To Be "Queer": A Brief Linguistic History

To Be "Queer": A Brief Linguistic History

What does it mean to reclaim a word?
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Merriam Webster defines the word "queer" as “worthless, counterfeit," "questionable, suspicious," differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal," or "often disparaging: homosexual, sometimes offensive.”

Is the word “queer” a slur then? If so, why does Western Washington University, and so many other schools, have queer resource centers? Why do so many people, myself included, use “queer” as part of their identity?

Like with so many other things, let's consider the history.

In the early 16th century came the first recorded usage of "queer" in English, which originated from the German “quer,” meaning oblique, perverse. The usage was primarily the same until the turn of the 19th century, the word meaning “odd,” “perverse,” and “outside the norm.” But even before "queer" meant “not straight,” it gained secondary definitions. In the 17th century, "queer" had the secondary meaning of “giddy or drunk.” The first time "queer" was used to refer to a gay person was in the 1840s, that we have record of. John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry, Scotland, wrote a letter to his son, Lord Alfred Douglas, blaming Archibald Primrose, “snob queers like Roseberry,” for his other son Francis’s death.

By 1914, "queer" appeared in L.A. society pages. By this time, “queer” was used both within the community and outside it -- within the community, such as by Gertrude Stein, but outside the community, it was used as a slur. By the 1970s, linguistics scholar Julia Penelope interviewed gays and lesbians for "American Speech," and all knew the term but thought it was used by straight people to shame and show disdain for gay people.

In the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis and epidemic, one group of militant gay people responded with the creation of a group called Queer Nation. They handed out leaflets called “Queers Read This” during a pride march in New York in 1990. They wrote:

“Ah, do we really have to use that word?...Every gay person has his or her own take on it. For some it means strange and eccentric and kind of mysterious. That's okay, we like that. But some gay girls and boys don't. They think they're more normal than strange. And for others ‘queer’ conjures up those awful memories of adolescent suffering. Queer. It's forcibly bittersweet and quaint at best --- weakening and painful at worst. Couldn't we just use ‘gay’ instead. Well, yes, ‘gay’ is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we've chosen to call ourselves queer. Using ‘queer’ is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world.”

During the 1990s, in part because of the success of Queer Nation, “queer” started appearing in academia -- “New Queer Cinema” and “Queer Theory” are two examples. By the 2000s, pop-culture took note with “Queer as Folk” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

Now, “queer” has, for some, become an umbrella term, not just uniting gay men and lesbians, but people across the sexuality and gender spectrums. Why do some words get reclaimed and not others? I don’t know the answer, and there are plenty of people who have devoted a lot more time than I have who don’t know either.

My theory about why "queer" was reclaimed successfully? There were plenty of gay slurs that could have been reclaimed. It was because there was a need for it. LGBT is not fully indicative of the diverse and wonderful community that so many people, myself included, belong to. LGBTQIA is better, but some people are still left out, and it alienates community and non-community members; alphabet soup is not a great rallying cry. Queer, though? It's short, sweet, and inclusive: Exactly the kind of word that the community needed in the past, and definitely needs now.

My favorite thing about “queer” is the irony; it's a word that is supposed to mean "strange," but now, it can give people a common ground, a community, and an identity that unites people rather than divide them.
Cover Image Credit: Outright Vermont

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To The Girl Struggling With Her Body Image

It's not about the size of your jeans, but the size of your heart, soul, and spirit.

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To the girl struggling with her body image,

You are more than the number on the scale. You are more than the number on your jeans and dresses. You are way more than the number of pounds you've gained or lost in whatever amount of time.

Weight is defined as the quantity of matter contained by a body or object. Weight does not define your self-worth, ambition or potential.

So many girls strive for validation through the various numbers associated with body image and it's really so sad seeing such beautiful, incredible women become discouraged over a few numbers that don't measure anything of true significance.

Yes, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle. Yes, it is important to take care of yourself. However, taking care of yourself includes your mental health as well. Neglecting either your mental or physical health will inflict problems on the other. It's very easy to get caught up in the idea that you're too heavy or too thin, which results in you possibly mistreating your body in some way.

