The Comeback of Queer

by Nadira Kharmai
photo by Two Eagles Marcus

emily gilson_3766-620
“It’s not about biological sex as so much it’s about chemistry and the energy between two people.” – Emily Gilson

You’ve probably heard the term used in a derogatory fashion; “smear the queer” (Gosh, I despised that game in elementary school). Anti-gay protestors often spewed out words like “queer” in a disgusted, hateful manner during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s; an era infamously known for the Stonewall riots. That was a time where brutal demonstrations and attacks against the LGBT community along with police raids at gay/lesbian clubs were at an all-time high, according to The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement by Barry Adam.

In today’s times, the word is making a comeback — in a positive sense. Actually, since the late ‘80’s, people in bigger cities like Los Angeles and New York, have used the term in reference to academics, theory, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Things take a little time to develop here in West Michigan, and that’s OK.

The word “queer” is proudly used by many for gender identity and sexual orientation. It’s being reclaimed as an umbrella term of identity that encompasses more than just being a man or a woman. It also goes beyond the L, G, B, and T of the gay community. “Being queer means having a commitment to question categories and binaries,” explains Dr. Laurel Westbrook, a sociology professor at Grand Valley State University.

Let’s break that down. We have the popular categories in our society like straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. We also have the binary roles that have been socially constructed known as male and female/man or woman. Identifying as queer allows a person to be uninhibited from restrictive labels. For example, my good friend Emily Gilson, a local LGBT activist, identifies as queer. For her, she’s open to being with a man, woman, or transgender individual. “It’s not about biological sex as so much it’s about chemistry and the energy between two people,” shares Gilson. You might be asking, “Well, what’s the difference between bisexuality and queer, then?” If we refer to what Dr. Westbrook says about binaries and categories, we can see that bisexuality has been constructed to be black and white; one either is committed to a man or a woman. That’s where gender identity comes into play.

Stay with me, I know it can get complicated, but we as humans are complex individuals. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, and attributes (like masculinity and femininity) that mainstream society has given to men and women, according to the World Health Organization. Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics (what’s between your legs) that define men and women. Now that we’ve got some terms cleared up, we can deduce that gender identity isn’t binary. Masculinity isn’t necessarily a male characteristic. Females can have masculine attributes and vise versa. “It’s the beauty of queerism that generates the discussion of open-mindedness and breaks away from the heteronormative ideals,” Gilson offers.

The big deal in all of this is that we need to see that questioning sexuality and gender identity is a normal thing. Westbrook, who has been studying sociology and LGBT studies for the past ten years, believes that acknowledging different gender and sexual identities helps increase equality, freedom, health and happiness. “Existing categories perpetuate inequality. For example, there’s the notion that straight is more valuable than gay,” Westbrook says. “By questioning those categories, we see how we can conceptualize sexuality differently so we can live healthy and equal lives.”

Perhaps re-claiming this word in West Michigan won’t be the golden ticket to equal rights for the gay community, but it could be the catalyst for you to explore your sexual and gender makeup without shame and embarrassment. “Most people aren’t 100% straight or gay in terms of their desires or behaviors, but they are 100% straight or gay in terms of their identity because that’s the only two categories they see,” Westbrook continues.

If you’re in a committed relationship, I’m not condoning or encouraging you to have a drunken wine night with your secret crush and cheat on your significant other. Here’s what I do encourage: Accept yourself if you find that your identity isn’t exactly what you previously thought it was. And of course, be open and accepting to others who identify differently as you. Love people for who they are, not for who they’re attracted to.

Photograph of Women's LifeStyle writer, Nadira Kharmi.


Nadira Kharmai is a social media video producer with her company, Empress Productions. She is also a lifestyle model with the Matthew Agency. Kharmai loves frozen yogurt, is adamant that her Pomeranian is the cutest of its breed, and chooses red wine over white. Strike up conversation here: