One of my favorite comedians is John Mulaney, and he has an iconic line in one of his acts: "When comparing the badness of two words, and you can’t say one of the words, that’s the worst one." I think about this every time someone tries telling me that the word "queer" is just as bad, or worse, than "the n-word."
Because, obviously, no … it's not.
But why do some people hate the word so much? And why do others defend it so passionately?
The word "queer" has a long history.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review writer Merrill Perlman, the word “Queer” originated in 1513 and meant “strange.” Since then, it’s had a bit of a journey:
“The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang says the adjective queer began to mean ‘homosexual’ about 1914, mostly in the United States, and notes it was ‘derogatory from the outside, not from within,’ a hint that it was being embraced as a self-description even then,” said Perlman.
Now many LGBT people have “reclaimed” the word and embrace it. They proudly refer to themselves as such. They wear it like a badge and see it as a way of taking away ammunition from homophobic people. If LGBT people are proud to be called queer, then homophobic people can’t insult them with it. I feel like it’s worth mentioning that this all began happening in the midst of the AIDS crisis, which gave it a more powerful meaning as well.
This is all great and good, yet some LGBT people don’t think so. There are many LGBT people who feel like it’s still an offensive word, and even go as far as to call it the “Q-Slur.” There have been many arguments. LGBT people are arguing with each other, probably as you read this sentence, about whether or not they’re oppressing each other with this word.
Really, it’s just yet another way of the LGBT community tearing itself apart from the inside, similarly to the many “gatekeeping” arguments.
I believe that the word “queer” is a good way of empowering yourself. Assuming you’re LGBT, obviously. And if you don’t like it, if it makes you uncomfortable, then don’t use it, and simply ask others to not refer to you by it. But you can’t get mad over them referring to themselves by it.
What we should not do is compare it to “the n-word.” I cannot stress how much we should not do that. Why would anyone do that? It completely baffles me. It isn’t on the same level at all. People have used “the n-word” argument as being both for and against saying “queer.” the people who are for it say that if African-American people can take back “the n-word,” then LGBT people should be able to take back the word “queer.” On the other side of the same, dull coin, people who are against it say that if “the n-word” is so bad, then saying “queer” is equally bad. The issue here is, if you aren’t African-American, you don’t get to judge the goodness or badness of a word specifically for them and their community.
Things like this, people’s suffering, is not a competition. There are no levels. There shouldn’t be any comparing of suffering. Just because one group was oppressed doesn’t mean you get to use them and their suffering as a way to get what you want. That’s unfair and really undermines the struggles they went through.
So if you want to use the word “queer,” go for it. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But don’t say that you should be allowed to or not be allowed to because it either is or isn’t “on the same level” as the “n-word.” Why would you stoop so low?