Jewish World Review May 3 2004/ 12 Iyar, 5764
Sticks and Stones
For years society has been under the impression that using the "q" word to describe homosexuals was considered derogatory name calling. In grammar school it was a word that a kid would sometimes use to insult another kid in a major way. "Queer," "spastic," and the ever popular "fatso" were the insult words of choice at my elementary school. Most of us grew into adults with the understanding that "queer" was a word that was completely offensive and, unless one's purpose was to insult and antagonize, should be avoided. Well, times have changed. Suddenly queer is an acceptable word.
Homosexuals have used the word freely amongst themselves for years, even as they condemned the word as being homophobic when uttered by the rest of us.
But just as increasing numbers of homosexuals have come out of the closet, so has the dreaded "q" word. At first homosexuals only used the word in public during gay rights parades and demonstrations - often carrying placards that read: "We're here and we're queer!" Now the word is used openly and loudly everywhere. The enormous success of the cable show, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" has made the once offensive term now okay for all of America.
The word is slowly but surely becoming less of a disparaging epithet and more of an alternative label for "gay."
Personally, I welcome the change. To my way of thinking, it accomplishes two things: first, by repetitive use in a normative, benign fashion, the word queer becomes less of a slur; secondly, queer better describes the homosexual condition than does the word gay. To prove my point, just go back to the root meanings of both words.
Remember, the original definition of gay: "showing or characterized by cheerfulness and lighthearted excitement; merry." By that definition, it is true that all homosexuals may be gay some of the time, and even some homosexuals may be gay all of the time, but not all homosexuals are gay all of the time (with apologies to Abe Lincoln regarding his famous quote on fooling the people). Therefore, gay is an inadequate label. It defines an emotion, not a community.
On the other hand, the original definition of queer: "deviating from the expected or normal," is the perfect label. Although I would probably get an argument from the moral equivalency crowd, I believe that homosexuality is indeed a deviant of heterosexuality - heterosexuality being the norm. Unless one is prepared to say that there is no such thing as "normal" in anything in the world - as indeed many socially progressive academics are prone to do on our college campuses - it stands to reason that heterosexuality is the normal condition for human reproductive activity, and homosexuality is not.
I'm a firm believer in calling people what they are. I prefer janitor to maintenance engineer; teacher to educator; and housewife to stay-at-home-mom. I'm a writer not a journalistic expressionist. I'm an American, not a European-American. All things being equal I would rather homosexuals called themselves homosexuals, but if we must have a euphemism then let's at least have an honest one. Queer is an honest euphemism for homosexual.
So I say three cheers for the queers! If the name sticks it will be a win for intellectual honesty. Then maybe the word "gay" can go back to its original meaning at long last. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all be happy and gay again without it being a social statement? Happy and gay - it might sound queer to us now, but once we get it straight it's a great word.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a
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© 2004 Greg Crosby