What’s the right adjective: “gay” or “queer”? Pamela Paul unpacks David Sedaris

October 23, 2022 • 12:15 pm

I saw this video by writer David Sedaris on Twitter the other day, a video in which he wants to be called “gay” rather than “queer”; instead, he announces, tongue in cheek, that he’s now “heterosexual,” as that word doesn’t change. As he said, “I just don’t see why I have to be re-branded for the fourth time in my life. I started as a ‘homosexual’, became ‘gay’, then ‘LGBT’ and now “queer.”

This is when I learned that “queer” is quickly replacing “gay” as a more “inclusive” term.  I don’t understand that, as I thought, mistakenly, that they were synonyms (but see Pamela Paul’s piece below), but who am I to object to what others want to be called?; I’m a “staight” or “cis” male (or, as some say with snark, a “breeder).  I’m happy with calling people what they want to be called, but Sedaris, as a member of a sexual minority, isn’t all that happy with being called “queer”.  Watch this very short video:

And today’s NYT column by Pamela Paul (click on screenshot to read) explains the change. And that’s when I realized that Sedaris was going to get flak for his words.


First, the increase:

Last month, the new president of the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, Kelley Robinson, posted a six-and-a-half-minute video to introduce herself and frame the mission of her organization, which was founded 40 years ago by the gay activist Steve Endean to help fund political campaigns for pro-gay-rights candidates. In the video, Robinson talked about voting rights. She talked about transgender kids in school. She talked about abortion access and workers’ rights. She said a lot of things, including getting “to a world where we are free and liberated without exception — without exception — without anyone left behind.”

Not once, however, did she say the word “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual.”

She’s not the only one. The word “gay” is increasingly being substituted by “queer” or, more broadly, “L.G.B.T.Q.,” which are about gender as much as — and perhaps more so than — sexual orientation. The word “queer” is climbing in frequency and can be used interchangeably with “gay,” which itself not so long ago replaced the dour and faintly judgy “homosexual.

The shift has been especially dramatic in certain influential spheres: academia, cultural institutions and the media, from Teen Vogue to The Hollywood Reporter to this newspaper. Only 10 years ago, for example, “queer” appeared a mere 85 times in The New York Times. As of Friday, it’s been used 632 times in 2022, and the year is not over. In the same periods, use of “gay” has fallen from 2,228 to 1,531 — still more commonly used, but the direction of the evolution is impossible to miss. Meanwhile, the umbrella term “L.G.B.T.Q.” increased from two mentions to 714.

She mentions Sedaris’s video and then analyzes the kerfuffle in her characteristic straight-out style, which I like (she’s one of my favorite NYT columnists):

This raises a question for me, a language obsessive and someone interested in the ways word choices reflect and drive the culture: Why change the word for same-sex orientation? And to echo Sedaris: Who decides these things anyway?

Let’s start with the basic dictionary-sense differences between the words. “Gay” has a clear, specific meaning that applies to both men and women: “homosexual,” which is the first entry in most dictionaries. “Lesbian,” of course, bears the same meaning, but strictly for women.

Paul then digs into her dictionaries and notes that ““gay” and “queer” are not synonymous“, with “queer” having a multitude of meanings, including “odd” or, in this case, “a person whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls outside the heterosexual mainstream or the gender binary.” That, of course, covers a lot of territory, and also tells us why Sedaris doesn’t like being rebranded, because it makes his sexual orientation less specific—in fact, unidentifiable. And perhaps that’s the point of the change: to put everyone who’s not “cis” into one linguistic bag. Paul:

Confused? You should be! “Queer” can mean almost anything, and that’s the point. Queer theory is about deliberately breaking down normative categories around gender and sex, particularly binary ones like men and women, straight and gay. Saying you’re queer could mean you’re gay; it could mean you’re straight; it could mean you’re undecided about your gender or that you prefer not to say. Saying you’re queer could mean as little as having kissed another girl your sophomore year at college. It could mean you valiantly plowed through the prose of Judith Butler in a course on queerness in the Elizabethan theater.

(You have to be really valiant to plow through Judith Butler!)

But Paul’s real argument (I think she’s “straight”, since she’s married to a man) is more serious: she sees “queer” as having, among its many meanings, some that aren’t so cool, while “gay” is unambiguous.

