‘Queer’ in Name

From the proposal to found Queer Ontario as a successor to its predecessor the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO) to Queer Ontario’s inception, use of the word ‘queer’ was questioned and discussed. Of course the debate regarding usage has long preceded the Queer Ontario process. In Toronto in the late 1980s and early 1990s the term ‘queer’ was taken up in an organized, very public way by the short-lived group Queer Nation. It was fitting, as this group espoused a radical ‘in your face’ approach to social action. They would hold kiss-ins in highly congested public areas, crash straight bars and dance in same-sex couplings and post posters declaring ‘We’re here, We’re Queer, Get used to it’ featuring same-sex people kissing. At the time in the city of Toronto, this was considered brazen.

Two decades later and the term is not necessarily a comfortable fit for everyone. For years, it was and continues to be used as a derogatory term to put someone down for being suspect of being LGB or T. It can conjure up hurtful memories and for many in the senior LGBT generation it can be seen as too informal if not downright crass and insulting. So why use the term at all? Many in the LGBT movement began taking back the term as a political act of reclaiming it as a source of pride. A means of saying, ‘Yes, I am different than most, I’m not ashamed of it and I represent part of what makes our world so diverse.’ It is a throwback to the social pressures to conform to the heterosexist and cisgenderist norms placed on us by society. It is a means of taking pride in the fact that we did not succumb to such pressures and a belief that we represent a true form of diversity, not to mention establishing personal happiness in being who we really are.

At Queer Ontario we use the term “queer” as a way to critique foundational norms pertaining to identities. It is a way of looking at the world through a lens that is decidedly not straight or traditionally or fixed gendered. Positing such a world view can counter hegemonic discourses based on heteronormativity and cisgenderism. These world views can also assist us in advancing our interests in order to serve our needs. We also use ‘queer’ in popular usage as inclusive of a wide range of varying and fluid gender and erotic expression. Queer people, as members of the gender and sexually diverse populations, include but are not limited to 2-spirited, agender, ambigender, androgyne, asexual, bigender, bisexual, cross-dresser, drag queen, drag king, fluid, gay, gender fluid, genderqueer, intergender, intersex, intrasex, kink, lesbian, non-gendered, omnisexual, pangender, pansexual, polysexual, transgender, transsexual, and transvestite individuals. Thus, usage of ‘queer’ is radical in keeping with a liberationist perspective while simultaneously serves to avoid the LGBT…alphabet soup.

The more ‘queer’ comes into common parlance, the more others will be comfortable using it. Embracing the queer liberationist philosophical underpinnings of this term will certainly assist in that process, for both those within queer communities and allies. So even when Queer Ontario finds itself in more formal settings (i.e. political circles, with politicians, etc.) our very presence will serve to educate and demonstrate a proud segment of our diverse society.

– Nick Mulé  –  January 29, 2010