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19 February 2010, 12:00 pm 29 Comments

Commentary: Gay/Lesbian Verses Queer: What’s the Difference?

This post was submitted by Jess Five

This post was submitted by our new contributor, Jess Five.

I know mainstream culture has begun to use “queer” as a synonym with “gay/lesbian” with such shows as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Queer as Folks” but they really aren’t the same. It’s like asking the difference between a cappuccino and a latte – to the untrained eye there’s no difference but there really is.

“Gay/Lesbian” are sexual identities.  It means that the person who identifies as gay/lesbian are sexually attracted to people of the same sex.  This does not mean they are sexually attracted to EVERYONE of the same sex – which is a common misunderstanding, it means simply they are attracted to people of the same sex as they are.  It’s just like if someone is straight, they aren’t attracted to EVERYONE of the opposite gender.  It’s the same way with being gay and lesbian.  For example, my brother is a classic example of a gay bear.  He is a bear that likes other bears.  Bears tend to be heavy-set and hairy.  That’s his type and what he likes.  Like stereotypical gays/lesbians, he supports Pride and the HRC, and gay marriage is an issue he cares about.  Other characteristics of gays and lesbians include wanting the right to adopt and serve openly in the military.  Gays/lesbians usually try to assimilate to mainstream culture to fit in.  They are gay/lesbian but want to be just like your average heterosexual.  Basically, they want sameness and equality – which are two totally different things.

“Queer” can be a sexuality identity but it can also be other things.  It can be a gender identity or a lifestyle choice.  Identifying as “queer” doesn’t necessarily mean the person is gay. You –can- be straight and queer.  “Queer” means you like what you like.  So, it means different things to different people.  It could mean gold star dyke or it could mean “straight not narrow” or something else entirely.  I usually identify as “queer” for simplicity.  What it means for me if you were to ask what I meant by “queer” that I’m a female-bodied genderqueer that is primarily attracted to other female-bodied persons but tends to like people not genders.  For me, being “queer” means being against heteronormalitivity and assimilation.  I don’t support the HRC because that organization has abandoned our transgendered brothers and sisters.   I don’t support Pride because it is corporations pretending to be gay/lesbian for a day for money.  I am more interested in Gay Shame and supporting local organizations that don’t leave out the T of LGBT.  I am for equality but not sameness.  I am anti-all marriage because it’s a matter of the Church and it has no business in the State.   I am more concerned about homelessness and universal health care being queer issues than military service and adoption.  I don’t watch Logo or television.  I listen to Queercore.

“Gays/Lesbians” are for the most part complacent and part of the great machine of society.  The only thing abstract about them is that they are homosexual.  Whereas, most often “queers” are raging against the machine.  I once saw a poster that sums it up, “Not Gay as in Happy, Queer as in Fuck you.”

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  • thezak said:

    I don’t think either term applies to me! What are the other terms?… Any lists of related terms?…

  • Back Back! DC said:

    Awesome post but if you guys are going to be using a black and pink flag, I think it’s incumbent upon you to talk about radical queers because you’re flying an anarchist queer flag right now.

    Talking about Bash Back! would be pretty sweet, otherwise, it feels like window dressing and lip service.

  • Jess (author) said:

    I am anarcho-queer. I am also a pacifist. The symbol isn’t a trademark of Bash Back – it’s free to be used by any and all anarcho-queers. I don’t agree with Bash Back! on most of what they do. They are a bit shady and they mislead people. I was going to go to the radical convergence last summer but I decided it was better not to go. What I was told by a friend who went, that they mislead people into thinking they were going to a party but they really wanted to start a riot. That’s not cool or honest. There are more radical queers than just bash back! I hate to burst your bubble and some of us don’t agree with what other radical queers are doing. That doesn’t make us any less of being anarchists – and maybe it makes us a bit more radical for going against the stream. :)

  • Jess (author) said:

    Maybe you’re simply “gay/lesbian” which fits most people as opposed to “Gay/Lesbian”. ;)

  • raphael said:

    Queer is a choice!

  • Andy said:

    Wow, this was painfully pretentious.

