I’ve always hated the word homosexual. Maybe it’s because when I first identified as gay, it was in the late 1970s, when my exposure to the word homosexual involved biased media stories about so-called deviant sexual behaviour, with people being outed and publicly shamed. The last thing I wanted was to be known as a deviant. It also sounds, well, so very clinical. Like a disorder.
The film Bringing Up Baby in 1938 may have been the first time an actor used the term ‘gay’. Cary Grant’s character, dressed in a feathery robe, was asked by another character why he was wearing that. Grant ad-libbed, “Because I just went gay.” The word gay seems to have originally meant being carefree, eventually becoming a word used to describe a female sex worker. It was in the 1960s and 70s that it became more mainstream in describing homosexual men and women. Perhaps this evolved from the association with illicit sex.
As a society we use labels. It’s a natural way to sort things in our minds and try and make sense of them so we know where we fit. We want to belong. Labels and names can also have a detrimental effect and be used to discriminate, victimize, and make others feel they are not part of a group.
I have heard many derogatory terms used to describe people in my community and me. I heard them shouted from passing cars, used in jokes around a boardroom table, and sneered by family members. Queer, faggot, fudge packer, dyke, fruit, and light in the loafers, to name just a few. Words can’t break bones, but they can break spirits and have long-lasting impacts.
I know many of my generation who do not like the word queer as they have experienced it as a degrading term to dehumanize.
Queer is a word that has been reclaimed, a way to take the power back from those who used it as a hateful slur. I find it empowering to call myself queer. After many years of hiding and trying to be invisible, it is a way for me to acknowledge my authentic self. It is also a word that embraces those who have experienced being othered by the LGBTQ rights movement.
When the name for the upcoming live stream series on LGBTQ history that I will be hosting was discussed, the word queer resonated for me. Thus, Queer Chronicles with Wilbur Turner is the name of the series. I love the word. Sometimes I just want to shout out, “I’m queer, and I’m okay!”
Wilbur Turner, who identifies as gay and queer, is a Kelowna-based writer and advocate who has contributed on many levels to LGBTQ rights, both locally and internationally.