Terms and Definitions: Expanding the Word “Queer”

Terms and definitions for various genders and sexualities are important to non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people and queer theorists. Every letter in the acronym LGBTQ+ represents a different word with a different definition, but it’s not just a definition. These words give language to describe the identities of real people. Since LGBTQ+ is a bit of a mouthful to say and does not necessarily encompass every non-cishet identity even with the expanded LGBTQQIAAP acronym, the term “queer” has been used as a broad substitute in order to include all people who fall outside of heteronomativiy. 


In Queer Time and Place by Judith Halberstam, he suggests that “if we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic pratices, we detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’ that ‘homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex’” (1). As the definition of the word queer becomes more inclusive of time, space, and economy instead of gender and sexuality, it expands the definition and experience of being queer in a heternormative world. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of queer as an adjective means “strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric,” and another definition describes it as slang for one who is “conspiculously or flamboyantly homosexual.” These two definitions of queer as an adjective are being used in both ways in Halberstam’s argument. 


While he says to “detach queerness from sexual identity,” the multiple meanings of this word, and these two provided in particular, cannot be separated (1). Halberstam’s queer definition is expansive, not exclusionary of the basis for why the queer community is called such in the first place. In contrast to this statement, the use of the word queer when referring only to gender and sexuality can reduce the other nonconforming aspects of a queer person’s life experience. This is why Halberstam cites Michel Foucault: “‘homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex’” (1). There are aspects of queer life in regards to gender and sexuality that affect other aspects of life such as time, space, and economy that are not experienced in the same way from a cisgender, heterosexual person to a queer person. For example, the heteronormative time of life as Halberstam notes progresses as such: “birth, marriage, reproduction, and death” (2). The duration it takes to reach these life milestones or the absence of their achievement may be ways in which queer temporalities are created. Additionally, these life moments fuel capitalism. Jobs hire you expecting you to work until retirement which is about 40 years. A queer life cut short by disease cannot be afforded in a system dependent on human labor. Furthermore, the fact that same-sex couples cannot naturally reproduce or do not utilize scientific advancements to have their own children also do not follow this expected life schedule that has served heterosexual couples forever. 


Halberstam allows the reader to consider and rethink the definitions and connotations of the word queer and what that does for aspects of life not immediately related to sexuality and gender.


5 thoughts on “Terms and Definitions: Expanding the Word “Queer””

  1. I think it was really brave of you to pick this reading to write about as we had not talked about it much in class, it was one of the more confusing readings for me as well. Its interesting to hear how the current popular use of queer is limiting especially because ive grown so attached to it as a label and feel very comfortable using it to describe gender and sexuality. its good to have push back that queer could refer to anything outside of the ordinary, but i have to say i would still be very against non conforming cishet people using it for themselves. i dont know how to reconcile the expansive definition with the history of the gay community so that queer is not used in a way disrespectful to its history as a slur.

  2. I think it’s really interesting how much weight society gives to words. The LGBTQ acronym is ever expanding and everyone seems to use different letters/lengths. Queer is used as an umbrella term, but some people see it as harmful while others have reclaimed the word. Others can find specific sexuality labels to be restricting. Are there concepts that we cannot accurately and fully describe using language? What happens when words have different meanings for different people?

  3. Your post reminds me of the section on the “queer umbrella” in “Queer: A Graphic History.” This section suggests that underneath the expansive queer umbrella, focus should also be given to those who are most marginalized (potentially due to circumstances unrelated to gender or sexuality). Just as queer people can experience aspects of life differently from cisgender and heterosexual people, race, class, religion, and other factors can create distinctly different experiences of queerness. I think this intersectional approach highlights how extensive the label of queerness is, while also showing the many other components that may affect queer temporalities.

  4. This is a very insightful post, thank you for it!!! You write, “The duration it takes to reach these life milestones or the absence of their achievement may be ways in which queer temporalities are created.”
    I wonder how this connects to Clare’s metaphor of the mountain and how each of these ‘milestones’ is another step on the mountain. I believe that the mountain is a reference to capitalism and production, which you also discuss, saying “these life moments fuel capitalism.” I thought this was an especially good point, and how living a life away from the mountain or in Clare’s metaphor, building a base camp–can be another way to queer (and crip) time.

    1. Oh I forgot to mention that this ties nicely into the post “The Nature of Time” and how time in Written on the Body functions slightly differently than what Clare and Halberstam argue, but still can be seen as passage of queer time. The non-linear time that’s mentioned in the post on Winterson ties nicely into the cyclical nature of the word queer and its history.

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