When I read that The Huffington Post's "Gay Voices" page was being changed to "Queer Voices," I felt a pang.
The pang got my attention because I don't have a painful history with the word "queer." The fact that I don't compelled me to take a deeper look at the argument, and my reaction, from all angles.
I understand and respect the word "gay" -- even as an "umbrella term" -- is not an inclusive or "appropriate" distinction for the myriad definitions of "natural inclinations" such as transgender, pansexual or polyamorous. (I use "natural inclinations 'because gender identification and sexual orientation are not "preferences").
I understand and respect that the word "queer" is offensive to people who have been subject to it as a slur and in tandem with violence.
I also understand and respect those for whom the word "queer" is just as fine as "gay" and "own it" as a show of empowerment or a full embrace of "being unusual."
My experience may be out of the norm compared to most gay people. My family did not reject me. I had more problems with bullying and teasing before I came out of the closet in 1986 than after. I've rarely faced violent homophobia.
All of that considered, what exactly was bothering me about the word?
Expressing through words is one of my passions. I love words, although my training as a metaphysician has required me to deconstruct them and learn how to be less attached to them.
Like many others, one of my first "go tos" was the actual definition of the word "queer": "odd," "strange," "questionable nature," "shady" or "offensive and disparaging slang for homosexual."
As a "language person," I've never liked the word "queer" regardless of connotation. I don't like how it looks when it's written or the phonics of it. It sounds "ugly" to my ears.
When people started chanting, "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" in the 1980s or '90s, I wouldn't join in. The rhyme got the point across, but I wasn't going to call myself "queer."
In that context, a word I already didn't like became a label, and a blanket label at that. I felt I was being put in a box I didn't want to be in.
Ultimately, that is the source of why the section name change bugged me.
However! That is exactly what those feeling excluded by the word "gay" are saying. A transgender or polyamorous person is not necessarily a "gay" person and feels as boxed in by that word as I do by "queer."
Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Polyamorous. So on and so forth. All "just words." All labels. They all suck.
We may gravitate towards or choose one as an identifier, but they are all limiting in scope. None of them cover our complexities. They force many, if not all of us, to squish into teeny little boxes so we can easily define ourselves, or so the world can "deal with us comfortably."
As much as I didn't choose to be gay, I didn't choose to be called gay either. This current argument made me realize I merely assimilated. Growing up, "gay" was the most common "non-clinical" term I saw used to describe a homosexual. I "soaked it up" as a definer and have chosen to remain OK with it.
I understand the need for simplifiers. We assign words and labels to things.
Even so, there will likely never be just one word, or even an acronym, that describes the vastness and diversity of what no longer makes sense to call the "gay" community (unless we're referring only to homosexual men and women).
While "Queer Voices" is just as limiting as "Gay Voices," it is only being used as the title for a Huffington Post section. The editors have not unilaterally decided that the "gay community" is now going to be called the "queer community."
Is it possible that's an endgame? Perhaps.
One of the current defenses of the word "queer" is that words evolve and change meaning over time. That is accurate.
After all, does anyone in today's world use the word "gay" to describe when they're feeling happy? I'd say the word "gay" has been quite successfully re-appropriated to strictly mean homosexual.
I think the word "queer" has a more uphill battle to mainstream usage because of its original, negative definition, but 50 to 75 years from now, it may very well be the blanket term for all "natural inclinations."
What I have not appreciated about the "gay vs. queer" argument is the "if you're not with us, you're against us" mentality that I've witnessed from both sides.
I don't like that some are (apparently) being told, "See ya! Don't let the door hit ya on the ass on the way out!," just because they have a problem with the word "queer."
At the same time, I don't like the inference that if I choose to "get past" the word "queer" and continue to submit blogs to this section of The Huffington Post, it means I am some sort of self-loathing traitor.
Neither response is inclusive. Frankly, those reactions are just as intolerant as "anti" rhetoric, rejections and vitriol from family or elements of society.
The complexities of the argument are not lost on me. I have few clear answers, except one, for myself.
I didn't boycott either the British or American Queer As Folk series because the word "queer" was in the title. It hasn't stopped me from watching an episode or two of Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, or laughing when the word "queer" is played with on RuPaul's Drag Race.
I can't imagine not clicking on this HuffPost page just because I'm not fully in line with the word "queer".
Am I implying that people with a more visceral reaction to the word "queer" need to buck up and get over it? No. I'm well aware of the difficulty of letting go of pain or trauma. This is merely my experience.
Whether I can step outside of my experience and lack of personal identification with the word "queer" far enough to let go of control and potentially be branded a "queer" voice should I continue contributing to this section of The Huffington Post is another story. I have yet to come to that conclusion.