I’m going to take a moment, since it’s Pride Month, to talk about a small part of my journey of being a queer man. My journey does have its twists and turns but I’m not going to explain all of it in one post; that’d be too long. Instead, I’m going to discuss the first experience of hearing the word “queer” and how it was treated.
I moved to a different school in seventh grade because my first school only went up to sixth grade. It was in the next county over and was the only Catholic school in the area that went up to eighth grade. I didn’t have a choice in the matter but I went anyways. I was still trying to get my bearings on this transition as I sat in a science class.
My class and teacher got on a tangent about some subject that I can’t recall. At one point, the “edgy” kid in our class (a Polish kid who we assumed was anorexic and did some shady stuff but was taller than any of us) said the word “queer” and everybody laughed. The teacher, after wiping away a few tears, commended him on the comment but reminded him that he could really only get away with saying that once. I muttered that word to myself a few times, using that conversation as echolalia and then the teacher told me I can’t say the word. That moment conditioned me to wince every time I heard it because it was “bad”.
(Unrelated note: the following year, the same teacher used “Brokeback” as a euphemism for “gay” in class as Brokeback Mountain made a splash in Hollywood during that time and also said that the ACLU stood for “Anti-Christ League of Underminers”)
Nobody really told me what that word meant in terms of sexuality. The definitions I looked up just meant “strange” or “different”. But that I couldn’t use that word at all? That seemed odd.
A few years later, I finally got around to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas in a high school class. One of the lyrics in the song “What’s This” uses the word and at the time, I would just whisper the word when I would sing along as I thought back to that moment. If there was a book we had to read for class that used “queer” in the original sense of being different, I tried to glide past it.
Late in college, right when I started to come to terms with the fact I wasn’t straight, I picked up the original Broadway recording of Avenue Q. I popped it into my player and then the song “If You Were Gay” came on. I’m laughing all the way and then the second verse kicks off with “If you were queer/I’d still be here…” Again, I mutter the words but it was foolish since I was the only one in the car. It took a while but I conditioned myself to let that word flow from my mouth without pain because, after all, I was queer.
Nowadays, I use that word as a second label because, while I still call myself a bisexual, I find that my orientation is more fluid and I can’t quite find a label that best fits. I’d like to experiment with my expression but can’t do that while I’m still under my parent’s roof. I hope that by the time my town’s Pride event rolls around next month, I can attend my first Pride how I want with my boyfriend by my side. It would be amazing but for the moment, I just have to bide my time and bite my tongue.