Defining “Queer”


(A film by Marcelitte Failla)

Queer is a term with many meanings. Historically, queer has been used as a slur to marginalize gay, lesbian and trans communities. More recently, the idea of “queer studies” has sought to reclaim the word in a positive and critical way. Identifying as queer now means many things to many different people but seeks an understanding of gender and sexual identity as complex and fluid, providing an umbrella term for LGBTQIA-identifying communities. To identify as queer is to reject a heteronormative culture that considers gender and sex as static or fixed. When using the word “queer” it’s important to have conversations about this history, and make sure the term is used appropriately. The Gender Equity Resource Center at UC Berkeley has a great list of ‘definitions’ to consider here.

Developing a “queer mindset” requires a heavy dose of critical thinking that considers the multiple contexts of place, people and history amongst others. Queer thinking is about de-centering our beliefs, thinking carefully about whose story is being told, from what perspective and for what purpose. A training session or professional development workshop does not ensure a complete understanding. The idea of adopting a queer mindset is always ongoing, and changes according to the conditions of circumstance. To get started, consider some of the following ideas:

  • Literacy: understand and become familiar with issues/struggles of sex/gender identity and politics
  • Experience: be open to experiences that may challenge your ideas of what is or is not “normal”
  • Practice: develop a set of practices (some of which are outlined here) that develop a method for embracing a queer mindset
  • Repeat: continue to seek new knowledge and experiences
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