People often ask me exactly what I mean by ‘queer’ and why I distinguish it from ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’. This was my response, and this is what queer means to me:
Queer is typically used in two ways:
1. Queer is used as an umbrella term to try to include everyone who isn’t entirely normative in terms of sexuality and/or gender. It’s a way to get around the alphabet soup of saying “LGBTQIAA+”, because there are so many identities that someone ends up getting left out. Also, many people don’t fit neatly into those identities. For instance, if a femme lesbian dates a straight identified trans man, what are they? She’s not straight, but he’s not a woman, and neither should have to sacrifice their identity. We don’t have categories for that relationship, or for many others. The rigid sex and gender categories of traditional LGBT just don’t work so well for a lot of us, and queer allows for contradiction, and inclusion, and grey areas.
2. Queer is a term that is affiliated with a political position. It was associated with the radical AIDS politics of ACT UP, so it was about rejecting assimilation and celebrating what makes queer people different. If I had to put it in a tiny nutshell, I would say that queer politics is about not wanting to be what is considered “normal” in terms of gender and sexuality. Queer politics is about questioning those “normal” things. For instance, it’s about asking why we only have two genders. Let’s just make more gender categories. Why do we have to have only one partner? Who says? Why do relationships have to progress toward marriage in order to be considered serious? Etc. Traditional gay/lesbian politics say: “We’re just like you, so you should accept us as your own.” Queer politics say: “We’re different from you, and we like how we are. Get used to it.”
Personally, I identify as queer for three reasons: First, queer politics are important to me; Second, I want to identify myself with a community that includes lesbian, but also bi and pansexual women, and doesn’t exclude trans or nonbinary people; Third, while I am female identified, I’m not woman identified, and to me personally, that’s part of what a lesbian, as opposed to a queer identity would mean.