Why the Word Queer: the History behind the Word

Why the Word Queer: the History behind the Word


The word ‘Queer’ is unique to the LGBTQ+ movement because it acts as an over-arching term to properly denote the whole community. The word ‘Queer’ is an umbrella term that includes all those who are not heterosexual and cis-gendered. There has been a long history behind the word and is an excellent example of how the LGBTQ+ community managed to successfully reclaim a homophobic slur.

Etymologically the word ‘Queer’ entered the English language in the 16th century. It originally meant “strange”, “odd”, “peculiar”, or “eccentric” used to describe a person who might be deranged or exhibited socially inappropriate behaviour. ‘Queer’ assumed its pejorative connotation first in 1894 when John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry (No, that is not his drag name) expressed concern about his son being in a gay sex-scandal with Oscar Wilde, in a letter. American Newspapers immediately picked this up. It was generally used to highlight the abnormality and the strangeness of effeminate gay men, thereby establishing the word as a homophobic slur.

Efforts in reclaiming the word ‘Queer’ started in the 80’s when protesters started using slogans such as “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear.” An organisation called Queer Nation formed in 1990 circulated a flier in the New York Gay Pride Parade in June 1990 titled “Queers read This”. It explained the reason behind the use of the word. It said that the word ‘Queer’ was a reminder of the negative perception of the world towards the LGBTQ+ community and therefore sought to mobilise the people in order to change this perception.

The Queer movement has made a lot of progress since then. Queer people are nowhere close to being treated equally, but the amendments in the legal systems of various countries has to a degree given rights to LGBTQ+ people that they did not have earlier. Therefore the role played by the word has developed with the generations. The generation before the 80’s viewed the word as a term used by their oppressors to make them feel inferior. The word, therefore, to them is a reminder of the oppression, violence and the discrimination that is still fresh in their minds. The next generation that saw the reclamation of the word, view the use of the word ‘Queer’ as an act of defiance against the patriarchal hetero-normative society. It is empowering to use the word because, by calling themselves Queer they take away the power from that the word holds. The present generation of LGBTQ+ people do not have the same experience of discrimination as the earlier generations. The present generation does not associate the word as a slur because of its positive use in popular culture and in Academia, thereby transforming the word into a signifier that does not hold any positive or negative connotations.

Queer is therefore one of the few words that have been almost completely reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community and is now used as an umbrella term to describe all sexual-minorities who are not cis-gendered and heterosexual. The word ‘Queer’ is particularly unique not merely because of the history behind it but also because of its overarching scope. It acts as a signifier to denote the whole entirety of the community. Furthermore it is also useful because of its ambiguity which provides representation to those who fall into the spectrum of sexuality that does not have any pre-existing labels. It is a term that can be used to describe those people who have fluid sexualities or gender and do not wish to prescribe to rigid labels.

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Why India Needs Queer Representation in Media

Why India Needs Queer Representation in Media


2017 has been a year of mixed outcomes for the Queer movement. This year saw the legalisation of gay marriage in Finland, Germany and Australia, among others. New York passed a law requiring school staff to use Transgender students’ chosen pronouns and California passed a law requiring all single occupancy bathrooms to be gender-neutral. But on the flip-side of this Donald Trump was elected as the president of the USA. Soon after his election to the office all mention of LGBTQ+ rights was removed from the White House website. He also elected Mike Pence as the Vice President of the USA. The same Mike Pence who is an open supporter of gay conversion therapy. Similar to the rest of the world 2017 was also eventful for the Indian queer community.

As the highly unconstitutional and discriminatory, article 377 of the Indian Penal Code continues to remain enshrined in Indian law books, the need for Queer representation in Indian media is more urgent than ever. Although recent events have given hope for the repealing of section 377, it is still a sad reality that India has a long way to go to reach equality.

2017 saw the coming out of Karan Johar, after much speculation about his sexuality. This makes him the most popular queer figure of India. This is indicative of the dire condition of India considering Johar is himself a propagator of heteronormativity and homophobia. One of his most famous films, Dostana, shamefully parodies gay men by depending on stereotypes and caricatures. This kind of misrepresentation can be detrimental for queer children who are growing up to view queer desires as abnormal and something to be laughed at and made fun of.

Bollywood has produced some queer themed films in the last few years only a few amongst which came to mainstream notice. Aligarh, Kapoor and sons and Margarita with a straw, are some of the films that caught the attention of the mainstream audience. These films explored the complexity of the queer experience by opting for more realistic representation as opposed to the stereotypical character of the effeminate gay man, featured merely for the sake of comic relief. The Bengali film industry has done an even better job in their portrayal of LGBT+ stories. Rituparna Ghosh’s Arekti Premer Golpo, Memories in March and Chitrangada have now become canonical films. I am and teen kanya are also queer themed films produced by the Bengali film industry. This kind of positive representation helps normalize queer people and promotes tolerance.

T.V. is one form of media that has pervaded the homes of the masses and has proven itself to be extremely influential in swaying public opinion and making audiences think. Countries like the UK, America and Japan have made a commendable effort in realising the potential of television and using its influence to represent important issues like racism and feminism.

Television shows in the 90’s like Tara (which gave India a taste of feminism for the first time) and Dekh Bhai Dekh (which was one of the first shows to feature a gay character on Indian TV), proved the potential of Indian television. But this progress was curtailed by a wave of of saas-bahu serials that invaded Indian T.V. screens in the early 2000’s, thanks to the efforts of Balaji Telefilms and Ekta kapoor. There have been shows recently that have queer representation but these are neither adequate nor mainstream enough to grab the attention of the masses.

Growing up Queer in India is not easy when the law declares you as a criminal and society labels you as ‘abnormal’. Understanding one’s sexuality is always a very complex process but it is doubly confusing when you don’t see yourself represented in media. Therefore it is important to have shows that talk about being LGBT+ and affirm that queer desires are infact normal. Queer representation is also important to promote visibility of the LGBT+ community and to sensitise and educate the masses about queer issues.