The “Q” Word

I have a question for the BBS community that has been bothering me for quite some time and I can’t really seem to find anything like consensus on. The word q***r in the past 5-10 years has taken on a radically different meaning than in decades past (though this clearly began some time ago as evidenced by the long-time inclusion in LGBTQ+). Much like the n-word, it has been reappropriated by the community it was (and still is) used to denigrate and marginalize. However, allies and supporters who are, to my knowledge, not a member of the LGBTQ+ community have also adopted it as a seemingly blanket term substituting for the awkward mouthful “LGBTQ+”. To wit:

I have searched for the answer in every nook of the internet I can think of, but I’ve hesitated to directly ask any of my LGBTQ+ friends for guidance unless it comes up in conversation naturally simply because it feels like a) asking an individual to answer for a wide-ranging community with disparate beliefs and interests as well as b) considering that community as a monolith that diminishes the nuance and complexity of the question. Even then I don’t really feel like I’ve gotten a good sense of the varying feelings surrounding it within the LGBTQ+ community (which is the only perspective that matters, IMO).

My stance at this moment is that, as a cis-gendered straight male, the word is absolutely off-limits to me the same way the n-word is as a white person. However, I also deeply respect @beschizza and know that he has probably done far more pondering on the question and has settled on the use out of thoughtful consideration and not just because he senses the changing tides and feels at liberty to do so.

Again, I understand the inherent unfairness of asking anyone from the LGBTQ+ community to give an authoritative answer, especially because there is none, but I also trust this community’s perspective and willingness to work through complex questions and would really like to hear varying perspectives on the matter.

Thanks in advance for the discourse and your patience with what I’m sure is a poorly-worded attempt at furthering my understanding and empathy.


I recall NPR did a piece on the topic a bit before the pandemic. A Former Slur Is Reclaimed, And Listeners Have Mixed Feelings : NPR Public Editor : NPR


I’d describe myself as queer seeing as I’m trans and bi and seeing as I’m in my mid-40s I’m well aware of it being a negative slur that has changed usage.
It really depends on the tone, context and delivery. If you don’t like it, don’t use it if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s a great catch-all word that is essentially the opposite of “straight” without having to go into detail.

Queer Studies or Queer Art isn’t necessarily “gay” in the same way that in the art world Marxist Theory doesn’t mean “communist.”

Also, it’s my way to describe myself, not your way to describe me; feel free to call me Tamsin, she, her, all those descriptors that are only read one way.
To me it is a minor label of one aspect of my life, relationships, gender and sexual orientation all blurred into one handy, short word. It isn’t all of me. No word ever is, so use it sparingly or not at all. Say precisely what you mean, or don’t use it; text is a very unforgiving medium for such words and you might cause offence where you meant none because your syntax is different to mine.

Briefly, no, Queer isn’t a taboo word, given the right context and delivery, but as a cis straight man I’m not really seeing why you’d need to use it particularly often.


Me neither.

@tyroney provided a good discussion of its use in editorial language, but it still seems that there is no real consensus. To me that indicates that organizations should not be using the term if not directly speaking from the perspective of LGBTQ+ people, but it’s definitely happening anyway.


The more it happens as a descriptor and less as a slur the better but I still know people who take offence at it and others who take joy in it for itself and yet others who use it defiantly.
Whatever the usage, it won’t be going away.


What does the “Q” in LGBTQ+ actually mean though? Does it add something that isn’t covered by the “L”,“G”,“B”,“T” or “+”? Is it supposed to cover combinations of the letters, as Tamsin describes herself? Is it supposed to cover fluidity?

I don’t believe I’ve ever actually spoken the word “queer” out loud. I don’t remember actually hearing anyone ever using the word pejoratively either even though the sticks word and “gay” were thrown around like crazy before I went to college.


As with most things, it depends. I’ve seen it variously presented as “questioning” or similar, but given that there was a huge debate over its inclusion in the first place, the fact is that enough stakeholders found it offensive enough for there to be a debate. I had a citation of this debate earlier and now can’t find it. I’ll edit if I do.


It was actually the first time I ever heard about variations in sexuality. At the church camp I attended as a kid (‘natch!), some high schoolers were playing “Smear the Q***r”, which led me to ask my mom what the word meant. Mind blown. The game took on a whole different and sinister context after that.


I tick at least three boxes in the alphabet soup of LGBTQAI+ and the word queer doesn’t bother me at all. It’s a useful shorthand, in my opinion. I suppose it can be a slur and has been used that way in the past, but I don’t see it used that way now. I grew up in a very conservative place and came out at a young age, but was never called queer as a slur by anyone. In my personal experience, it isn’t a loaded word like the N-word or f****t are. I can only speak for me though, of course.


That’s my take on it. Especially as I meet those criteria! I use “LGBTQ” fairly often, knowing full well what the “Q” stands for, and yet the history of “queer” in my formative years has it firmly in the “thou shalt not say this ever” category. I have posted often enough about how frustrating I find labels and boxes anyway, so it’s pretty easy to just avoid using this one, but also realizing it is a personal choice.