  • James said:

    Or painfully awesome

  • Annie P said:

    I use the term “Queer” because I’m not really interested in being associated with a lot of the people/places/things that are “gay or lesbian”. For me it feels almost like those are dated terms and queer is more of a out side of the box description of who I am rather than gay and lesbian. Queer also represents our allies and that is a huge part of my personal activism and passion because so many of these LGBT things out there tend to leave our allies out.

    You dont have to be a homo to be queer.

  • Jean said:

    Welcome to TNG, Jess. We are glad to have you. I have to say, however, that I have a different perspective of what Queer is. I also, like Annie, identify as Queer because I believe it speaks more about who i am and my lifestyle than it does about who i sleep with. It is a part of my social and political identity. The terms Gay or Lesbian are, to me, just as restrictive as Straight is – and speak only to sexual preference. I also believe that you have the right to bring your own definition to any label you give yourself, so rock on.

  • Megan Gabriel said:

    You are propagating division in the queer community by insisting that gays/lesbians just want to be like straight people – you are missing the point that they are NOT straight people. Your politics don’t make you queer – and the most corporate kiss-ass log cabin republican is still more queer than a black mask wearing straight but not narrow anarcha-feminist. It’s the bears and the dykes with two kids living in suburbia that actually have to deal with the shit of being called queer because they are the ones queering the mainstream society. Queer is a reclaimed word used to describe people who live openly outside of heteronormativity, not people who live outside “the great machine of society.”
    You CANNOT be straight and queer. You can be straight and cool, but NOT queer.

  • Lauren said:

    God damn, was this a good article. Thank you so much for getting my wheels spinning. It’s really got me thinking. I am so looking forward to you being on TNG!

  • Alex said:

    Nice opening piece, Jess. I, too, love the “Not Gas as in…” poster.

    @Megan – While I disagree on a much broader level, there is a very easy contradiction to your “You CANNOT be straight and queer” assertion – straight trans folks.

  • Margaret said:

    This does seem a bit assuming.

    I am neither of the descriptions in this article. I am a lesbian, and I am political. I want equality, but the fact that my sexual preference differs from my friend’s should not impede my options in life. THAT is what I want, and if that does not fit into what you believe is ‘queer’ then that is alright.

    You are using the very blanket terms that you seem to despise.

  • Stefan said:

    Yes, a new binary. Exactly what we needed!

    Except now I don’t which side to pick. Oops.

  • Jess (author) said:

    *laugh* It’s not meant to be a new binary – it’s just an observation. There’s gray areas too. You can switch back and forth. :)

  • Levi said:

    “Other characteristics of gays and lesbians include wanting the right to adopt and serve openly in the military. Gays/lesbians usually try to assimilate to mainstream culture to fit in.”

    I really disagree with this statement, and I happen to be queer.
    By this statement, you are basically saying that the only reason an LGBTQ person would ever want to have kids or be in the military is to be just like straight people. Which is wholly incorrect.
    News flash: I know plenty of queer couples who have kids or want to have/adopt kids, and it doesn’t make them any less queer. And if they want to adopt, then that just makes them more awesome for giving a child a good home, especially since gay/lesbian/queer couples tend to be ones who, on average, adopt more of the special needs and older kids that are often considered “less desirable” for adoption.
    And being all “anti-military” is sooo cool and alternative. There are many reasons why people would want to join the military, a major reason for a lot of servicepeople is that it will PAY for them to get a higher education and they know that’s the only way they will be able to go to college.

  • Thoughts of Jess Five » Cut&Paste Rock&Roll + my article on thenewgay.net! said:

    [...] okay but I was dealing with gays and lesbians. Not queers. It inspired a piece that I wrote called, “Gay/Lesbian” verses Queer: What’s the Difference? which was published by [...]

  • Stefan said:

    I think you could’ve worked some of that nuance into your post, though.

    Also: queer is one of my favorite verbs (though I don’t know that too many other people use it as such.)

  • Sparky said:

    Frankly this article is insulting

    I identify as a gay man. I like being a gay man. I think the terminology fits. I don’t identify as queer. I use the word Queer to refer to people who do however, because everyone has the right to define themselves.

