This was an interesting (to me at least) off-shoot of a discussion on this bbs post: https://bbs.boingboing.net/t/why-were-people-thinner-in-the-1970s/ when the kids’ game “Smear the Queer” came up.
I grew up in the ’70s. Being a “queer” kid in pretty much every definition of the word – strange, awkward, different, nonathletic, sexually confused – any time I was forced to play “Smear the Queer” I felt like I was the target whether I had the ball or not.
That left a negative impression on me. Enough of one that, even though I had forgotten about it, just seeing the name in that thread brought up a number of emotions and memories; none good.
But other people commented that they enjoyed the game, and have fond memories of it.
I’m curious to read the experiences other bb forum members recall having; either good or bad.
I also felt this would be a better place to discuss it instead of derailing the other thread.
Well, the derogatory use of queer as a word for non-straight sexual activity dates back at least to the later 19th century, and long before that it had the wider meaning of strange in cultures where being out of the ordinary was rarely regarded as a good thing.
I’m sure many “normal” kids had the privilege not to understand the dark connotations of the name, and maybe whoever came up with the name for the game did, but it’s pretty clear it was hostile to those who were, in any sense, queer.
The game itself, separate from the name, is probably a lot older as it seems like an obvious form of play for kids (traditionally boys, but that’s just because of sexist social norms discouraging girls from physically aggressive types of play). In principle, I can see how the game itself, encouraging kids to play at taking a controlled risk, has some virtue. The name itself has none IMO.
80s/90s kid here. The kids in our neighborhood (myself included) played this game in a big grass lot during the summer. I was oblivious to a lot of slang growing up so ‘queer’ didn’t have any meaning to me other than what I inferred it to mean in the context of the game (namely, ‘the poor sap who has the ball’). I had a blast being the ‘queer’ because I could outrun all the other kids, age be damned.
But my aloofness doesn’t negate the word’s undeniable intent to slight homosexuals. I never adopted the word—again, it had no relevance for me outside of that grass lot on hot summer days—but It’s kind of alarming to think of all the terminology that is absorbed by kids growing up. Even today, use of the word ‘Jew’ as a verb (e.g. ‘he Jewed me down to five dollars above my asking price’) just rattles me, especially when it’s being used by somebody who seems to have just grown up using it without having any evident anti-Jew sentiment. Like ‘queer’, it’s a meme of hatred that is often unwittingly propagated.
In my day (mid 90s) smear the queer had no ball, and involved singling out a lone queer by consensus (someone who nobody else stook up for) who then got chased down and smeared (knocked down, usually with some added kicking).
Nobody died and there usually wasn’t blood, but yeah it was ugly and anytime I got singled out as a queer I “ruined the game” by getting a stick and fighting back instead of running.
That’s a very small change that makes all the difference. It goes from taking a risk to being mock-lynched (and yes, I’m aware that people over use that word, but in this case it really does seem like kids playing at lynching someone).
Asking my mom about this game was literally the first time I ever heard about homosexuality. Later, it seemed oddly ironic that a group of “straight” boys would throw their bodies upon someone in a supposedly “queer” role. Just another instance of toxic masculinity trying to hide its’ fear of possibly being homosexual.
What I find most surprising is the adoption of the term by the LGBTQ community. As a straight male, my natural assumption is that it is totally off-limits to me like any racial epithet that becomes reappropriated as familiar slang.
I don’t know if it was a mock lynching. I think it was about the thrill of the chase. Then it escalates from that.
I was and am bad at running. I’m pretty good at wailing on people with a stick tho. So I played to my strengths and people stopped picking me because getting hit hard in the gut with a piece of wood isn’t as fun as chasing someone down.
Sorry, I should clarify. I mean that it teaches kids to single someone out as a mob and then chase and tackle them, not that the kids playing the game are actually thinking about lynching anyone.
I think the game would be a lot less problematic with a different name. Imagine if the game “Hide and Seek” was called “Catch the N*****s.”
Someone in the other thread said they knew it as “Odd Man Out”, but when I was checking Google for verification, it sounds like that was a different game.
But I agree, if the game had a different name – or I was a different person – I may have enjoyed it more.
It’s a handy catch-all term that took hold with the lack of anything else. If you’re kinda gay and also kinda bi and sorta ace but questioning, but definitely not straight, it’s a lot easier to say “I’m queer” than to explain your situation as it exists that particular day
You’re right and I apologize for being the major instigator of the other thread’s partial derail!
I grew up mostly in the 1960s in a very white, very middle class, very suburban tract home neighborhood. I loved playing “smear the queer” and had no understanding of the slur involved until I was much older.
It occurs to me that since I got beaten up and harassed fairly regularly as a child (in the 1960s adults did not interfere in same-gender same-age fistfights, and I was the weakest target out of ~450 for many years) a game where I could beat on other kids with impunity, or outwit them by clever running, probably appealed to me more than most.
Sounds more like a game of cat & mouse, or just straight up assault.
Obviously I was no stranger to being bullied, especially in middle school. There was a point where it happened almost daily thanks to one single kid and his asshole crew; being chased down, beaten and having my bike or shoes stolen every day for a week, as I recall.
Finally I had enough, and I hid a small steak knife under the seat of my bike; it was a banana type seat, so there was plenty of room.
That day, after school, they swarmed on me. I got off my bike, and tried to get the knife out, but the lead kid was quicker. He knocked me down and got the knife out from under the seat. He asked me what I planned to do with it. I was too scared to say anything. I fully expected to get stabbed by my own damned knife.
Instead, he tossed it away, said something nasty about me, threw my bike down an embankment, gathered his goons and left.
After that, he no longer bullied me, so I guess my plan worked.
No worries at all from me. I just really wanted to hear more of what people had to say about this topic than the actual topic of that thread, and I didn’t want to cause problems by continuing the discussion there.
I wish I’d had that attitude.
Unfortunately, I was a very bookish kid with a very liberal mother, and very conservative father (no, their marriage didn’t last). I knew early on what “queer” meant, and that I was “off” by the standards of everyone my age and gender. So for me the game was usually, “Let’s beat up that weird kid and get away with it,” more than anything else.
Though anything associated with being gay was automatically considered negative when I was a kid, we didn’t have this particular ‘game’ in my area.
Instead we had a very vicious version of dodgeball, Hide and Go Get It, ‘talk shit, get hit’ and a plethora of other antisocial activities.
“antisocial” or “alternatively social”?
I’m also curious… what made your version of dodgeball vicious?
I would say the stupidest game I played as a teenager (15-ish) that I should have known better than to have played was one we made up involving darts, loosely inspired by Jarts… We would each have a dart and we would take turns throwing our dart high into the air and seeing who ran last.
Later we made wooden shields and took turns throwing darts directly at each other, with the goal being to block the dart with the shield. Neck up was off limits.
I ran with a pretty reckless and dumb crowd in those days.
What makes every version of dodgeball vicious?
Bigger, stronger kids teaming up against the smaller, weaker ones; but when it’s always the same exact kids gleefully bullying the same victims, there’s a certain level of animosity that becomes very personal.
I’ll just leave this here…
Bombardment was worse. The Simpsons only exaggerated a little:
“Butts Up” was another one of those “why in the hell am I subjecting myself to this” realizations.