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June 1994


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 11 Jun 1994 15:58:47 EDT
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At the risk of taking this conversation further away from film, let me say a
word about the use of the term, queer. Historically, you are correct that the
word was used in a hurtful way by large numbers of homophobe. Part of the
experience of the gay, lesbian, bisexual community over the past few years
has been to reclaim that word and try to remove some of its sting. Words which
you embrace can't hurt you, particularly if you give them an alternative
meaning. I was uncomfortable with the word at first. Now, I have come to
embrace it. For one thing, it is an inclusive term. There have been many
debates over the years about whether the word, gay, could also include lesbians
 or whether we needed to create a long list of terms to refer to the range
of different sexualities which existed outside the hetrosexual dominant. All
such terms, of course, offered a fixed conception of sexual
 orientation/preference, as something which could be given a specific label as
 opposed to something that exists on a continuium. The word, Queer, addresses
 many of those problems
creating a space of inclusion where all forms of nondominant forms of sexuality
 can co-exist and gain support from each other. It also suggests a space of
fluid sexualtiy as opposed to a fixed sexual identity. I value this. On the
other hand, the challenge can be made that the term, in fact, makes certain
groups -- lesbians, bisexuals, for example -- invisible again in the same way
that an inclusive conception of gay once did. And, it may be too confrontational
 a term for many "mainstream" or "conservative" gays and lesbians, who do not
see their sexuality as a lifestyle, a subculture, or a political identity. It
also poses the problem of alienating straights who might feel its negative
connotations without knowing about the politics surrounding its reclamation.
So, the term remains one in debate, and that may be its strength since it
can not be easily defined or assimilated, it forces us to think through the
politics of our own sexuality and what might unite queers as part of a common
political community. For an interesting discussion of this and a whole range of
 other related questions, I strongly recommend Alex Doty's MAKING THINGS
PERFECTLY QUEER (U of Minn.) -- there I did work a film reference in here.
--Henry Jenkins