I would like to address something of personal and sociopolitical weight: the usage of the term “queer” at Grinnell and beyond. Out of respect for others and my own reservations, I’ll refer to the word as “the q slur” for the rest of this column.
For the past century (or longer), the q slur has been just that: a slur. It was a common derogatory term used to describe anyone that was deemed strange or deviant, particularly homosexuals and those breaking other gender/sexual expectations. I use the past tense here, but that does not imply that the q slur isn’t used in those ways today. However, many LGBT+-identified people have began to use the q slur as a self-descriptor as an act of reclamation. The logic for such usage is based in dissolving the weight of the word as derogatory, so it therefore cannot be utilized as a slur anymore. It is also approved of as an umbrella term for any and all gender/sexual minorities, reducing the need for extensive acronyms everywhere.
The intrapersonal usage of this word is harmless enough, considering it might help someone sort out their identity without the need for a label. What I do not agree with is the interpersonal usage of the q slur. When someone says “I am [q slur]”, it’s rather understandable. When people say “We are [q slur]” without full recognition by everybody addressed, it becomes a problem of misrepresentation. Not everybody is comfortable with being grouped under that label, and their comfort should be respected especially because that word has been and is used as a slur. To consider that nobody in any given group of LGBT+ people has negative reservations about the q slur is rather close-minded and insensitive.
This close-mindedness is a factor of the effect the Internet has had on the LGBT+ rights movement(s). On social media platforms especially, it is easy for one to believe that a certain word, such as the q slur, could have a different meaning and proceed to use it in that fashion. The removal from any tangible causality creates seemingly limitless opportunities for self-expression in the LGBT+ community. People use social media as an escapist portal, rather separate from their day-to-day lives. Thus, someone could easily say and express certain words and actions about LGBT+ identities online that perhaps would not function as efficiently in a corporeal setting. This intangible self-motivated environment allows the common assumption, “If it works for me, it must work for everybody else,” to be applied to many topics, the most important here being changes in word usage.
The double-edged sword here lies in the decentralized nature of the Internet. Even with legitimate organization, it is improbable that all members of a group or partakers in an identity will participate in sharing their opinions on open forums. To be less abstract, consider a survey spread on a LGBT+ movement’s website about the reclaimed usage of the q slur. Not everybody under the LGBT+ umbrella will even know the survey exists—in fact, I can guarantee that a negligible amount of people will partake in the survey. If we are to conclude based on this one survey that the majority of LGBT+ people agree or disagree with this term usage, it would be an obvious failure of the scientific process. A public opinion analysis can only be truly applicable if the population is controlled in some way; i.e., a statistically significant percentage (or all) of the group constituents respond.
Unfortunately, it seems as though this faulty logic has spread from social media platforms to Grinnell College. Both in and out of the classroom, the q slur is used without any regard for its possible offensiveness. Many people are sensitive to the usage of that term, and perhaps some are afraid to voice their opinion about it. This should not be the case if we are to have a safe and understanding environment for those who are societally repressed. Not to mention, any refusal to listen to someone else’s point of view on this subject is a silencing tactic that should not be tolerated.
I propose that we as a college should work to be more informed about the usage of the q slur and perceptive of what students feel about it. One way of accomplishing this, as described earlier, could be through a college-wide survey that accounts for most or every LGBT+-identified student opinion regarding the use of the q slur. Providing empathy to those in systematically oppressed groups is a crucial element to creating a just community.