Is “Queer” The Same As The N Word?

The Huffington Post's name change prompts a debate on reclaiming words.

As you may have seen, Huffington Post has recently changed the name of its LGBT vertical from “Gay Voices” to “Queer Voices.”

In many circles, the news didn’t even make a blip—gays have been re-appropriating the word “queer” since the ’70s.

Academics study queer theory. We watch Queer as Folk. My previous employer was Queerty.

Queer As Folk
Showtime

Another demographic heralded the news: Queer is more inclusive than gay—and getting into the LGBTQIA alphabet soup can be problematic.

Writes Queer Voices deputy editor JamesMichael Nichols:

For me, being different from the rest of the world is one of the most special things about being queer…

When I first encountered the concept of queerness in college, my relationship with these parts of myself completely changed. I came to understand, through my studies and joining the community, that these very queer parts of myself were not something to feel ashamed about—they were something truly remarkable.

Queer Nation
Queer Nation

Embracing these pieces gave me the space and agency to explore my identity outside of the baseline constructs of sex, sexuality and gender that the world told me were “normal,” desired and correct.

…It’s hard for me to put into words what it means for me to see “queer” actualized and solidified as a way to talk about the vast spectrum of identities and experiences that we try to elevate on this site.

However, I can say that it is something truly spectacular.

But a not-small minority of readers were outraged. To them, “queer” still has the sting of an insult. Many of them were older, or grew up outside of gay havens like New York and San Francisco.

HuffPo contributor James Peron quit writing for the site over the issue.

Yes, the word is painful. It was a point driven home to me with fists and kicks. It was the word vomited at me by bullies at school. It was one of the words, along with “faggot” and “sissy” that the gym coaches threw at us.

Angry man with full beard shouting at camera
Getty

If you didn’t want to put on boxing gloves and hit another kid in the face you were a fag. You were queer. If someone was queer it was okay to inflict pain and suffering on them because of it. That message came from staff at school, from coaches, house parents, and the older boys. It was pervasive and universal. Let’s all play smear the queer.

And then there was Shawn Lockhart, a.k.a. porn actor Brent Corrigan, who basically said gay people had reclaimed “queer,” the way black people had reclaimed, well…

Y’know, comparisons between the struggles of African-Americans and LGBT people never end well.

“Those aren’t the same things at all,” responded one woman to Lockhart’s tweet. “And also: don’t use the n-word even to make a point. Period.”

So, was Huffington Post wrong to embrace “queer”? Is it still a hate word?

gay novels

I grew up in suburban Baltimore in the 1980s. I was never called queer and I never heard anyone use it—except maybe in a movie. To my ears it’s not inflammatory.

As an insult, it sounds old-fashioned, almost silly—like calling someone a pansy or saying they’re “bent” (which just so happens to be the name of Indiewire’s LGBT vertical.
 

 
So it doesn’t really bother me. The new name is clear and concise. Unmistakable. As an editor, that’s what I care about.

But in the end it’s not the name of a blog that determines its value. It’s the stories it tells, the perspective it brings, the truth it shares.

That’s how Queer Voices should be judged.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery