Queer; past gay.

What do I mean when I say “queer”?

Joshua Lavra
4 min readJan 29, 2021


Queer: shorthand for some subset of LGBTQIA+ or to describe someone who isn’t cisgender (cis) or heterosexual (het). Also a 16th century way of saying ‘odd’.

And, in some cases, a slur.

In the early 1990s, a leaflet, QUEERS READ THIS, offered one of the earliest justifications for the reclamation of ‘queer’ in the contemporary sense, as a term of power, rather than a tool for homophobes. It reads:

Well, yes, “gay “ is great. It has its place. But when a lot of lesbians and gay men wake up in the morning we feel angry and disgusted, not gay. So we’ve chosen to call ourselves queer. Using “queer” is a way of reminding us how we are perceived by the rest of the world. It’s a way of telling ourselves we don’t have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalized in the straight world. We use queer as gay men loving lesbians and lesbians loving being queer.

Queer, unlike GAY, doesn’t mean MALE.

And when spoken to other gays and lesbians it’s a way of suggesting we close ranks, and forget (temporarily) our individual differences because we face a more insidious common enemy. Yeah, queer can be a rough word but it is also a sly and ironic weapon we can steal from the homophobe’s hands and use against him.

While the full leaflet lacks the mention of many folks in our community (those who are bi, trans, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, etc.) it does offer queer as a unifying term: queer, as a community of resistance. A word expanding beyond a singular gay identity.

There’s another definition, offered by Gloria Jean Watkins (author, professor, feminist, and social activist), better known by…



Joshua Lavra

focused on human ways to support the health and happiness of young queer people @Hopelab. formerly @IDEO @EY_Doberman @AirLiquideGroup