16.3.07

Controversy, come my way...

Of late, I have been questioned about my use of the word queer, most notably in a paper titled 'Bollywood Screen Queens: Indian Popular Cinema's Construction of Queer Diasporas.' While I could ramble on about the appropriation of derogatory language for the sake of empowerment, I choose instead to offer what I consider to be a brilliant working defintion of queer, at least, in regard to my usage of the word.

In a recent interview, my friend, Liz Tymus, defined queer as follows:

“Queer is a socio-political/personal identification. It’s a commitment to nonconformity to heteronormative society. In short, to identify as queer is a rejection of social binaries, ‘straight-gay,’ ‘male-female,’ ‘man-woman,’ ‘prude-promiscuous,’—queer identity explodes the assumption of ‘one or other,’ but rather sees folks as numerous and infinite.”
(Madison Post, February 21, 2007)

Also, UC Berkeley's Gender Equity Resource Center offers a set of basic defintions to words often associated with the queer community.

Please make note, I do not claim that these definitions are fixed or universal. They do, however, provide an accessible point of departure for ongoing conversation(s) about the limitations of linguistic identification.

9 comments:

Parker said...

personally i've never had a problem with any gay synonym in conversations with friends. i've been questioned on my use of the word 'queer' in my resume and it surprised me. i couldn't think of any other word that would mean the same thing or encompass what i want. it's still on my resume.

i guess it all depends on where you're at in your identity 'journey' (and i'm not implying that at the end of the journey you're supposed to be ok with everything). for me, i don't strongly identify with a particular epithet. i say i'm gay, or queer (although queer can describe non-gay people and i'm certainly definitely into women with vaginas so maybe i'm a gay queer. whatever). my community is queer so i don't bother with labels so much. as far as getting more detailed, there's many words for a woman who likes women and none mean anything important enough for me to really care about and latch onto. if someone labels me it doesn't matter what it is as long as it's not said in a derogatory way. this reflects your ending statement of the 'limitations of linguistic identification'. definitions are made to simplify what might otherwise be inconveniently complicated.

so to sum it all up and reiterate what most of us probably already know, we're a little too complicated to be expected to identify ourselves on a queer spectrum (which might be why 'lgbt' has, in a way, become a prefix to queer identifications rather than the end-all be-all) and i don't think it's a queer's job to not identify with a label if they choose to because someone doesn't get it or finds it offensive due to their experiences or environment. we just might need to understand that epistemologies in certain communities and eras are incredibly different and hardly ever reconcile for the sake of harmony and comfort.

emily said...

Using Liz’s well-worded description of queer as a starting point, I feel that such identification can be further limited linguistically through the definition’s very inclusiveness. For example, if queer describes the repudiation of heteronormative social binaries, is it always limited to the sphere of gender studies and sexuality? To history nerd out for a bit, although the term “queer” as pertaining to homosexuality goes back, according to oed.com, to at least 1932, it has been in the English language since the 16th century to describe something eccentric or deviating from the “usual” or “expected,” be that within society or gender. As the definition as Ms. Parker sees has since come to include non-gay people and has perhaps been eclipsed by the lgbt prefix, will queer come to loose it’s 20th century meaning as it becomes increasingly broad in scope? Will it perhaps replace “ally” (a tag I personally find objectionable) as one who supports sociopoliticalblahblahetc equality within sexuality?

JOHN J. said...

Controversy? I guess i was expecting something more, I take it the questioning of the word queer was from a professor? Anyways, the only thing that really bothered me was how you date your blog. I prefer month, day, year.

a.kini said...

i agree with diana's statement that queer is not limited to issues of gayness, but can also be applied to one's worldview (the easiest analogy i can think of is that one can identify as 'feminist' without identifying as 'woman').

and emily, i also find the term 'ally' quite objectionable, especially when it's plastered (in black lettering) on a rainbow, pinned to a backpack in library mall.

i agree that 'queer' is becoming increasingly problematic as it becomes more inclusive (to the point of incoherence). e. patrick johnson has a wonderful chapter in 'Black Queer Studies' (E. Patrick Johnson, Mae Henderson, eds) on the continual exclusivity of queer in the academy: "'Quare' studies, or (almost) everything I know about queer studies I learned from my grandmother." check it out if you get a chance.

Parker said...

is it a matter of accepting non-gay 'allies' because they agree with equality so why not? or is it a matter of becoming ok with excluding those people for the sake of a community with a somewhat common experience of sexuality and gender discrimination? i think the definition of queer is easily expandable compared to other types of 'allies' i.e. people who are against racial discrimination aren't honorary minorities if they aren't one. they're the same but different things and the argument against the expansion of queer is difficult because of the limitations of identification in the first place.

ps. it's nice to see your bitch is alive and kicking john.

Martino H. said...

Hi all.

I am writing only because as an artist and poet I think it could be beneficial to give this dialogue some new dimension. I have always thought of life as 3D...to put sexuality on a linear plane with what has been referred to within the scope of binary heteronormative sexual identities is once again conforming to the 2 dimensional. imagine the cartesian plane.....in a x,y grid we can place men on the x axis and women on the y....the 3rd dimension (z axis, which is of course inherent to reality) is the projections of every actual individual on earth...imagine that.....a 3D grid on which even the pedophile can be charted as falling backward in diemension (mind you I have only a precalculus mathemeatical education)...but when every individual's approach to sexual identity is charted you have a living breathing ball of sexual realities. The queer is not concerned with maintaining heteronormativity and this can somewhat explain the divergence from a 2 dimensional plane. Please know that this illustration is fully thriving and is constantly changing on the fourth dimensional realm of time. We are a universe with ancestors, cohort, and posterity. I think that heterosexuals tend to believe that living outside of the 2nd dimension leads people to fall behind into sexual obscurity and criminality and violence of children and the non-consentual......we queers are actually not behind in obscurity but the living breathing correct dimension of sexual alternative. I have never been able to resolve for myself the nature vs nurture debate because of personal circumstance but I kow I would never identify with objectionable acts that would put me behind the subjective grid. I hope this makes sense to someone besides me. Love you Ash....tell Nutan Martino wrote....i had no idea you were so brilliant at such a young age.

a.kini said...

thanks for the comments martin. i like the image of the axis.

martino said...

Thanks Ash. can I just say that i should totally mention the x and y axis as achetypal behaviors and that in this illustration everyone becomes alternative and queer. If only people expressed just what they mean and what they truly desire. to prove my illustration sound I should say that sexual identities such as masturbator or celibate can be viewed as dynamically by placing the celibate at the origin (as archetype) and the masturbator as the most non committed person...yay. jerk offs get to be transient (as they are in real life). (i do realize that a vast majority of men and women do or have masturbated) voyeurs seem to be a different case entirely...if one masturbates to pornography then i would consider them voyeur.....this is fun.

Anonymous said...

I don't really make use of the word. I've never used it in any other form other than to say "Isn't that queer?" and even that is very random. And whatever I'm looking at must be quite odd or different. Perhaps in my circle of friends, I really don't have any that consider themselves "queer". I'm by all means not sheltered, I just have a handful of really great friends whom I value their opinions, good or bad. All other acquaintances I just do not hold much value in; therefore, I hold little stock in their opinions. People get so offended by what near strangers say to them, but if you hold no value in them, why would their opinions matter? On top of that, I really am not one that requires a whole lot of attention. It's just not necessary, for me. I don't need all eyes on me. I allow others to have their "thunder", I don't out do their stories, and I become the most attentive listener. I'm just an ordinary girl who was asked to make a comment here. Nutan sent me the link... Parsha