But this is important: Not all gay people see themselves as queer. Many lesbian and gay people define themselves in terms of sexual orientation, not gender. There are gay men, for example, who grew up desperately needing reassurance that they were just as much a boy as any hypermanly heterosexual. They had to push back hard against those who tried to tell them their sexual orientation called their masculinity into question.

“Queer” carries other connotations, not all of them welcome — or welcoming. Whereas homosexuality is a sexual orientation one cannot choose, queerness is something one can, according to James Kirchick, the author of “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.” Queerness, he argues, is a fashion and a political statement that not all gay people subscribe to. “Queerness is also self-consciously and purposefully marginal,” he told me. “Whereas the arc of the gay rights movement, and the individual lives of most gay people, has been a struggle against marginality. We want to be welcomed. We want to have equal rights. We want a place in our institutions.”

Many gay people simply prefer the word “gay.” “Gay” has long been a generally positive term. The second definition for “gay” in most dictionaries is something along the lines of “happy,” “lighthearted” and “carefree.” Whereas “queer” has been, first and foremost, a pejorative. For a certain generation, “queer” is still what William F. Buckley, jaw clenching, called Gore Vidal on ABC in 1968 — “Listen, you queer” — before threatening to “sock you in your goddamn face.”

What I hear most often from gay and lesbian friends regarding the word “queer” is something along the lines of what Sedaris pointed out: “Nobody consulted me!” This wasn’t their choice.

Paul’s explanation is—you guessed it—academics (who gave us the odious term “Latinx”), along with the high percentage of Gen Z folks who identify as “LGBT”.  Paul hastens to reassure the reader that people can use any term they want to describe themselves, but some terms are less desirable than others. “Fat,” she argues, is a term that overweight people deeply dislike, along with “obese” and “chubby”. (They prefer terms like “overweight” or “unhealthy weight”.) Why not use the terms that offend people the least, at least in their presence?  And apparently, Sedaris prefers “gay” to “queer”.  As Paul notes,

Language is always changing — but it shouldn’t become inflexible, especially when new terminologies, in the name of inclusion, sometimes wind up making others feel excluded. In the case of “queer,” it’s especially worrisome and not only because it supersedes widely accepted and understood terms but also because the gay rights movement’s successes have historically hinged on efforts at inclusion.

Gay people, lesbians and bisexuals fought for a long time to be open and clear about who they are. That’s why they call it pride.

Well, I have no dog in this fight, either, and am happy to call people what they want to be called. I think that when someone tells you they’re gay, that’s the word you should use. Same with “queer”.  But will we now have to resort to asking people not only their pronouns, but how to describe their sexual orientation? (Actually, I think the person will nearly always tell you themselves without your asking.)

And, as I predicted to myself when I read Paul’s column, Sedaris is being roundly trounced by the Pecksniffs. Take a look at this article in Jezebel, for instance, which goes to great lengths to find flaws in Sedaris’s “argument”, comparing him to an old man yelling at a cloud. And there’s the Language Police at Advocate, saying that there’s simply so much to “unpack” in Sedaris’s claim, much of it offensive. And Queerty documents the social-media “firestorm” around Sedaris’s claim.

So be it. I saw Sedaris’s piece as a bit of humor, with a tiny grain of seriousness. After all, he’s certainly not a member of the class using the word he prefers: “heterosexual”!  But there’s no humor in the Woke Language Police. One could update the old cartoon, now showing a customer in a bookstore (who wants a funny book) being told by a clerk, “Sorry, sir, this is a Progressive bookstore. We have no humor section.”

Just remember—watch your adjectives. Don’t call a person who says they’re gay “queer”. Or vice versa.

41 thoughts on “What’s the right adjective: “gay” or “queer”? Pamela Paul unpacks David Sedaris

  1. I’d say ‘gay’ is a male who is a Kinsey 5-6. I identify as a queer male, mostly gay, but I’ve had some dalliances with the fairer sex.

    There is also the question as to whether, if I am in a same-sex relationship with a bisexual male, we are in a ‘gay relationship’ or a ‘same-sex relationship’. I would use the latter term because the individuals do not have to be ‘gay’ to be in a same-sex relationship. There is also a huge number of cases of straight men having engaging in sexual acts with men in single-sex environments (and what counts as a sexual act in the post-Clinton era? Serious question.).

    I’m not even going to touch the gender or biological sex issue.

