IT wasn’t until recently that I discovered how completely provoked and offended some people feel by the word “queer”.

I’d wager that depending on your age and experiences, your reaction to the term will differ.

We’re reclaiming the word, but it’s still yet to become something that everyone uses comfortably. Unlike many other words in the LGBTI dictionary, queer has the ability to divide by just its mention alone — provoking an instant response.

The desire for “wiggle room” when it comes to identity is not new. Many people see sexuality as a fluid thing, yet many of the terms we use for it are anything but flexible. Lesbian and bisexual conjure up very specific ideas of who you are, and in a world where solid labels comfort those around us it’s no wonder that they are popular identifiers.

The truth is that most people don’t fall on 100 per cent of either end of the spectrum, and “95 per cent lesbian” or “basically gay” are not hugely acceptable terms.

You may consider yourself bisexual, but only really interested in having a same-sex relationship or heterosexual relationship. Technically, you can use the term bisexual — but don’t be surprised if people want to set you up with people you wouldn’t want to be with.

Recently, a 2011 article in Hoax perzine titled Not “Queer” as in “Radical” but “Lesbian” as in Fuck You caught my eye. Rachel, the trans* writer, explained that she’d started using the word “lesbian” instead of “queer” and had received some angered, transphobic responses. Clearly, the “lesbian” label can be seen by some as a little black and white in its usage and it wouldn’t be the first time a woman was told she couldn’t use the term because she’d expressed attraction to men or because she had transitioned.

We also read time and time again the identity crisis that the partner of someone who transitions goes through. In a July article in Diva, Suzy transitioned to become Jacob, and it was his lesbian-identified wife Jane that had the ensuing identity crisis — feeling she needed to re-assert her “I’m still a lesbian though” identity to everyone she met. Identity is no simple matter and no one fits perfectly into a label.

These things can be hard to describe to people who aren’t in your inner circle, and sometimes it’s nice to just have a bracket term that describes your openness to possibility, change and exploration, while maintaining your distance from being heterosexual. That bracket term is certainly “queer”, a term that is now the vast umbrella that can shelter us all from being categorised.

Yet it’s a word best used with caution.

Universities have changed substantially over the past 30 years, but they’re still where many people form their identity and where shifts in social thinking can be best seen. Now we see University of Technology, Sydney’s and University of NSW’s gay social groups proudly dub themselves The Queer Collective, and many others have similar titles.

However, while it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to use the term, it’s all about context. One thing so many of us fail to do is to be sensitive to the experiences of those around us, particularly those who are older than us who have fought for many of the freedoms we take for granted.

Those of us in our 20s have largely grown up with a level of acceptance that our seniors did not always enjoy. Many names may have been thrown your way, but the choice insult of today is rarely the word queer.

It does indeed still mean unusual, or abnormal, and with this in mind it’s clear why some might see it as highly derogatory. Telling someone they’re “abnormal” is often perceived as one of the highest insults, particularly when the backdrop is that of homophobia and a fight for equality and acceptance.

In my personal situation, it’s the word “dyke” that still holds a sting for me. I wouldn’t like to be referred to in this way, although I know many use it proudly — good for them. We all have terms that take us back to a not so happy place. There are many more words that make me want to curl up on the inside, and we should always remember the power words and names have.

With this in mind, while the word is seeing a growing movement of acceptance that is almost synonymous with the growing pride movement, no one has the right to ask anyone to accept a term that they consider offensive or that pains them. By all means, embrace the term and use it, just don’t let it come as a surprise that other people prefer different labels.

Jennifer Duke is a proud lesbian and the editor of Property Observer. Follow her on Twitter: @JennieDuke

**This article was first published in the December edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a hard copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional areas.

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