    When I was attacked and beaten, “queer” was the slur used
    When I hear straight people using the word “queer” (as people are increasingly encouraging them to do” I hear it used in hate far more often
    I don’t like the word queer because it feels like a

    These are my reasons for prefering gay as a term. You have no right to decide you know my politics or views on the strength of that. You are no better than the religious right deciding they know all about me because of sexuality to suggest you know the SLIGHTEST THING about what I support, think or do based on my sexuality

    How dare you suggest I refuse to use a term that was used to beat me down because I’m against trans people! How dare you suggest I refuse to use a term that triggers me because I’m a cog in the machine? How dare you decide that I’m a desperate conformist because I refuse to conform to how YOU would identify me? How dare you decide you know about me, my politics or my views because I won’t let YOU choose the word to identify me.

    This is arrogant, sweeping and a desperate attempt to bully people into using your preferred language.

    Define yourself. You have no right to define me.

  • Anon said:

    I am proud to be a Femme and a Lesbian. I love women period. I support Lesbian and Gay equality and marriage. And I don’t care if you approve or like it.

  • Stuffed Animal said:

    There are many reasons why words like “queer” are inappropriate when applied to a human being, but the main one is this: “Queer” reinforces heteronormativity as THE norm, and stigmatizes everyone who isn’t heterosexual as abnormal. I can’t dig that scene. It does nothing but promote the oppressor’s agenda. What undermines his agenda is insistence on a realistic norm. That norm necessarily includes same-gender-loving and gender-blended people. I have always said that those of us who demand our piece of the mainstream pie and refuse to accept stigmatization are ten times more revolutionary than those of us who spend our time “rejecting” all the life options that bigots don’t want us to enjoy.

  • Jess (author) said:

    @Sparky – I am sorry you were beaten down. No one has the right to violate another human being. I was pushed and punched in the face for being a “homosexual” but I don’t consider homosexual to be derogatory because of it. It’s just something that happened to me because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. If you want to talk about it more, you can find my email address when you click on my name on the top of the article.

    @Stuff Animal – Heterosexuality isn’t “normal” it’s just common.

  • F. Ovalle said:

    Hey! I consider myself queer and think being queer is awesome etc etc, but your article makes it seem like there’s something wrong with identifying as gay or lesbian.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to settle down and have a family just as they’re nothing wrong with spending 40 years cruising the bars and fucking strangers.

    Both are totally cool lifestyle choices and can be lived in totally Queer ways. But your article is pretentious, self-righteous and frankly kind of poorly-written. You have frequent grammar, spelling, and usage mistakes, and your don’t have any kind of research or logic to back up your opinion.

    The first thing you have to do, when asking the world to accept you for who you are, is accept others just the same, even if they’re not on the front lines, picketing and joining queercore bands. Some people just want to raise a family and eat at Red Lobster on weekends. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • David Wogen said:

    I have to admit to some confusion here. It seems you’ve thrown in a ‘Q’ to cover any of the bases not already defined by the previous ‘LGBT’. I am a very androgynous person, not really fitting into pigeonhole A nor into pigeonhole B, and not exactly C, D nor E. Does that make me a ‘Q’? If Q is the catch-all for whatever doesn’t quite match societal norms, aren’t we all (hopefully) of the ‘Q’ persuasion? Perhaps we could scrap them all and just use “FTHB” (free thinking human being)?

  • Duston said:

    Why can’t people just be human? What is the drive for people to attach labels to everyone and everything?

    Wouldn’t that be true equality?

    All this label-making and over-inflated terminology just sounds like ego-trumpeting for people to prance around going “NYA NYA! I’m smarter than you are!”

    Give me a break. I love my gay friends and relatives because they are people that are cool and not because of anything to do with who they are attracted to.

  • Just Sayin' said:

    I read this and it seems a little biased and frankly kind of mean. Although, I do understand that this is a on opinion, so in that respect I support it wholeheartedly! My opinion is that this puts a kind of slam on pretty much everyone who isn’t of the same mindset. I was hoping to find a fact-based definition of what Queer meant, but this feels like it is just opinions.

  • Keep your boxes... said:

    Why does the world need a label for everyone? I am me. Only label I will ever need. I have me figured out. I dont need you to have me figured out. My quirks are part of my charm and my ever evolving likes, dislikes, positions and philosophies make trying to label me very frustrating to those who think its necessary. Stop labeling and Start loving!

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