Sarah Grace Goolden
I think labels get a bad reputation. Often times, people believe labels are a way to divide everyone and isolate those who do not fall within that same demographic. I don’t believe that is always the case. One might identify with something because they feel pride in that aspect of themselves, especially in the cases of culture or ethnicity. “Not seeing color” is an unhelpful and sometimes harmful attitude to have towards those of different races. Labels can create a sense of identity and community and bring individuals together. That is especially true in the LGBTQ+ community.
The acronym LGBTQ+ itself exists solely because of labels. It can be empowering to those who may finally feel like they have found a word to describe themselves. After years of confusion and possibly trying out different labels that didn’t work, it’s a relief to find one particular word that fits like Cindarella’s slipper. But what about the people who feel like they’ve tried on every kind of shoe they could find and nothing feels quite right?
There is a push for people to label themselves. It’s efficient. In order to profit from the masses, they must be categorized. There are articles of clothing exclusively for women or for men. To make it even easier, the store is split up into sections by gender. Even in a more liberal setting, pride parades often have free buttons with every sexuality and gender identity you could think of. What about those that stare into that box of bright colors, surrounded by like-minded people, and still don’t find the one they think is them?
The thing that most people don’t realize is that that feeling is completely normal. Not everyone is going to fit neatly into a box checked “gay” or “straight.” Even the other boxes may not describe everyone either. That is completely okay because human sexuality is not that simple. One cannot take a test and get clear results back. More than that, sexuality exists on a spectrum, not a multiple choice test question.
Because of this, the word “queer” has been adopted as a label for one’s sexuality. While it also exists as an umbrella term for non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender people, it is also an identity on its own. But what does queer mean?
The most important thing to know about the word queer is that it was first and foremost a slur. While some have found empowerment in it and have begun to reclaim it, there are still plenty of LGBTQ+ people that find it offensive or just do not connect with the word. It’s important not to generalize people as ‘queer’ just because it can be all-encompassing.
There are plenty of reasons one might call themselves queer. There is the old bisexual vs pansexual debate. Some argue that bisexual is exclusive of trans or non-binary people while others think of pansexual as being a hypercorrection to the term bisexual. Some feel that queer resolves this issue of semantics. Of course, this is not to say that bisexuality and pansexuality are not valid and inclusive labels because they absolutely are.
Queer can also feel right to trans folks who are attracted to the opposite gender but do not feel that the word ‘straight’ describes them.
Sexuality is a very personal thing. It can take a really long time to truly understand yourself and your experiences. Most importantly, it is not one size fits all. Queer is whatever queer means to you. It has a right to exist in the LGBTQ+ community and in everyday life. Queer is inclusive and empowering for those who identify with it. For some, it’s a relief. Queer can be a label without the strict boundaries that a lot of sexualities suggest.
A lot of people don’t understand identifying as queer. Maybe in the future, it will be normalized and not questioned so harshly. Those who openly call themselves queer often get met with a barrage of question, some more prying and intimate than others. “What does that mean?” is a common and harmless one. However, questions get intrusive and even offensive when they branch into “Well, who do you want to sleep with?” and “I’ve never heard of that” or the dreaded “Isn’t that just bisexual/pansexual/gay?”
It’s important to understand that the only person responsible in identifying yourself is you. No one else can tell you what you’re feeling and who you are attracted to. People may try to simplify or edit your identity to make it into something they are more comfortable with, but that doesn’t change anything about you. If the word queer feels like your Cinderella slipper, there is no one on this Earth that can tell you otherwise.
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