‘Q’ Is for What?

It’s here, it’s queer, and it doesn’t mean what you think it does.

“How was the party?” said one socialite to another recently. “You didn’t miss a thing,” came the answer. “It was totally queer.” Queer is back. But not queer like rainbow–flag–marching–down–Fifth Avenue queer. “It can mean amusing, it can also mean kind of gross, or it can mean really odd,” says Helen Schifter, a socialite who dates her usage of the word to her Exeter days. “It’s really a boarding-school thing,” she explains. “And when I’m with my boarding-school friends who are from Manhattan, everyone uses it.”

Queer is not the only gay word to pop up around town these days in an unexpected context. Michelangelo Signorile, who wrote a book called Queer in America, says, “I’ve really noticed a resurgence of gay by skateboardy kids. Not gay like homosexual. It meant kind of farty, kind of odd.”

Does this sort of usage bother him? Not really. Queer’s already run the gamut of meaning, from biddy old-lady word to playground stinger to hate speech to Queer Power – and now, apparently, it’s come around again.

“Queer itself was always a sort of queer word,” Signorile adds. “It never meant anything until it became a derogatory word for homosexual. Maybe it’s back because the word has really lost its sting and it can just go back to being used in a queer way again.”

‘Q’ Is for What?