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Friday, May 26, 2017

Why I'm Not Going To Stop Calling Myself "Queer"

I reclaim a lot of slurs.

I'm a Pagan, who uses the term Warlock and also Witch... all three of them slurs.  Although I don't anymore, I used to use "tranny" very often as well as a number of others when I still considered myself gay.  And I prefer to be considered "queer" pretty much above everything else.

Several months ago a group for trans people I was in was archived, and when I went to go see what the last few days of carnage were like, I found that one of the instigating factors was an intense uptick in the words members were suddenly required to avoid using or censor out.  One of those, to my annoyance, was the word "queer."

The reasoning is the same reasoning I see over and over again when people try to silence our in-community use of this word:  We're too young to have ever known this word as anything but a positive.  And with some exceptions, this is pretty much par for the course as far as people's arguments against reclaiming slurs.  Either you're not old enough to understand or not visible enough to understand, explanations given like "this word was never weaponized against you, you've only heard it used in a trendy or cool way, you have no idea how much this word can hurt."  In the case of "queer," we're supposed to stop using it to protect the sensibilities of older LGBT people, the people who really understand.

I would like to invite you to my childhood and adolescence.

I was born with a gift from my father... a surname that I shit you not rhymes with the word "queer" or, if you're going to split hairs, "queerer."  I also looked like this throughout most of it:

FYI that isn't a shadow it's a part of my hair.
That said, "queer" and variations thereof were a regular part of harassment when I was a kid, all the way up through high school.  "Shearer the Queer."  I heard it on the bus.  I heard it whispered in class.  I heard it on the playground.  And I assure you, nothing about this was positive, edgy, trendy, or radicool in any way.  This was bullying, it was harassment, based on assumptions about me that only incidentally turned out to be almost-correct.

I grew up in a small town that, because it was a small town, elevated the voices of the least marginalized and most bigoted of the residents.  Most things were fairly minor, like when our senior prom's signage all declared that couples tickets could only be bought by girl/boy pairs even though it cost the same as buying two single tickets, but it peaked at a strong attempt to force HIV+ people to put signs disclosing their status on their front doors.

You ever hear those people who talk about how liberal and left wing folks are all in our "bubbles" and we all live on the coasts with other entitled liberals and leftists, never to consider the feelings of those who live in more rural, conservative areas?  The reality is that so many of us--including people like me, who live in the Midwest but in generally progressive areas within it--did grow up in the bigoted, closed-off communities we're supposed to be pouring all this empathy toward.  We fled those communities, and for damn good reason.

On an aside... there was somebody (a congressman or something, I don't know) who tweeted in relation to trans students that this is an issue that needs "local knowledge," an argument implying that somehow small communities will know what's best for their particular trans students.  Can you imagine being the kind of person who thinks that?  "Local knowledge" means rural queer and trans kids stay miserable.

I'm kind of reminded of this when I hear these arguments about older LGBT folks, particularly their perceptions of how much better young people have it.  Once an older trans person at a panel I went to--who only lives part-time as a woman to protect her marriage--waxed poetical about how much easier we had it, not knowing she was lecturing to a group of people who had experienced multiple sexual assaults, employment obstacles/poverty, and intense childhood bullying over our gender expressions.  It is easy to, due to the way we've generationally decided to handle our oppression, assume that they have it "better" than we did and are taking their good fortune for granted.  The reality is that the difference between generations is that we have different wider things to fight for or against.

I didn't fight in Stonewall and wasn't out during the brunt of the AIDS crisis, but I did come out during a particularly miserable year for gay rights in my state (in which I regularly came home to find the words "queer," "fag," and "dyke" in graffiti on my door).  Many younger trans and queer kids, as well, came out after the US already had same-sex marriage, and they may be more likely to transition young, but they're in the middle of a massive fight for trans rights in their schools that I never had to deal with.

And all of us are part of this overall legacy, we've all had these words weaponized against us (even if the elder LGBT folks saying so didn't notice), and we all have our own individual responsibility to decide where we stand on that terminology.

For me, "queer" is what I am, it's what I was as a kid, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Happy trails,
-- Jackson