Being queer: What it is and what it's not

There are many words that were once used to put people down, bring them shame, make them feel bad about themselves or do harm to them. Communities who have faced this kind of violence sometimes take those words as their own, and use them in a new way to take away the power they once had. This is called reclaiming. ‘Queer’ is one of those words.

When a community reclaims a word like ‘queer’, they get to choose how it’s used and what it means. People who identify as ‘queer’ may have many different understandings or definitions of what the word means, and all of those can be valid. In a very general and broad definition, ‘queer’ often refers to someone who is neither cisgender (when the sex you were born with and your gender are in line with each other) nor heterosexual (i.e. straight).

Who can use words like ‘queer’?

If people outside the queer community use the word, it can still sound hurtful or excluding to people who identify as queer. So rather don’t use it unless the person you are speaking to asks you to use that word. If you’re unsure, ask the person you are talking to. They will be able to tell you if, and when, you can use that word.

Why is the word ‘queer’ powerful?

If you call yourself queer, that is a way of taking the power and shame out of the word and giving it new meaning for yourself. You are saying: You don’t have the power to use this word over me anymore, and I have given it a new meaning of love, strength and hope. It is now my word to celebrate.

Want more information on LGBTQIA+ experience? Read this article: What does LGBTQIA+ mean?


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