    1. Sorry, quick follow-up.

      Even though I identify as ‘queer’, I am also concerned about what other groups are being shoe-horned into the category. Are people who are orientation-queer, gender-queer, and race-queer queer in the same way? Who else might get added into our ‘inclusive’ group, and who has the right to invite/include/exclude them?

      I’d rather just rip off the band-aid and let humanity abandon all socially constructed genders, while recognizing that biological sex is a real thing for 99.99%+ of humans. I don’t want to turn every comment about who I am attracted to into a lengthy dialogue about gender-friggin identity.

    2. Last follow-up, I promise.

      Back to the question of who we invite in to the ‘queer’ label, I have known several people socially who insisted that, even though they were relatively heterosexual, their fetishes qualified them to be queer. Everything from BDSM and pegging to furries. (If you don’t know what it is, please don’t look it up.)

      When we were looking at things in terms of basic human rights (marriage, adoption, etc.), sure, the queer community had a common goal – and we still do in many jurisdictions. But no one needs to know what happens behind closed bedroom doors. Calling heterosexuals into BDSM ‘queer’? At that point, the label, like so many others, becomes so watered down as to be useless.

      Sorry for the rant and the repeated posts. This is something that has been simmering for 20+ years.

      1. Perfectly agree with everything you wrote here. According to current fashion I would be labeled as minimum bisexual and queer, and possibly also several other things. I don’t “identify as” any “gender”, but I am undeniably a woman. I “identify” with my sex about as much as I identify with my hair color. Today, I visited my father’s grave and thought of what he once said to me: “I am you and you are I.” This is how relatively little even sex matters for individual personhood/”identity”, unless you massively reinforce it via “gender” socially.

  2. There is something of an effort by former gay rights organization….which are now really trans rights….to efface gays and lesbians.

    “queer”, which I believe is how Judith Butler now styles herself (maybe non-binary), is more of an affront. I understand that many elite college campus women now call themselves “queer”, even if they are heterosexual.

    The word “queer” is more in your face than the word “gay”, which seems genteel in comparison. And given that there is gay marriage and gay rights all around, What is there to fight for? So the implied sexual sans-culottism of “queer” performatively appropriates the treacherous waters gays and lesbians navigated in former years.

    As a note, most formerly gay rights organizations are now trans rights. And trans ideology is more than just a tad homophobic and misogynist. Note that many older, and younger, trans people are not down with trans ideology…..

    Great article that will flesh out some of what I say…


  3. The problem with “gay”, as seen by the woke, is that it is an old-fashioned term associated with a clear-cut meaning for the binary, biological words “man” and “woman”. Thus they prefer the vague and undefined term “queer” to go along with making “sex” and “gender” into vague and undefined concepts that mean whatever the heck the speaker wants them to mean.

    1. That’s exactly right. The trans movement has been especially clear about their intention to erase biological sex from the discussion on LGBT rights. They want to claim that gay people who don’t want to have sex with trans individuals (that don’t have their preferred genitals) are transfobic. They want to erase the very obvious fact that most people are attracted to a person’s sex, not gender identity.

    2. Agreed it’s partly about age. David Sedaris is a white wealthy boomer so his word choice for his own sexuality is obviously oppressive. /s

    3. Agreed, Coel – organisations like the UK charity Stonewall are trying to replace “same-sex attracted” with “same-gender attracted” in order to allow men with penises to claim that they are lesbians. It’s the most homophobic nonsense I have ever heard (despite growing up in the ’70s!), and it is coming from groups claiming to represent “LGB” people. No wonder the LGB Alliance wants to separate the LGB from the T!

      1. A recent exchange in court, in a case in which the LGB Alliance is fighting for its charitable status:

        Kate Harris, a co-founder of LGB Alliance, was invited by Michael Gibbon KC, counsel for Mermaids, to reflect on whether some people would have a different understanding of lesbian from the definition given by her organisation.

        “That a lesbian can be a man with a penis?” she asked.

        Gibbon responded: “Putting it in a more neutral way, that lesbians can include someone who is a woman as a result of gender reassignment.”

        Harris, who is a lesbian, was distressed by the exchange, and the judge called for a short adjournment. Gibbon later apologised if he had “raised something inadvertently upsetting”. Harris said: “I’m going to speak for millions of lesbians around the world who are lesbians because we love other women … We will not be erased and we will not have any man with a penis tell us he’s a lesbian because he feels he is.”

