As a Witch & Pagan one of the ideas central to my concept of Magick & the practice of my faith is that Words can be used to shape the self & the world around us in sometimes surprising ways…
In my social media deep dives & wanderings, especially as of late on Ticktok, I have been surprised & delighted with the energy the Queer community as brought to the resurgence of using the word Queer as a group term. I will admit I also enjoy the turning our oppressor’s language against them energy of the phrase ‘Alphabet Mafia’, but today I am talking about the word & experience of being Queer.
Now I must confess, I was never entirely sold on the acronyms or alphabet soup approach to terminology for our community for a number of reasons, some of which I am only just beginning to be able to articulate for myself.
I was born in the early 1970’s, grew up in the 1980’s, & was experiencing the first trials & tribulations of young adult-hood in the 1990’s. It’s strange for me now as I near 50 to look back at the world I grew up in. Society & culture are vastly less homophobic & dangerous for folks like me than they were when I grew up. Not that there is not still a bunch of danger & homophobia out there, but it less ever-present & monolithic than it once was.
On some level I realized I was Queer at an early age. As a result, even though I was not terribly good at hiding my flamboyance, I was theoretically closeted. Theoretically because based on the bullying & bs I experienced in school I am pretty sure the light of my flame burned brightly & occasionally blinded others. It took me years to recognize this as a source of pride & joy, a weird sort of super-power if you will. One of the effects of living a closeted life is a sort of hyper-awareness of one’s environment to look for behaviors that might reveal ones alleged secret, a heightened awareness of references to & about homosexuality & ‘the gay’ community. Everything about the community was referred to as ‘the gay’ community in those days, at least from the perspective of a Queer youth reading the occasional articles & watching news stories. This was also the era where when talking about some issues newscasters would use the phrase “women & other minorities”, it was a very different world in some ways.
Queer as a group term was first popularized in the 1980’s by ‘Gay’ Rights activists & by HIV/Aids activists trying to convince society to give a damn about a pandemic that was killing thousands of people each year. It can be horrifying to realize as a child, that much of the world around you view a plague affecting people like you as killing ‘the right’ kind of people. This is one of the reasons that it is unsurprising that in the current era the Queer community has a roughly 90% vaccination rate against covid.
I remember news stories of protestors chanting “We’re here, we’re Queer, Get Used to It!”. I remember reading discussions of how the experiences of Gay Men & Lesbians had more commonality that difference surrounding their identity & how there needed to be a more inclusive term. I remember reading discussions in the late 80’s or perhaps early 90’s around the word Queer & its inherent flexibility & discussions of how it was expanding the idea of what our community was & could be & could include. Discussions of the Queering of Gender & Sexuality & Relationships in reference to ideas of Polyamory & Pansexuality & Asexuality & being Nonbinary or Trans.
I remember liking the flexibility & inclusivity of the word Queer. I remember encountering news stories of the many ways the Queer community had come together to fundraise & engage in activism & community care & community aid, all in the absence of help from our larger society, we had to come together & do it ourselves.
Then, at some point in the early 90’s I started encountering GLBT & then LGBT. The acronyms were reputedly chosen because some people felt the word Queer as stinging slur based upon their experiences growing up. Even at the time, I kind of felt like maybe it would be more productive for folks to work out some of their mental & emotional issues from childhood rather than go the alphabet soup route. Admittedly, “fag” & “homo” were the preferred slurs in my childhood & area of the country, so that may have influenced some of my thoughts. At the same time though something always felt a little off about some of the arguments for the acronyms at the time. It also felt like we were sacrificing the flexibility & power of a word for a somewhat soulless & less stylish acronym.
In my recent dives into Social media & Ticktok, I’ve had several epiphanies about that sea change of terminology from the early 1990’s.
There were certainly folks who needed to work some of their mental & emotional baggage out regarding the word Queer. There were also any number of Queers who were not comfortable in being identified or associated with ‘those sorts of people’, and just who ‘those sorts of people’ were varied from person to person but I now recognized there was some of that energy in the changeover.
Internalized homophobia & the desire for respectability played a part in it for some. It is worth noting that prior to the era of Stonewall a lot of the Homophile organizations were very much about the politics of respectability, and I cannot help but wonder if there wasn’t some backlash or a pendulum swing away from the militant ‘Gay’ liberation of the 70’s. I also suspect some folks were reacting from places of transphobia, internalized misogyny, internalized patriarchy, internalized homophobia & even racism. I think there was still a lot of work that needed to be done in our community around the questions & issues of what Gender & Sexuality mean for us as individuals and a community. I think all these pressures played into the move towards the acronym. I think in some ways even though the acronym served as a term for our unified community it also served to segregate & separate us & in some ways perhaps even weaken our community & movement at a time when Society was undergoing a pendulum swing regarding Queer people.
Words have power, the power to shape oneself & how one interacts with the world around them. Words, especially when tied together with action & symbolism & Will, have the power to effect change in the world around us I embrace the return of the word Queer and find it an oddly hopeful sign in these troubling times.
Bliss & Blessed Be,
Pax / Geoffrey