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What is queer?
by Rob September 1st 2012, 03:00 PM

What is queer?
By Jen (Arcenciel)

The commonly used initialism “LGBT” stands for the four main "types" of sexual orientation and gender identity groups: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. However, did you know that the initialism is actually longer than just four letters? One version of the very long initialism is "LGBTQQ2IAP." This stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, two-spirited, intersex, asexual, and pansexual. Since these labels are so dynamic, going over all of them would be impossible for a single article. Instead, let’s focus on one of them: queer.

The first Q stands for queer. For a lot of people, the word “queer” was or is still known as a derogatory or swear word to describe gay people. However, members of the sexual and gender minority communities are taking back the word and using it to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What does queer mean? This is a difficult question, because gender identity is different for each person. The word “gay” doesn’t mean the same thing to each person, either. It is all so individual that it is nearly impossible to give the word one definition that covers all of the bases. In short, the word “queer” is an umbrella term used to describe somebody who doesn’t feel that another word accurately describes their sexual orientation or gender identity. This doesn’t mean that a queer person is unsure, questioning, or can’t “get off the fence.”

The gender and sexual identity spectrum is not cut and dry. Many people are not 100% of any one thing. For example, many straight people have had at least one homosexual experience in their life, whether that is having a crush on somebody of the same sex, being curious about homosexual sex, or actually engaging in a sexual or relational experience with somebody of the same sex. In the same way, many people who identify as gay or lesbian have had straight experiences in their lives, and are capable of having feelings for somebody of the opposite sex. Those who identify as bisexual are not 50/50 about who they like, either. Often, a person who is bisexual will prefer one sex over the other.

So, what is the difference between being queer and being gay, lesbian or bisexual? Well, somebody who is gay, for the most part, is a man who is interested in sex or relationships with other men. A person who is a lesbian will say that they mostly prefer to have sex or relationships with somebody who is also a female. Bisexual people may say that they don’t care which gender they have sex with, and that they like both. A person who identifies as queer may have a preference to one gender, but will say that they wouldn’t mind trying things out with somebody of another gender. They may float around on the spectrum freely. In short, queer can be used to describe anyone who identifies as something other than straight or cisgender (the gender one was born with). Also, just because somebody is gay does not mean that they identify as queer, and vice versa.

Another reason why a person may identify as queer would be if they consider themselves anything other than cisgender. In terms of gender, the word queer is used very similarly to how it is used to describe orientation. It is once again an umbrella term that one may use to identify themselves if they don’t identify as cisgender (male or female, as they were born, based on physical appearance). To understand that queer is in relation to their gender rather than sexual orientation, a person may choose to say that they are “genderqueer” instead of just “queer”.

Gender and sexual orientation identity are as specific to one person as their fingerprint. It means something different for everybody, and that is totally okay. It’s up to that one person to find out what feels right for them. Sometimes, people choose to simply not identify with a word, because they don’t want to label themselves. As human beings, we like to put things in categories so that concepts are easier to understand. Putting ourselves in these categories is not mandatory, and not something that makes you any less or any more of a person in both the straight community and the LGBT community.

In conclusion, if you identify as queer, be proud of who you are. Don’t feel like you have to identify as anything you aren’t to make your orientation easier for others to understand. With the knowledge and understanding of what it means to be queer, you can educate your friends and family so that they can have a better understanding of who you are. Take this as an opportunity to educate, not a reason to be ashamed or confused. Love yourself, and be proud that you're "queertastic!"
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