Good points. I always try to use the labels for individual people that those people prefer. And sometimes, of course, I use specific labels when writing about specific issues.

For example, when I’m writing about transgender women systematically excluded from homeless shelters, I’ll confuse the message if I say queer instead of trans.

Many people do use queer as an umbrella term. That started in roughly 1990, and has become popular, but lately another definition has come into existence as people use it to describe sexual orientation or identity, often fluid, that doesn’t fit well with other labels.

And then there’s another problem, and one that I didn’t fully get until I started writing on the Internet. TONS of LGBTQ people really hate the word queer. They receive it as so insulting and so emotionally loaded that they react viscerally against it.

So when I write, I only occasionally throw queer out there as an umbrella term, but I never use it to refer to a specific person unless I know for sure that’s how they identify.

Sometimes a play on words is too much to resist. I once write a short story that I subtitled, “A fairly queer tale,” which from context was a play on “A queer fairy tale.”

Clever-ish and most people appreciated it, but I still got some strong push back from people so turned off by the subtitle that they didn’t even want to read the story.

So there’s a tension between continuing efforts to reclaim and detoxify, a process that clearly isn’t finished yet, and to use labels that work well.

Written by

Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com

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