“Queer” Defined


The word queer is a noun, an adjective, a verb, a theory, an insult, an identity, a movement, and a culture with its own language:

(noun): generally refers to a queer person, meaning someone who challenges gender or sexuality norms. (adjective): strange; different; “[worthless, counterfeit, questionable, suspicious, eccentric, unconventional, obsessed, homosexual]” (1); something out of the norm (2)

(verb): “to spoil the effect or success of” (1); “to put or get into an embarrassing or disadventageous situation” (1); to revisit or alter history, culture, tradition, etc., for example, “queering history” could mean review hisory through a “queer (as in LGBTetc.)” lens

(theory): “an approach to literary and cultural study that rejects traditional catagories of gender and sexuality” (1); Eve Sedgwick is often considered the founder of queer theory; Sedgwick is “a queer theorist in the tradition of Derrida, Focault, and Butler” (6); Teresa de Lauretis is “often credited with inaugurating the phrase ‘queer theory’,” but “abandoned it barely three years later, on the grounds that it had been taken over by those mainstream forces and institutions it was coined to resist” (10); http://www.queertheory.com/

(insult): a derogatory term used against homosexuals and other sexual and gender minorities

(identity): some gender and sexual minority individuals and groups have reclaimed or reapproriated the term in self-identification; both an individual and group identity, intended as an umbrella term to eliminate divides between the LGBTTQQAIetc. (3) community, further uniting its members; “Queer, then, is an identity category that has no interest in consolidating or even stabilising itself. It maintains its critique of identity-focused movements by understanding that even the formation of its own coalitional and negotiated constituencies may well result in exclusionary and reifying effects far in excess of those intended.” (10)

(movement): “a school of thought and studies for the understanding of the diversity of sexualities and cultural expressions” (5); the LGBTQQAI/sexual minorities/gender minorities’ [rights] movement; reclamation of the term as an identity to gain equality by diminishing and eventually eliminating repression and oppression; a counter-movement to religious homophobia and other repressive forces

(culture and language): “queer culture is determined by the structures and labels imposed upon it by an external mainstream culture (the so-called ‘hegemony’) is belied by the existence of queer language” (7); “a significantly large proportion of labels arise from within or from the margins surrounding a queer subculture” and “they are terms indigenous to queer culture, self-generated and self-cultivated” (7); “Queer language is not something that is new to modern times” (7)


“‘(…) queer’ is of Scottish origin and in 1508 meant ‘strange, peculiar, eccentric'” (8); “‘Queer’ was written as a verb in 1812 and meant ‘to spoil, ruin'” (8); “About 100 years later, around 1935, ‘queer’ began to be used as a noun in replace of ‘homosexual’ and was based off of the verb.” (8); “Once the term ‘queer’ was, at best, slang for homosexual, at worst, a term of homophobic abuse. In recent years ‘queer’ has come to be used differently, sometimes as an umbrella term for a coalition of culturally marginal sexual self-identifications and at other times to describe a nascent theoretical model which has developed out of more traditional lesbian and gay studies. The rapid development and consolidation of lesbian and gay studies in universities in the 1990s is paralleled by an increasing deployment of the term ‘queer’. As queer is unaligned with any specific identity category, it has the potential to be annexed profitably to any number of discussions. In the history of disciplinary formations, lesbian and gay studies is itself a relatively recent construction, and queer theory can be seen as its latest institutional transformation.” (10)

Other Definitions, Thoughts, and Quotes:

“‘Queer’ is a word with an evolving history, and a word whose potential reclamation for the positive is discussed today.” – A Feminist Theory Dictionary (8)

“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence.” – David Halperin (4)

“The conventional translation of queer would be ‘homosexual’, however in this context it is referring more to a ‘non conformist’ or ‘dissident’ attitude. ‘Queer’ is a term that has been generated in a different culture, which in its Spanish use does not have an immediate equivalent to the meaning that is implied in English. The ‘queer’ movement refers to a school of thought and studies for the understanding of the diversity of sexualities and cultural expressions. The defining element of the queer studies arises from a position of resistance.” – Note from the Editor, an interview taken from “Feminist Debate” Year 8, Vol. 16, October 1997, Mexico (5)

“Broadly speaking, queer describes those gestures or analytical models which dramatise incoherencies in the allegedly stable relations between chromosomal sex, gender and sexual desire. Resisting that model of stability – which claims heterosexuality as its origin, when it is more properly its effect – queer focuses on mismatches between sex, gender and desire. Institutionally, queer has been associated most prominently with lesbian and gay subjects, but its analytic framework also includes such topics as cross-dressing, hermaphroditism, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery. Whether as transvestite performance or academic deconstruction, queer locates and exploits the incoherencies in those three terms which stabilise heterosexuality. Demonstrating the impossibility of any ‘natural’ sexuality, it calls into question even such apparently unproblematic terms as ‘man’ and ‘woman’.” – Annamarie Jagose (10)

“If homosexuality is a disease, let’s all call in queer to work: Hello. Can’t work today, still queer.” – Robin Tyler (9)

“Queer: Once a pejorative, now a reappropriated term used by those who are attempting to dismantle the gay/straight binary and replace it with the idea that human sexuality is less an ‘either/or’ thing and more a spectrum onto which people fall in many different places.” – Michaela S.


(1) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/queer

(2) http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=queer

(3) https://allforalltodosparatodxs.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/alphabet-soup/

(4) http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-butl.htm

(5) http://www.lolapress.org/elec2/artenglish/butl_e.htm

(6) http://chelm.freeyellow.com/queer_theory.html

(7) http://rictornorton.co.uk/social23.htm

(8) http://afeministtheorydictionary.wordpress.com/2007/07/15/queer/

(9) http://gayrightsmedia.org/2003/queer-quotes/

(10) http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-Dec-1996/jagose.html

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One Response to “Queer” Defined

  1. Pingback: Alphabet Soup | All Rights for All – Todos los derechos para todxs

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