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Q-Jumping. On "Queer" and reclaiming for GRT

The reclaiming of slurs and insults is often an act of great power. It can be done seriously and earnestly, you can adopt the slur as a real part of how you identify or it can be done in jest, off the cuff, just to puncture the power of it. Either way it’s about subverting an insult, often an insult with a loaded history and removing the venom.

It’s been done successfully, and I don’t need to list examples (particularly examples which relate to groups I’m not a part of- there is still uncertainty about out-group members then using the slur in the reclaimed way and whether any residual power dynamics exist which make that a bit gross.) but an issue that we keep coming up against at Traveller Pride is the assumption that if a slur has been reclaimed by some, then all ought to be ok with it. I’m talking, of course, about “Queer”.

I believe part of the problem is the internet, and the unification of all cultures in a giant interconnected monolith. This is not always a bad thing, and the interconnectedness that technology has gifted us is why Traveller Pride exists in the first place[1] but this leads us to generalisations by dominant cultures (namely the USA) becoming the dominant narrative in general. So because Queer has been mostly reclaimed in the USA, we’ve all got to be ok with it. Likewise, because “Gypsy” is a slur to some US based Roma then the message “Gypsy is a slur” has been spread about the internet and is the tissue-thin slogan of all manner of dull people on twitter; something being true in America doesn’t make it true everywhere (or indeed anywhere else).

I wonder if it is about distance. “Queer”, to me, has still been used with bitter vitriol as an insult. “Bunch of fucking queers” etc.

It’s still part of the hatemonger’s lexicon. It still makes my skin crawl. It might be safe to pick it up later on, but right now it’s too hot. Like a bit of steel that’s just been cut.

I get invited to queer events often due to my work with Traveller Pride (rarely in a personal capacity because I am dreadful company) and I will sometimes go but it makes me uncomfortable. It’s a label that sticks in my neck, makes my skin crawl. I know you’ve reclaimed it but I guess I’m just not ready yet.

In the same way that the “Mad Pride” movements adopted those names long after “mad” had stopped being used specifically as an insult against the neurodiverse, so presumably after the sting of its use had been curtailed.

Travellers in the UK, or at least a lot of us, have a tendency to use and cling on to older/outdated language. The car is “the motor”, the cinema is “the pictures”, rather than dating you’re “seeing someone” or “courting”. My dad still calls the radio “the wireless”. And so it is that “Queer” is still used in the format “a bunch of queers” and most Travellers I know would have little knowledge of the academia version of Queer. I do wonder if the idea that (often non UK-based) academics have decided “Queer” is safe to handle without really considering who it still hurts is showing the blindspots of these institutions and spaces.

Of course, this is not to say that the word shouldn’t be used the way it often is. I love that people are happy to reclaim the slur. It does have power to do that. And it’s a label that’s conveniently ambiguous that it can be incredibly helpful if your identity doesn’t fit within the traditional boundaries of society. The issue is that assuming anyone who is LGBT+ is happy to be labelled as “Queer”.

I guess if this article has a point (beyond "It's GRTHM & Pride month so I better manufacture some content") it's that the internet, and modern culture in general, appears to be a bad place for nuance to thrive. Queer is reclaimed and so is fine now. Gypsy is a slur and you oughtta be ashamed of yourself etc. the context is of vital importance but responses that add complexity rather than simplicity are deeply unpopular.

But yeah, that's why we tend to not add the Q, but instead add a + symbol to LGBT. In case you'd been pondering.

[1] I’m reminded of Daniel Baker who, before the internet was the powerhouse it is now, conducted research into Gay Gypsies by putting a small ad in Gay Times along the lines of “Are you a Gay Gypsy? get in touch!” which I absolutely would not have done when it came to organising Pride in 2019.

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When I was at university (in the UK) in the mid nineties there were Queer studies along with women's studies. It was used in TV shows like 'Queer as folk' (which was not considered shocking, but a funny twist on an old saying), and was used in campaign slogans (we're here, we're queer, get used to it etc). Yes, it was sometimes used as an insult, but you know what I heard more? More than faggot or dyke or poof or queer? Gay. What are you, gay? That's so gay! Or just gaaaaay! Gay was another word used to torment us and we reclaimed. The push back against the term queer over recent years in the LGBTQA+ community is something…

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