’s not inclusive enough but the expanded acronym just seemed too long, MOGAI is also a viable alternative, and one without any traumatic connotations. Queer is an OK term to use for yourself, but not to impose on others, and if we really want to build a safe and nurturing community for all LGBT+ people we need to own that.

– Siobhan Ball


Images used under Creative Commons license

One Response to Slurred Lines: Why I Quit Using The Q-Word

  • Again an interesting article in Biscuit. I often use the word Queer about myself (and I am 70 going on 17!) as ‘Gay’ only really evolved when I was in my late teens. Male friends of mine of a similar age group happily call themselves ‘the olde poofters’. To quote Gertie Stein..’a rose is a rose is a rose’. I must say when LGBT came about I always got a least one letter round the wrong way until it became a Mantra.
    And of course GAY confused a whole generation of older people in my youth who had been through the GAY 20’s with all it’s Gay songs about having a Gay (happy) old time. So to GAY or not to GAY that is indeed the queer question!

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