We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get Used to It!
The generation gap and emotional responses that exist around the word Queer is very real and rooted in history, especially in the United States. It is time to listen to our youth, respect our elders, celebrate our heritage and history, and own the moniker.
I am a 1965-born Buckeye , who arrived at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation. I am a child of the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and heavily influenced by the political turmoil, fashion, music and societal change of that period. As a gay man, I grew up and moved into my community at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Homophobia, and the epicenter of the Gay Rights Movement, as it was known then.
I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and the precious right to free speech and expression that our Founding Fathers created for us. I abhor Hate Speech, and any community speech, or outright lies to propel a political agenda, but I understand that we live in the USA and that is part of being in a democracy.
I also believe that words hurt. I do not ascribe to the “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” phrase that we used to chant as children. In fact, in my experience, words are scarring, demeaning, and can cause horrific self-esteem issues. I was bullied as a child and teenager and called every name in the book. This included Fag, Gay, Sissy, Queer, Faggot, Butt Pirate, Homo, Girly Boy, and more that I cannot even recall, but I heard and felt them all. For many in my generation and the gay communities of elders who came before me, Queer was the most often used term and became the most hateful and hurtful.
In my professional life, I spend part of my time with working with companies and individuals on their branding and marketing programs. Through my mentoring work, I often educate young people on their importance of their personal “brand” and “story”. As we enter Pride Season 2023, I have find myself reflecting on the branding of our community and the importance of identifiers and names. For much of my life, people identified as heterosexual or homosexual, or would commonly use gay, lesbian, or bisexual to own their identity. As the world progressed, and people became more aware and open, we started to see names and identifiers that reflect the full spectrum of sexuality and sexual identity. I am not getting into pronoun use for this piece, but that has also changed dramatically and for the better in the last 10 years.
Look at our community and society today. LGBTQIA+ signifying Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans/Transgender, Queer and/or questioning, Intersex, and Asexual, Nonbinary identities and more in our society. I love how wide and embracing this name is, but it is a lot to say and write over and over. The brand and marketer in me always wants to shorten it and make it easier to say, but I never want to leave anyone out or offend any group or person.
I have found myself using Queer more and more in the last few years when I am talking about anything about our community. It has taken me some time to say it aloud, especially as it was used to taunt and hurt me so many years ago. I view my use of this term as a type of “taking back the power” from the bullies and others who hurled it at me without thought or mercy.
I have a recent story that perfectly illustrates the importance of word choice and the healthy debates that can occur in groups of multi-generational and diverse members of our community. I am proud to be a founding member of the nation’s first affinity giving circle comprised solely of queer people and our allies. At Indiana University, we came together in 2019 to form a fundraising and grant making group that is solely focused on advancement and advocacy for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff on our campuses. The founding group represented some of the University’s best known donors, scholars, and executives of diverse ages, and diverse genders and identities.
We met in Los Angeles for the the formation meeting and quickly agreed on mission, vision, bylaws, governing structure, and fundraising goals. The longest debate and discussion, which continued for weeks was on the name of our group. After we all returned to our respective homes, there were numerous calls, emails, and texts about what to “brand” our group. This is where the generational divide and experiences became very evident. Many members, especially older gay men, wanted it to be the LGBT Giving Circle. Some advocated for for the LGBTQIA+ Giving Circle. Several of us, including me, pushed for the Queer Philanthropy Circle. My reasoning was we needed something representative, modern, and easy to remember. It also made an easy acronym “ QPC”.
After much debate and discussion, we adopted QPC. The truth is, however, to this day, it still does not sit well with some key members. In fact, it has been used as a negative with some prospective members for not joining, as they refuse to identify with that “term”, meaning Queer. This word is most painful for gay men over 60. As I said earlier, I understand and acknowledge their truths and perspectives, but I remain committed to the name of our group. Regardless of the name, in 4 short years, our group has raised and granted over $600,000 to support and protect and elevate our community at Indiana University. Am I sensitive to the concerns of some constituencies, of course I am…..however, we need to focus on the work.
It is interesting to note, that simultaneous to our forming, a new student group was emerging on the Bloomington campus. A group of energized, intelligent, and vocal students who were committed to improving the lives of students in their community. They announced themselves proudly as the Queer Student Union. I have had the great pleasure to spend time with this group and their leaders and founders. They astound me with their commitment and energy and their advocacy work. It was heartwarming and affirming to me that this group of 18-22 year olds never hesitated on the name of the group. They wear “Queer” like a badge of honor and have produced shirts, hats, stickers, and pins galore to get their message out and grow their membership. I simply marvel at their strength and tenacity …and wonder what my college life would have been like belonging to a group like this in the 80s.
My message is simple. Learn from our youth. Honor the past. Acknowledge the hurt and pain. Proclaim your Queerness. You are perfect exactly the way you are. Sing songs loudly and proudly. I suggest “ I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles, “ Born this Way” by Lady Gaga, or “ This is Me” sung by Keala Settle on the The Greatest Showman soundtrack. My name is Jim Fielding and I am QUEER!