What Does Queer Mean?
“Just because it’s happening and you see it all the time, that doesn’t make its right. If it hurts your feelings, then it’s wrong. If it degrades somebody, humiliates somebody, makes him or her feel small, it’s wrong.” – Rosalind Wiseman
The word, “queer,” has been around for centuries. It has evolved and changed definitions quite a bit until it has become a weapon in today’s world. People use the word to put others down or to make them feel like they are less because of their sexual orientation. Children have even created a game that makes light of a serious topic and furthers the idea that it’s okay to ridicule and cause harm to others based on a piece of themselves that they have no control over. It’s important to become educated on the topic. We need to understand the power that a word such as “queer” holds and the damage it causes when it’s used against someone.
Language experts are unsure of the original form and use of the word, “queer.” You might even say that it has a queer definition. However, it can be agreed that, around the year 1500, “queer” was being used in Scotland, and it was a synonym for “misaligned.”
From there, the term evolved through languages and the usage became more and more varied, although each definition had a negative connotation. For example, in the Scottish culture, if you referred to a “queer bub,” you were talking about a bad liquor. A “queer chant” meant that someone had given a false name. Even further, to “shove the queer” meant to use counterfeit money.
The term “queer” also claimed many other definitions throughout history, including “out of sorts,” “giddy,” “drunk,” and “immature.” By 1915, it was being used to describe someone as “other” or an outsider.
During the 1950s, the term evolved to mean what we know it as today. “Queer” became interchangeable with epithets such as “fairy” or “dyke,” and it was used to degrade and humiliate someone who appeared to be homosexual. And, while the dictionary still defines the word as “odd or strange,” it’s a term we use to label a person who is thought to be outside of the gender or sexual norm.
Making a Game of It
Many children have participated in a game called, “Smear the Queer.” During this game, there is an object that designates who is “it.” The person who is “it,” or the “queer,” must run and dodge through people, while the other players attempt to tackle the “it” person. Once that person has been taken down, the object will be thrown. Other player will stand around the object until someone is brave enough to grab it and make a run for it. Then the chase begins again.
The fact that our society allows such a serious hate word to be made light shows just how much of a problem it has become. We are teaching our children that it is okay to make someone feel bad for our own entertainment. As adults, it’s important to show children the hurt they can be causing, and making fun of others in a mean-spirited way should not be tolerated.
Everyday, children are being bullied at school, in their homes, and even online. Those individuals who identify themselves as gay or lesbian are two to three times more likely to be bullied, and many of those cases lead to attempted suicide. In fact, thirty percent of those suicides were related to a sexual identity crisis. Additionally, nine of of ten homosexual students say that they have been bullied at one time or another based solely on their sexual orientation.
The lives being lost are horrific. The youth are being targeted for a piece of their individuality that they have no control over. The students who manage to survive their teenaged years are not much better off, either. They have suffered an exceptional amount of emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse at the hands of their peers.
To illustrate the damage caused by queer bullying to your child, give them a clean piece of paper. Instruct them to crumple, stomp, rip, and destroy the piece of paper. Give them about a minute. Then, have them carefully unfold it and attempt to flatten it as best they can.
Explain to them that this paper represents a bullied student. No matter how hard you try, or how much you apologize, the effects of the abuse will always be there. Nothing can truly make that person feel the same way that they used to, and they will have to wear that damage for the rest of their life.
The lesson: While bullying may be temporary in the moment, it’s effects are permanent.
Hate for a certain group of people is often spread through ignorance. All too often, kids who have been punished for bullying behaviors say that they didn’t know that they were causing harm. It’s important to educate your children on the pain that can be inflicted through hateful words.
First, you need to establish an open line of communication with your child. Sometimes talking about difficult topics like sexuality can be scary and a bit embarrassing. But it’s important to have these conversations. Talk about what it means to be gay. Stay away from gory details, but explain that it is just a different kind of love from what we might be used to. It’s also important to avoid putting any religious bias over the conversation. Putting judgement on people by saying that all homosexuals are “sinners” may encourage the bullying behavior. Instead, emphasize acceptance and respect for others.
If your child is a young teen, it may even be necessary to have a “What If?” conversation to discuss your response in the instance that your child were to reveal homosexual feelings. Reassure them that you love them no matter what and that the family will always be there to support them. The goal is to make sure they know that they are not alone. Coming out in today’s world can be challenging on many levels, and your child may need your love and support to get through such a trying time.
If your child is struggling with her or her sexuality, or if you need support, there are many groups that are available all across the country.
- GSA – Your local Gay-Straight Alliance is a great place to start. There are often chapters of this group on high school and college campuses, and they provide the personal support that you or your child may need.
- The Trevor Project – This group was formed with the goal of preventing suicide among LGBT teens. If you are having suicide thoughts, please call their hotline at 1-866-488-7386
- It Gets Better – The project is also dedicated to helping LGBT youth get through the hardest time of there life. They emphasize that, once you get through high school, life gets so much better. They have tons of resources, and they have a huge archive of video testimonials from other LGBT adults that struggled as teens.
- PFLAG – It stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It is a support group specifically created to help those who are struggling with the idea of a loved one being gay. Through this program, you can find meetings and meet people who are going through the same struggles. Through PFLAG, you can get advice, find an understanding ear, and ultimately learn to accept your loved one for who they are.
The Definition of Queer in 2014
While the word is still used as a derogatory name, some LGBT youth are adopting the label to mean something new. At the start of the gay civil rights movement, which was brought to a new height in the 1960s, no one would want to be labeled as a queer. However, today’s teens are attempting to take away the negative connotation that has been surrounding the word for such a long time.
Now, if one identifies their person as “queer,” they are announcing that they are questioning their sexuality, but they haven’t yet made a concrete discovery about who they are. They may not identify as solely lesbian, or they may simply be questioning. However, they do not feel as though they are straight, either, so they choose to adopt a new category. Others who identify themselves as queer may prefer heterosexual intercourse, but they have odd preferences that put them outside of what is considered “normal.”
Either way, it seems as though our society prefers the more fluid definition of the word because it provides an umbrella term that many will fall under.
The word “queer” has gone through many languages and transformations, but it has always had a fairly negative connotation. Because of this, it creates the idea that being “queer” is a bad thing. People are still using this word to degrade others based on a part of their person that they have no control over.
Bullying someone based on their perceived sexuality is no longer acceptable in our society. In fact, bullying of any kind is no longer being tolerated. Adults have become aware that aggressive behavior is too harmful to be allowed, and it’s becoming very important that the activity is put to a stop. The increase in suicides is one of the major reasons for this policy change. There have also been support groups created to help those who are struggling.
To truly define queer is a challenge because it has had so many definitions in the past, and even today’s world is divided between using it as an insult and using it to define a person as merely “different.” However, it is easy to agree that harming someone simply because they are “queer” is unethical, and our society needs to put it to an end.