Queering queer

Chase Strangio is mad at the Times.

Oh no, how will they go on?

Who tf is PP? Besides Posie Parker, who isn’t a Times columnist. So I had to go to all the trouble of Googling. It’s a column by Pamela Paul on Queering the LanGuage. Is Pamela Paul generally known as PP? Is she a household name? Not that I know of.

So anyway.

Last month, the new president of the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, Kelley Robinson, posted a six-and-a-half-minute video to introduce herself and frame the mission of her organization, which was founded 40 years ago by the gay activist Steve Endean to help fund political campaigns for pro-gay-rights candidates. In the video, Robinson talked about voting rights. She talked about transgender kids in school. She talked about abortion access and workers’ rights. She said a lot of things, including getting “to a world where we are free and liberated without exception — without exception — without anyone left behind.”

Not once, however, did she say the word “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual.”

Aha, another one of those disappearing words situations. Planned Parenthood and NOW avoid ever saying the word “women,” even when talking about abortion rights, and now we’re told the Human Rights Campaign avoids “gay” and “lesbian.”

The word “gay” is increasingly being substituted [displaced] by “queer” or, more broadly, “L.G.B.T.Q.,” which are about gender as much as — and perhaps more so than — sexual orientation.

Which means among other things that precision is being lost. The umbrella initials are an umbrella, and sometimes one is talking specifically about lesbians or gay men, in which case an umbrella gets in the way of precision and clarity.

“It is quite often a generational issue, where younger people — millennials — are more fine with it. Gen Xers like myself are somewhat OK with it. Some you might find in each category,” Jason DeRose, who oversees L.G.B.T.Q. reporting at NPR, said of the news organization’s move toward queer. “And then older people or boomers, maybe, who find it problematic.”

Blah blah blah – but it’s not just a matter of “being ok with it” or not. It’s a matter of being able to say what you mean as opposed to having to veil your meaning behind a lengthening string of initials. NPR in its usual mush-brained way confuses verbal precision with feefees. Chase is embarrassed by the Times and I’m embarrassed by NPR.

Let’s be clear: Many lesbians and gay people are fine with this shift. They may even prefer umbrella terms like “L.G.B.T.Q.” and “queer” because they include people who identify according to gender expression or identity as well as sexual orientation.

But those are not the same things, and it’s not always useful or even “kind” to include more and more items in a definition. Language can’t be infinitely “inclusive” that way or it ceases to function as language.

 “Queer” can mean almost anything, and that’s the point. Queer theory is about deliberately breaking down normative categories around gender and sex, particularly binary ones like men and women, straight and gay. Saying you’re queer could mean you’re gay; it could mean you’re straight; it could mean you’re undecided about your gender or that you prefer not to say.

So everyone can join the club, all shall have prizes. But if you want to talk about lesbians? Well, sorry, that makes you suspect, so you’ll have to go back 500 turns.

“Queer” carries other connotations, not all of them welcome — or welcoming. Whereas homosexuality is a sexual orientation one cannot choose, queerness is something one can, according to James Kirchick, the author of “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.” Queerness, he argues, is a fashion and a political statement that not all gay people subscribe to. “Queerness is also self-consciously and purposefully marginal,” he told me. “Whereas the arc of the gay rights movement, and the individual lives of most gay people, has been a struggle against marginality. We want to be welcomed. We want to have equal rights. We want a place in our institutions.”

Also, there are far more interesting and useful ways to be marginal. Be more thoughtful or useful or generous or altruistic than most people. Surprise us!

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