Queer is an identity, and often considered a movement, for individuals for sexual and gender minorities, and individuals who fall outside of and/or reject the cultural norms around sexuality, gender identity, and/or gender expression. The word queer can mean different things to different individuals, but the most common definition is someone who is not cishet/someone with variant experiences with orientation, gender, and/or sex. The Queer Movement has largely been about anti-conformity and the rejection of binaries and being pushed into boxes. Similar to the term queer is the term variant.
Queer is often used as an umbrella term for those in the LGBTA+ community (though not all individuals in the LGBTA+ community identify as queer). One may identity as queer in addition to another identity (ie, queer gay, queer bisexual, etc). It can also be used be as an orientation on its own or as gender identity (see genderqueer). As an identity on its own it is often found useful by, but is not exclusive to:
- individuals who have a complicated identity that is difficult to explain with a single term.
- individuals whose relationships/orientation cannot be classified using gay, straight, or other common terms due to being non-binary.
- individuals who are unsure of their identity, but know they aren't straight.
- individuals who are not straight but do not want to label themselves with a more specific term.
The term is sometimes capitalized when referring to an identity or community, rather than as a general adjective.
Entering the English language in the 16th century, queer originally meant "strange," "odd," "peculiar," or "eccentric." Over time, queer acquired a number of meanings related to sexuality and gender, ranging from narrowly meaning "gay or lesbian" to referring to anyone not heterosexual or not cisgender.
By the late 19th century, queer was beginning to gain a connotation of sexual deviance, and was typically used as a pejorative term to refer to feminine men or men who were thought to have engaged in same-sex relationships. Throughout the later 19th century and early 20th century the use of queer as an identity within the LGBT+ community went in and out of fashion.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the label queer began to be reclaimed from its pejorative use as a neutral or positive self-identifier by LGBT+ individuals. An early example of this usage by the LGBT+ community was by an organization called Queer Nation, which was formed in March 1990 and circulated an anonymous flier at the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 titled "Queers Read This." The flier included a passage explaining their adoption of the label queer:
"Every gay person has his or her own take on it. For some it means strange and eccentric and kind of mysterious [...] And for others "queer" conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering [...] Well, yes, "gay" is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we've chosen to call ourselves queer. Using "queer" is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world."
At the time there was a perceived shift in the gay community toward liberal conservatism, lead by though who viewed themselves as "normal" and who wished to be seen as ordinary members of society. The queer identity was often associated with a more radical political stance, particularly it was reclaimed by queer individuals of color, gender non-conforming individuals, and other individuals whose existence greatly challenged the status quo who were not accepted by those those of a more conservative view.
In academia, the term queer and queering broadly indicate the study of fields from a non-heteronormative perspective. Queer studies is the study of issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, usually focusing on LGBT+ individuals and cultures. It was originally centered on LGBT+ history and literary theory, but has expanded to include many other fields of study, such as biology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, political science, and ethics.
Several LGBT+ social movements and support groups around the world use the identifier queer, such as the Queer Cyprus Association in Cyprus and the Queer Youth Network in the United Kingdom, and the national counselling and support service Qlife in Australia. The letter Q is commonly added to the LGBT+ acronym standing for queer. Common acronyms that include it are LGBTQ+ and LGBTQIA+.
Some individuals, both LGBT+ and non-LGBT, object to the use of the word for various reasons. Some LGBT+ individuals dislike the use of queer as an umbrella term because they associate it with this political radicalism, which in their view, played a role in dividing the LGBT+ community by political opinion, class, gender, age, and other factors. Other LGBT+ individuals disapprove of reclaiming or using queer because they consider it offensive, derisive, or self-deprecating because of its use by heterosexuals as a pejorative.
Queer is occasionally expanded to include any non-normative sexuality, including "queer heterosexuality," which, by those who argue for its existence, is said to be a (cisgender) heterosexual individual who has non-traditional gender expressions, or who adopt gender roles that differ from those traditionally expected in their culture, such as masculine women and feminine men.
This term has been criticized, and is largely not accepted by LGBT+ individuals, who argue that queer can only be reclaimed by those it has been used to oppress. It can be seen as straight individuals, who do not experience oppression for their sexual or gender identity, appropriating what they see as the fashionable parts of the terminology used by those who are oppressed for their sexuality.
"For someone who is homosexual and queer, a straight person identifying as queer can feel like choosing to appropriate the good bits, the cultural and political cache, the clothes and the sound of gay culture, without the laugh riot of gay-bashing, teen shame, adult shame, shame-shame, and the internalized homophobia of lived gay experience."
Queer heterosexuality should not be confused with straight queer individuals and experiences.
One of the first flags created specifically as the "queer flag" was created by Pastelmemer on or before August 17, 2015. The shades of pink next to each other and shades of blue next to each other represent same-gender attraction. The orange and green are for non-binary individuals. Black and white are for asexual, aromantic, and agender spectrum individuals.
The most commonly known queer flag is the chevon flag, which originated with with a flag made by Tumblr user istudyhumanhope on October 3, 2016. Lavender was used because it’s a queer color. White is used because in white light there are all the colors of the rainbow. The shape was chosen because it is not straight. An alternate version was created by Bizexuals on October 4, 2016, due to complaints about the original being a sensory trigger. This version had a pure white background, but by October 5, 2016 the version with an off white background was created. The off white background represents the queering of identities, and the inherent non-straightness of queer identity. The chevron is reminiscent of militaristic imagery, reminding everyone of queer individuals's pride in the radical anti-assimilation of queer identity.
An alternate version was created by bihetnaomi on December 10, 2016. It was not meant as a replacement pride symbol, but was a suggested alternative as a pride flag.
Another alternate queer flag was created by Tumblr users officialqueer and the-thought-museum on October 3, 2016. It features the colors of the rainbow flag (in pastel to distinguish it from the rainbow flag) and grey in between to represent a spectrum where someone would rather identify as a broader term than be forced to commit to a more specific identity.
Another alternate flag, inspired by officialqueer's flag, was designed by Tumblr user Chara Hates Antis.
Another alternate flag was created by Instagram user willow.ktc on August 2, 2021. The blues represent the spectrum of attraction/identification with masculine terms/individuals. The pinks represent the spectrum of attraction/identification with feminine terms/individuals. The white is for attraction/identification for nonbinary individuals/terms. The broken circle represents that unlike other gender and orientation labels, queer is a free term where individuals don't have to fit a certain box and description.
Tumblr user disaster bisexual designed another queer flag on October 18, 2019.
- Gamson, Joshua (August 1995). "Must Identity Movements Self-Destruct? A Queer Dilemma". Social Problems. 42 (3): 390–407. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3096854?seq=1
- Vice article title "Can Straight People Be Queer?" on queer heterosexuality.