Your body is your special, beautiful temple. It harbors all of your thoughts, feelings, characteristics, and ideas. Without it, you wouldn't be you. If you so wish to change it in a healthy way, then, by all means, go ahead. With that being said, don't make changes to impress or please someone else. You are the only person who is in charge of your body. No one else has the right to tell you whether or not your body is good enough. If you don't satisfy their standards, then you don't need that sort of negative influence in your life. That sort of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy in its own regard.

Do not hold back on things you love or want to do because of how you interpret your body. You are enough. You are more than enough. You are more than your exterior. You are your inner being, your spirit. A smile and confidence are the most beautiful things you can wear.

It's not about the size of your jeans. It's about the size of your mind and heart. Embrace your body, observe and adore every curve, bone and stretch mark. Wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable in your own skin. Do your hair and makeup (or don't do either) to your heart's desire. Wear the crop top you've been eyeing up in that store window. Want a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body, simple.

So, as hard as it may seem sometimes, understand that the number on the scale doesn't measure the amount or significance of your contributions to this world. Just because that dress doesn't fit you like you had hoped doesn't mean that you're any less of a person.

Love your body, and your body will love you right back.

Cover Image Credit: Lauren Margliotti

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​'When They See Us' Is The Tough Show Nobody Wants To Watch But Everyone Needs To

Justice was not served.

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Netflix just released a limited series called "When They See Us." The series is based on the Central Park Five. The Central Park Five were five young boys who were convicted of raping a woman jogging in Central Park on April 19, 1989. These young boys did not commit the crime they were convicted of though, they were set up by the prosecutor on the case, Linda Fairstein, along with her fellow detectives.

On April 19, 1989, a huge group of boys went out to Central Park one night "wilding." Cops came and arrested a bunch of the boys who were out. Linda Fairstein came to the scene where the rape happened, with the women attacked hanging on for her life. When Fairstein got to the precinct, immediately she said the boys in the park were the perpetrators. She had the police go out into the neighborhoods and find every young, black/Hispanic male who fit a description they drew up and brought them in for questioning.

What the detectives then did was extremely illegal.

They questioned these 14, 15 and 16-year-old boys without their parents. These boys were minors. These detectives took these boys in the rooms for questioning and started to plot a story in their head, making them say they committed the horrific crime. The boys were saying it wasn't them but the detectives would not let down. They started beating the kids until they "admitted" to this act of rape. One of the boys, Antron McCray, was with his mom and dad when they started to question him. Kevin Richardson was questioned without his mom until his sister came and was basically forced to sign the statement the detectives wrote for him so he could go home.

Yusef Salaam's mother came and got her son just before he signed his Miranda rights away. Raymond Santana was coerced by detectives for hours and hours, along with the others. Korey Wise, who was not in the police's interest at first, was taken and beaten by a detective until he agreed to the story they drew up. These boys didn't even know each other, except Yusef and Korey, and were pinning the crimes on one another because they were forced.

Donald Trump was even supportive of bringing back the death penalty for this case. He wanted the death penalty for five teenage boys. Teenagers. The boys were barely in high school and were being attacked with the death penalty.

At the trial, the lead prosecutor, Elizabeth Lederer, called in the victim of the attack, Trisha Meili. Meili had no recollection of the night after being in a coma for several days. The DNA evidence that was presented at trial did not match any of the defendants. There were no eyewitnesses. They showed the recordings of the interviews of the boys, but they were forced into telling false stories, which none of were merely similar. The case had no supporting evidence whatsoever. But the jury still convicted all five boys, who had to serve out their sentences.

The charges were exonerated in 2002 after the real rapist confessed. But exoneration does not make up for what these young boys had to go through. They were tried as adults at the ages of 14, 15 and 16. Korey Wise was in a maximum security prison at the age of 16. These boys went through something they should have never gone through at such a young age. There was no justice served for the boys or the victim. The detectives pinned a crime on five innocent young boys. These boys had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of actually working to find the real rapist, Linda Fairstein pinned it on five boys and did not do anything by the book while the boys were in question.

The show has brought back outcries about the case, even causing Linda Fairstein to step down from her charity boards. Our justice system still isn't what it should be today, and this show helps with showing us that.

The Netflix series shines a light on the racism of these detectives and the injustice that was served. Ava DuVernay did a tremendous job with this show. It is moving. The four episodes are very hard to watch, but it is so important that you do.

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