Monday, March 11, 2019

The Q Word

Years ago, when I was a boy of eleven or twelve and living in London, I somehow fell in with a free ranging mob of boys one Sunday afternoon.  I can't remember if it was a party or a general gathering.  It's too long ago.  But what I recall is that we were playing.

First, King of the Mountain, which was a raging scrum as every boy tried to be the last one standing in a particular location.  I don't remember doing well at that game, as I was small, asthmatic and spindly.   I got knocked down a whole bunch.  We played that for a while, and then the idea came that we should play another.

The game:  Smear the Queer.

The rules were simple:  one boy was the Queer.  The rest of the boys would go after that boy.  Sort of like an inverted version of tag, only with quite a bit more pounding and tackling.  The group would then select another Queer, and the game would reset.

I didn't like the spirit of it, or the name of it.  I was already aware that Queer wasn't the kindest of terms, used primarily as invective.  I was also aware that it referred specifically to being gay, which is how that was described back then.  While at eleven I wasn't quite sure what I felt about gay folk, I knew that some people were horrible to them.  Meaning, it was not uncommon for them to be physically assaulted, and that seemed terrible and cruel no matter what.

That was the point where I bailed.  I just laid low while the other boys charged off in the woods after the first Queer.  Then I quietly left the group, and wandered back home.

Which leads me to my current conundrum.

I find the ever expanding acronym used to describe genderdivergent folk just ragingly awkward.

LGBTQIA, or so it's become.  EllGeeBeeTeeCueAyeAy just doesn't roll of the tongue.  It's a clumsy graceless letter-mass, a creeping categorical accretion.  It reminds me of how you make a German words by just adding one German word to another.  This works fine, until suddenly you're trying to say donaudampshiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft, and you keep running out of air and passing out halfway through the word.

It's a lumpy fumbling aesthetic disaster, like most of my cobbled-together outfits most days.  There's a reason the show isn't called LGBTQIA+ Eye For the Straight Guy.

There's a better term.

Embedded in that acronym is a Q, which just stands for Queer, which seems to be all of the other things combined.  I note that it's used more now as a catchall, by Queer folk themselves, which seems like the right thing. 

But can I use it?  I am as gendertypical as they come, and the transition of "Queer" from its pejorative roots reminds me of, well, another word.  A word I don't use because it's inherently offensive to black people, one that occupies a strange place in our cultural discourse.  It cannot be spoken outside of the tribe.

So I wonder about this word.