I need a space to store some of the historical facts I found while browsing queer topics, as well as some of my thoughts about them, and I decided I might as well turn it into a blog article. This is going to be much less put together and more like an assortment of historical references and rants than my other posts here.
“Queer” is a word that has historically meant “strange”, with all its possibly connotations – from “whimsical” to “suspicious”. Sometime during 19th century it became one of the ways to denote a man’s homosexuality (or just any preference towards other men, not necessarily exclusive, no distinctions were made yet), and its first usage is often attributed to the Marquis of Queensberry, Oscar Wilde’s accuser, in 1894. I don’t believe he made it up all by himself and people of all social classes just started repeating after him, but rather, this is just the first recorded example of this word in such a context, because it was used during a court case. Back then male attraction to men together with paraphilias was more often described as “sodomy”.
In any case, by 1910s-1920s this word was already used widely as self identification among men who loved men. I grabbed the following screenshots from Gay New York by a gay historian George Chauncey (the link where I first accessed this book is inactive, but it’s also available here):
To sum it up, these men identified as “queer” to differentiate themselves from gender non-conforming, feminine “faggots”. The word fell out of favor by 30s-40s and became partially replaced by “gay”, and, much like nowadays, men who preferred “queer” over “gay” were attacked for this choice.
Sally McConnell-Ginet, a linguist, reports in Gender, Sexuality, and Meaning: Linguistic Practice and Politics that the usage of this word until late 1980s was predominantly derogatory, even though it was somewhat politer than “faggot” or “fairy”. She also talks in more detail about how and when the word was reclaimed again and brings as an example a speech by a bi activist Autumn Courtney in 1988. Starting from late 1980s this identity became fully an identity again, and now it explicitly included not only men who are attracted to men, but lesbians, trans people, and, as McConnell-Ginet puts it, “others who challenge heteronormative views of sexuality”.
Around the same time and later, in 1990s, such concepts as “queer studies” and “queer theory” emerged. A large self advocacy and activism group was called Queer Nation, and it was one of the driving forces behind this term’s reclamation. And, correct me if I’m wrong, because I lost my citation on that and it isn’t something I can easily find by searching, there wasn’t a large pushback against it being the umbrella term till early 2010s. The change was caused by ace exclusionism, people trying to erase queerness of the asexual identity. “Queer is a slur” and “queer is too ambiguous, just say if you’re L, G, B, or T” are the two most common arguments of the exclusionists nowadays. Asexuality, by the way, was first defined within a feminist lesbian event in 1972, and is unquestionably included by most queer organizations. Right now we’re going through a stage of rapid polarization on the topic of value of the term “queer”, and almost every non cis, non straight person online has some kind of an emotional opinion about it.
Edit 06.10.2023: missing citations on the exclusionist roots of the recent discourse:
Queerness and mapness
It is interesting that reclamation of the term “queer” as “all inclusive” was weirdly coincidental with removal of maps from proto-queer activism. I read this piece, although quite chaotic, by David Thorstad, a map and an old gay activist. He recalls that older, pre 1980s, gay and lesbian groups were much more accepting of maps and the topic of lowering of the age of consent, but then there was a sudden change. As of now the attitude of the queer community to maps is quite hostile, including the attitude to anti contact maps.
I have mixed feelings about the current state of the queer community. I do identify as queer for my gender-nonspecific attractions and transness, but I’m way past seeing “queer” as an actually rebellious and accepting identity. In the “why not queer?” section of my post on paraphilia as an identity I described material drawbacks of considering paraphilias queer. There are way too many people who call themselves “queer” with an implication that it makes them rebels, even hold all the correct opinions on various aspects of queer discourse (from defending kinksters to opposing terfs), but still react violently to maps’ existence.
There are people right now in the map (and other para) communities who think paraphilias are inherently queer. As I wrote to someone in a discord server today, the motivations are largely 1) linguistic (“queer means non-normative, so everything non-normative is queer”), 2) reaction to exclusionism (“including those stigmatized identities into queerness was good and worth fighting for, so including these ones might be good too”), 3) erroneous historical reference (a belief that queerness at some point included much more identities than it does now). I guess I could say it leaves me kind of jaded, because it’s hard to explain to people that my opposition to this idea does not come from putting paraphilias below queerness, from seeing them as unworthy – and this is what people here assume when they hear “X isn’t queer”. I am just not interested in inflating the image of queerness into something inherently great and supporting. Not right now, not when the queer community does not live up to that. And I don’t believe in some abstract concept of queerness that exists separately from the sum of people who call themselves and each other queer. The queer community needs to be cleaned of mapmisia in a similar fashion to the cisgender heterosexual society, and if it happens, then we can talk about it.
I will keep returning to this text and adding missing references to it.