Matt Bright blogs:
I have a friend who infuriates me. We spend far too much of our time arguing; the man votes Conservative, quite likes Theresa May, thinks Jeremy Corbyn should probably wear a tie. The morning of Brexit we very nearly never spoke again. We’ve remonstrated at length; I don’t understand how, as a gay man, he can support many of these things, but this post isn’t about how wrong he is (though he’s really, really wrong—just sayin’) but about one of the other things we argue about quite often.
That thing is the word queer.
I love the word. I call myself a queer writer; my first big sale was in Queers Destroy Fiction and I thought that was brilliant. I am not old enough to remember the battle cry of “Not gay as in happy, but queer as in f**k you” but its recurrence in the era of Trump I find vivid and powerful.
His argument against my use of the word is twofold.
The first is that you cannot reclaim words just because you decide to, and as someone who had the word used against him as an epithet as a teenager, he can’t stand the use of the word. This is half right and half wrong; I studied language so I can concertedly say you can reclaim words (language is arguably a constant cycle of claiming and reclaimed, defining and redefining) but as to the second point, I can fully understand why someone would not want to claim that word. Reclamation is always a personal choice, and I find no fault with that.
The second is that, in a world in which we want to be treated equal, where we’ve fought for gay people to be considered normal, why would you choose a word that sets you apart.
It’s normally about ten minutes after this that we stop speaking for a while.
Being gay does not make me special; when I fight for equality I don’t want to be better than someone else, but that doesn’t mean I am necessarily the same. When I had to break away from my family and my upbringing in order to be true to the self I’d decided was who I was, it came with the right to define my life however I wanted. If that becomes marry a partner, get a house, adopt a kid, get a dog—you know, all the normal stuff that’s implied in that word—then that’s great, but if I decide my life is going to have a different shape, that’s fine too. Why do I like the word queer? Why do I not want to just keep quiet and be considered normal? Because there are people all around the world not being given that luxury. There are gay people being put in death camps, being thrown off buildings; there are gay people whose freedoms are constantly threatened by our US government, where the equalities they have earned could vanish. That phrase “Not gay as in happy but queer as in f**k you” resonates because it reminds me that you shouldn’t be silent just to fit in.
There are a million way we can try and further that cause, but the only way I’ve known is to write. I write queer characters, queer stories. I celebrate that this blog is leading up to an event of queer writing, attended by people who read queer books. I celebrate that we can sit together in the middle of a city and enjoy that together; I hope that eventually, that can be the case for everywhere in the world. Maybe then I’ll concede his point, and stop arguing with him, and relinquish the word queer. Until then…well, I guess there’s gonna be a few more awkward silences.