Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Why not Gay India

Some people have asked me about the use of the word "queer". Recently, I also read two messages (extracted below) on a Ryze Network (my Ryze page is here) I am on, Bindaas Bol that raised similar questions. So this posting is in response to the use of the word "queer" and other terms often used, sometimes pejoratively, for gay people and homosexuality.

Message 1 was:

Just an observation.

Why does the GLBT community use terms such as Queer?

Is the word Queer derogatory towards Gays? I have heard it used as a defamatory or derogoatory remark towards gays, so why do they use it?

I see it in the url queerindia.com why not gayindia.com?

Message 2 was:

A lot of the gay people I know use words like queer and queen and faggot and dyke as descriptors when referring to other gay people. When someone who is straight uses the same words, they risk being branded homophobic.

Any thoughts or explanations?

My reply:

You might find these extracted list of terms from a manual on diversity at the workplace useful (my comments in brief at the end):
Queer: There seems to be a split between generations on the acceptability of this term. Many younger gays, lesbians and bisexuals feel the term is refreshingly broad.
Gay: The umbrella term for homosexual persons, although it most specifically refers to men who are attracted to and love men. It is equally acceptable and more accurate to refer to gay women as lesbians. Appropriate, recommended.
Homosexual: People who are attracted to members of the same sex. This is a term invented by psychiatrists around 1890 to describe what they saw as an illness. Most people today are choosing to use gay and lesbian instead. Appropriate, but not preferred.
Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to and loves women. Appropriate, recommended.
Dyke: Derogatory toward lesbians, and at the same time, in-group language for many lesbians. Of uncertain origin, although thought to come from Boadiccia, a woman warrior who allegedly had many woman lovers. Not appropriate for use by straight people.
Fag: Derogatory toward gay men. Leigh Rutledge, author of The Gay Book of Lists, suggests that fag comes from faggot, a bundle of wood used to light fires for burning people. Faggot came to mean the bodies of gay men when they were burned to death in the 14th Century. Used as in-group language among some gays and lesbians. Not appropriate for use by anyone.
Sexual Orientation: –Describes everything that goes into why people are attracted to each other. Sexual orientation takes into account past experiences, current situations, and self-identification. This term is usually preferred to sexual preference because it conveys the fact that most people feel they are gay by nature, not simply by choice. Appropriate, recommended.
Affectional Orientation: Some companies and groups use this lighter-sounding term to mean sexual orientation. Appropriate.
Straight: Common term used to mean a heterosexual person. Although some people of all sexual orientations take issue with the term, there is no better term in common use. “Straight But Not Narrow” reads a popular T-shirt slogan that many heterosexual allies wear. Appropriate. Be sensitive to those who might object.

[end of extract]

I don't consider myself as a "younger gay" and I personally prefer calling myself gay than queer because "queer" is more vague--"queer" could be anything but heterosexual--homo, bi, trans....

"Queer" was (probably still is) used pejoratively to refer to us but LGBT communities in many places have by appropriating the term taken the sting out of it. :-)

For me, "Queer" serves as a broader term, especially in writing, when referring not just to individuals but also discussing subjects like politics, culture, health, films and the queer "community" in general. That's why I write on Queer India and not Gay India.

PS. I don't like the term "straight". I don't know if there's a term to describe words that are derogatory by implication (doesn't straight imply that non-straight people are well, crooked?)