It’s just personal anecdote but I’ve actually only ever heard queer used by people who are self-identifying as such in my distinctly homophobic region of the world. I don’t think I have much value as an opinion but I kind of at least like having a catch-all word for those of us who may still not fit into the perfect categories of “straight” vs “gay” vs “cis” vs vs vs… I feel like there’s more strength in solidarity together and in some ways I see people trying to use it that way because of its history as a slur for literally anyone who didn’t fit those norms to begin with. But IDK. It’s just not cut and dry I guess and I also really totally grok why some people object to using it at all.


This isn’t really true anymore (hence these topics), you just have to be aware of context, tone, audience, and so on. Obviously being non-queer puts you at a disadvantage in the sense that even if your use of the term is impeccable and well-grounded, you might still offend someone hurt by straight folk using the word. Or you might get trolled by someone sensing your position and eager to make an example of you. You just have to have thought through those situations to the point where you can be confident in apologizing meaningfully or telling a poser to get stuffed. Otherwise best stick to relevant initialisms or traditional terms.

It’s true, though, that spoken casual use of the term around strangers might be looking for trouble. Queer is a big beautiful field with one last landmine lurking in it marked “casually directing the word at other people at parties”.

“Queer” is a fantastic reclaimed word, though, because it covers all the bases and avoids the complexities and specificities (and indeed the identities) that may be implied by the initialisms and words such as gay, lesbian and so forth.

The journey of “queer” to acceptability isn’t just about reclamation, too. It was helped on its way by formal academic adoption in the 1990s. If it was perhaps a kind of outre jargon at first, the people doing it were serious and queer studies/theory has been standard undergrad sociology for 25 years.

“Cyborg”, appropriated likewise by the same folks at the same time, seems to have been left behind. I guess queer cyborgs is just too much fun for the internet to handle.


Like many words, it’s about company for me. I don’t think queer is quite like f****t or the n-word, which I won’t ever use. Maybe because the work to reclaim it from pejorative-ness was more sucessful? I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem as intrinsically insulting.
Anyway, I’ll use it in the company of close friends, people who know I am not using the word as an insult and whom I know will not be uncomfortable. Any other time, I use LGTBQ or LGBTQ+. I don’t know if any LGBTQ person I’m speaking with will find that word hurtful and, frankly, they put up with enough shit already.
ETA: I would like it if queer finally shed all the negative baggage. It’s a pretty word in my mind


Which is why I will continue to not use it.

Which is why I appreciate it. However, I am far less concerned with whether I can use it (because I won’t regardless; as you point out, there are plenty of options available to me), than I am in how editorial decisions like this are made and the impact that has on the broader cultural adoption of such a word. If, for instance, the NY Post or Fox News used the term, it couldn’t help but be colored by their overall anti-LGBTQ+ bent and would become intrinsically offensive the same way that Exxon commercials touting their green credentials are. As offensive terms become reappropriated, the media is at the center of their adoption and I’m sort of surprised at the readiness of various organizations to implement this specific term.


Cis-het guy here so feel free to discount my opinion completely since I have no skin in the game here other than as an ally: I think context matters. Some of these terms need not be slurs – unless they are used as one, and I don’t think it’s hard to tell the difference.

I don’t know if in general that I’d refer to someone using a label describing to their sexuality unless it was particularly relevant to the topic at hand – and even then I’d give it some consideration to make sure it’s appropriate and germane.


That and I’d probably wait until they described themselves with that label.

Something I just tripped over while looking for something else:


I’d like to also point out that the term “queer” was also sort of a specific political position with regards to gay rights? Like some people who embraced the term in the 1980 and 1990s during the ACT-Up movement did so because for some it was about rejecting heteronormativity as a LGBQT+ person. When I think of artists like Coil or Vaginal Davis or Pansy Division, they were not only out and proud, they were rejecting the need to conform to hetero ideas about love and sexuality… They were less interested in getting married and settling down in the suburbs next door to their straight peers. They wanted to be accepted on their own terms. Which, who the fuck doesn’t want that really?


I’m in the same boat as far as identity, but a debate that happened between a few people I love arguing in good faith kind of firmed up my understanding. On one side was a (very slightly) younger friend who felt it was the best term to capture the nuance of their experience. One the other was a (very slightly) older friend who will never accept the term because it was said during his own experiences of violence, as well as during an attack which landed his father in the hospital. We’re a couple of decades into it being common in academic parlance and various community reclamation. We’re also living in a world filled with the very real scars, both physical and mental, of the terms use. Try to approach both use and unwillingness to accept it in good faith and judge each situation individually. I have a feeling we are decades from the language shaking out, if even then.


I wonder how much of an impact this has had on the usage and connotations of the word?


I use the word all the time, often to self describe. My friend group are mostly also the type to also use words like queerdo (portmanteau of queer and weirdo) to self describe. Queer has never been a slur to us, it’s an academic term and an umbrella term for the community. Enby has supplanted gender queer as my default word for non binary folks but I also still say gender queer.

I’m in my early 40’s, I realize there are older people who still see it as a slur but I really doubt it will fall out of academic usage at this point.

I understand why cishet folks would want to be careful with the term, but I do have a little less patience with anyone trying to reject Queer Studies and Queer Theory as the thing that you just call those fields of study. There isn’t really an accurate way to describe a queer reading of a text except those words. It’s jargon. It means a particular thing.

My straight partner uses the academic terms and uses the term when appropriately speaking about the community and has never been questioned about it.