What Does Queer Mean and Stand For?

Not only an identity

The words we use are a vital part of our life, they shape our culture, and they help us describe the world around us – but our language, and its changes, also define people. The world “queer”, which has been reclaimed from being a hurtful slur, is today a term used to define the space in which humans who identify themselves outside of outdated notions of sexuality and gender thrive.  

However, there is a difference between simply reading a definition of “queer” and truly, deeply understanding the meaning that this word takes in today’s society. And, because of the many, conflicting meanings of this world, it can be difficult to create a definition that works – and describes – everyone under this umbrella term. 

For some, “queer” is still a disregarding slur – and can be, especially when pronounced disparagingly. Yet, many embrace this word with pride, using it as the best term to define their personality, gender, and sexual orientation. 

Undoubtedly, the meaning of “queer” will continue to evolve alongside society – but here is what you need to know about how this term is used today. 

Photo by cottonbro

What Does Queer Mean?

The term “Queer” assumes different meanings depending on who you are talking to. Generally, Queerness could be considered an umbrella term that helps people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum define their personality, community, and orientation. Often, people with sexual and gender identities different from straight and cisgender describe themselves as queer. 

While many people who identify as lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual may also identify as queer, the term became more in use as the LGBT movement expanded to include people whose sexuality and gender are complex, changing, and falling out of categories.

It is important to keep in mind that the word “queer” has not always been used with pride – historically, the term was used with disrespect and denigration. So, before calling someone queer, make sure this is something they are happy with – ask them if you are unsure!

Where Does The Word “Queer” Come From?

“Queer” as an adjective became part of our dictionaries during the early 16th century, and it is believed to derive from a German word for “oblique”. For centuries, the term has been used to describe someone or something strange, odd, or peculiar. However, it was not only until the late 1890s, when the term was first used to mean homosexual. 

Since then the term has been used more and more to describe a person’s identity. And, if it was purely derogatory and disrespectful at first, it is used with pride by many today. 

Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind some principles when using this word:

  • It might not be derogatory from within the community, but it can be if used by someone outside of it
  • It is an umbrella term, and not preferred by everyone
  • Some people – especially those who came out during the time when “queer” was mostly an insult – do not feel comfortable being labelled that way.
  • In some places and contexts, queer is still a slur, and many do not entirely feel that the word “queer” has been entirely reclaimed. As such, even within LGBTQ spaces, using the word “queer” can be triggering.
  • “Queer” comes with a level of abstractness, and it is important to call this way only those who self-identify with this term.

Why for many “queer” is not an insult, for others, it can be a triggering word. It is always worth checking that a person is happy with this term before using it. 

Additionally, since it can take on such a great variety of meanings, it is important to better understand what role the term covers in today’s society before using it. Remember, the best way to know more is to ask!

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen

Who Identifies As Queer?

Queer is not a definition for a certain gender or sexual identity, but rather a term that encompasses the myriad of identities and personalities in the LGBTQIA+ and alternative relationships communities, including polyamory and non-monogamy. At the same time, this term does not describe anyone who does not self-identify with it. 

For example, two queer people might have different sexual orientations, such as gay, pansexual, lesbian, bisexual, and gender identities such as transgender, nonbinary, femme, and gender flexible. They can also have different belief systems and relational identities, which might include swinging, open, polyamorous, etc.

In turn, every queer person will sit at a different point from any other in the gender and sexual fluidity spectrum. 

Ultimately, the only way to know if someone is identifying as queer is to ask what label they prefer – if they prefer one at all!

Delving Deeper Into The Meaning of The Word “Queer”

Our language defines us, our culture, and the world around us. But luckily, languages are constantly evolving to adapt to the current societal needs. In some cases, a term can make its way into our everyday dictionary through the sheer determination and passion of people who wish to use it to create a new definition. 

The meaning of queer is still not so far from its original one – different. What has changed is the way today’s society considers this term, how this word has helped people define their identities, and how it has brought together an entire community of people. 

Labels that are used by a person to describe their orientation, personality, and identity are something that no one can create if not that person. In the modern and growing LGBTQQIAAP+ community, queer is a term used to celebrate the differences that are connecting this community. 

Nonetheless, these changes have been very recent, and for some nonbinary individuals, being labeled with the word “queer” can still feel insulting and disrespectful. Additionally, today, there are still controversies within the LGBTQQIAAP+ community regarding who can call themselves queer. 

Photo by Anna Shvets

While providing a precise definition of queer is challenging as this word carries so many controversial, conflicting, and subjective hues, it is clear that its meaning will continue to change and evolve. Keeping up with these changes is key to building a much deeper understanding of what it means and how it is used within society. If you are unsure about how and when it is right to use it – or you are looking to define your own identity – the best way is to open a dialogue with those around you.