Down With The Q Word

By Patricia Nell Warren

These days it's distressing to see the word "queer" mainlined into our arts and culture. There is "queer film," "queer comedy," "queer studies." Recently I was shocked to see it in Publishers Weekly, in their pre-Pride article written by gay staffers. Some people with cultural positions of power are trying to convince the rest of us that this word is now politically correct-that all gay people want to "reclaim" and "re-dignify" it.

To me the word is tainted as deeply as the word "bitch", which as a woman I don't tolerate from anyone. In my opinion, all the PC in the world cannot reclaim the Q word.

The arts and culture that we're creating-novels, nonfiction, academic studies, films, stage performance, visual arts-should be an honest reflection of who we are and where we came from. And yes, the word "queer" is there in our history, like "nigger" is there in black history for black people. But to choose it as our unique identifier of today? No.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because we want the books, films, etc. to find their way into mainstream schools, public libraries, museums, art festivals. Those with the Q word nullify our efforts against hate crime. Part of what we're fighting is hate words...and "queer" is one of those words.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, I've spoken at youth conferences, done parent outreach, served as a commissioner, addressed the L.A. Board of Education. No way would I stand at the front of the room and use the word "queer" and hope to get the message of tolerance across to straight people. Indeed, you will seldom hear the Q word from ANY sensible gay people who work in K-12 education. Gay students are struggling for the right to be safe at school. "Queer" is what our kids get called when they're slammed into lockers or assaulted in the bathroom, along with "fag" and other words.

Blacks aren't on a campaign to "reclaim and redignify" use of the N word by whites. Ditto "beaner," "kike," etc. Jews and Mexicans aren't trying to whitewash these hate words. Nor do Muslim Americans think that "raghead" is positive. School-district name-calling policy aims to get ALL these ugly words out of schools.

On other fronts, there is the effort to pass hate-crime legislation. The landlord who evicts a lesbian couple uses the word "queer." Homophobes in uniform who beat young gay soldiers to death with baseball bats use the word "queer". Indeed, Echo reported on a Phoenix hate-crime where the word "queer" was spray-painted on a Latino man's house. Who knows...maybe "queer" was the last word that Matthew Shepard heard before he died.

I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. As I travel North America to dozens of author appearances every year, I've learned that many others reject and loathe the word "queer". It's time for us to let the Q-mongers know that they don't speak for the rest of us on this.

I do agree that we need one word for all of us. Gertrude Stein said, "A rose is a rose is a rose." There are lots of radically different rose species, including roses without thorns, but the word "rose" covers them all. I wish we had not gotten so separatist about the word "gay". Early in the 20th century, it used to refer handily to everybody of a different sexual orientation-people talked about "gay guys" and "gay gals" and "the gay life."

Whatever word we choose-if we want respect from straight America, we need a word that has a fighting chance of inspiring that respect.


Bestselling novelist Patricia Nell Warren also writes provocative commentary for gay and mainstream publications. Her editorials are archived at www.wildcatpress.com. Email: wildcatprs@aol.com.

Copyright 2000 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

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