by Christopher Eskilson
Way back in April when a younger, high school version of me was trying to figure out where to go to school and spend the next four years of their life, I went to Pitzer’s Admitted Student Day. Of course, Pitzer stood out from the other college pitches I’d spent my spring break attending, but I knew the school was for me when I saw the words “Queer Resource Center” at the student services seminar. I knew I could find a place to fit in at the 5C’s, and I knew I could be the real me surrounded by a supportive network of queers like myself.
As an asexual, I do not find the LGBT label often ascribed to us sexual minorities helpful. This combination of letters fails to encompass not only my ace label, but the other sizable variety of groups whose letters are not in this acronym (unless one is willing to say the full LGBTQQIAAP). This term’s failure to embrace all its participants and provide equal visibility to those not listed in these four simple letters makes it fairly unusable within the movement against systemic sexual oppression. A name like LGBT puts a certain weight on members with the name recognition and their issues and leaves those of us not making the cut to the wayside. All of us face challenges and issues, and the point of collective action is to provide solidarity and strength to causes. We cannot effectively do that, however, if no one is aware of the other groups besides the “Big 4.”
This is why I like queer. Queer is inclusive. Queer is equal to all members. Whenever queer is used, equality is more probable. Queer does not demand specificity either. One can simply be queer and end it at that, not having to use the plethora of sexual and gender-based labels available. A word like queer gives an equal voice and importance to us all. Queer means more than LGBT can ever mean. It verbalizes the rejection of heteronormativity, patriarchy, cis-genderism— the things sexual minorities collectively fight against. It sets our goals in a way LGBT cannot.
Of course, queer is not the purest of words. It is true it has been marred by its use as a homophobic pejorative for decades, and it is true the dictionary definition is that of “weird, bizarre, and abnormal.” While it has been said this latter connotation is self-deprecating to the movement, I must humbly disagree. Yes, the self-use of the word is effectively calling oneself abnormal and bizarre, but that is solely because of the social constructions of the patriarchy. We are construed as abnormal because of a subjective system of norms set up, a system which should no longer be used in society. The word queer is a rejection of heteronormativity. We are not “weird objectively,” we are only “weird” because of antiquated, human-made social structures based on Judeo-Christian values. “Queer” is a rallying cry to all of us fed up with this nonsense, and just want to be seen as humans.
As for the historical connotations of the word being pejorative and vulgar to many, that is true. At a time, the word was hateful and rude to many homosexuals. Language is subject to evolution, however, in tandem with society. Semantics change as people using the words do. An example of such is the word “Hooligan,” a word commonly associated with British soccer fans that are aggressive in their loyalty to the team. The historical connotation of the word is that it is a vulgarity for Irish people. Does anybody think of it as such now? Not really. The word “Vandal” is the same. We have signs saying “No vandalism” everywhere and use it to describe the desecration of property. This word was a pejorative for Germans. Connotations for words are socially-fluid and based essentially on usage. It is their current use that determines their meaning far more than any historical context could ever do today.
The word “Queer” has become an incredibly important part of the struggle for sexual minority awareness and tolerance around the world. Queer is inclusive to all sexual and gender minorities that are not gay, bi, or trans* and gives visibility to us all. This visibility therefore provides a sense of equality in the movement to combat sexual societal oppression, the goal that all the various minorities are trying to fight. As the QRC undergoes the search for a term seen as more inclusive to the whole community, I hope these unifying associations are remembered. While you may be eager to reach out to include those unaware or uncomfortable with the term queer, you must not forget about those who find solace and solidarity in it.
Christopher Eskilson PZ ’18 is an english and environmental analysis major from Los Angeles, Calif. They are currently co-vice president of the Rainbow People Collaborative at Pitzer College.