        She added: “A lesbian is attracted to another biological woman, full stop.”


    1. So “Latinx” is passing out of fashion already? How disappointing. I was expecting the
      next thing to be “queerx”. And, of course, for those of us who identify as a Himalayan Snow Leopard or a Golden Bamboo Lemur, there is “trans-animalx”.

  4. I absolutely loathe the use of the word Queer as a placeholder for anything that is not heterosexual or “normative”. It is meant to be intentionally confusing and misleading. According to the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice,
    “As an affirming personal identity, or worldview, queer takes many forms. One form is a personal refusal to adhere to, or identify with, static, essentialist categories such as woman/man, gay/straight, feminine/masculine, and more. Rather than adopt or appropriate these labels, a person might instead identify as queer. Identifying as queer, however, does not entail or suggest other identity categories “below the surface”; instead, queer serves as a decidedly ambiguous category”.

    1. In Ukraine, Russian bombs and missiles have placed many innocent civilians, against their will, in the static, essentialist category called “dead”. In a world full of actual tragedies, some deliberately inflicted on the innocent, the narcissism exemplified in the “Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice” is not as amusing as it seemed at first.

  5. “Just remember–watch your adjectives.”

    A related example of adjectival Pecksniffery is the trending preference for “houseless” rather than “homeless” on the grounds that “homeless” is somehow dehumanizing. Never mind that “houseless” also applies to people who live in apartments or condos.

  6. It’s sometimes hard for the older person to keep up. When I grew up in England “queer” was an extremely derogatory term and “queer-bashing” meant physically beating up a gay person. My parents were still bemoaning the use of the word “gay” to mean homosexual rather than cheerful. So I now find the use of the word “queer” quite jarring. Something similar has happened with the words “black” and “coloured” in my lifetime, the former once being considered derogatory and the latter being considered more polite – whereas now “coloured” seems to be insulting and “person of colour” is the preferred nomenclature. It’s a minefield, not made easier to negotiate by people’s haste to attribute to malice what may simply be ignorance of the modern idiom.

    1. “. . .people’s haste to attribute to malice what may simply be ignorance of the modern idiom.”

      Or, as in my case, it may simply be a combination of common sense, respect for the language, and a refusal to be bullied. I suggested this in the recent thread about pronouns (“’It’ is now a pronoun,” Oct. 2) and, in addition to being politely reminded that “times have changed,” was not-so-politely called a “jackass.” Times have indeed changed: the targets of playground bullies have grown up to be pronoun bullies.

    2. Years ago the cartoon Doonesbury had a hip young man correcting his elderly grandmother, who had referred to someone as a “colored man.” “No no no, Grandma — he’s a “man of color.” “That’s what I said — a colored man.”

  7. Yet another social problem caused by the pestiferous troika of ivory-tower academics, journalists who should have never gone to graduate school, and extremist advocates who represent only a tiny portion of the minority they speak for.

  8. I think Sedaris makes an excellent point, even if it is a bit tongue-in-cheek. Language evolves, of course, but if it changes too quickly then confusion reigns, and ever-expanding LGBTQ… branding and re-branding is not helpful. I just finished Trans by Helen Joyce and she references the work by the LGB Alliance (https://lgballiance.org.uk/facts/) and makes it clear that gender activists are behind much of the re-branding, as they see it in their interest to blur the boundaries between sexes.

    1. Nor me.

      I am a middle-aged bloke, a couple of months younger than our host, and I can say that none of my interactions with other people are affected by their sexual or gender orientation. I know that many of them are in conventional heterosexual relationships; I know that some of them are in gay relationships; as for the rest, I neither know nor care.

      And so I find I object to those who make me want to conform to their insistence that their orientation is the most important thing about them, and that our interaction must put that first and foremost.

      PS: as a (very) ex-chemist, I also object to the assumption that the opposite to trans-sexual must be cis-sexual. Cis- and trans- have specific meanings to chemists. Any other usage is surely cultural appropriation!

  9. “The Fairy Godmothers of Queer Theory: Queer Theory evolved out of a postmodern view of sex, gender, and sexuality. Its three founding figures were Gayle Rubin, Judith Butler, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and they drew heavily upon Foucault to lay the cornerstones of queer Theory in the mid-1980s.”

    (Pluckrose, Helen, James Lindsay, and Rebecca Christiansen. Social (In)Justice. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2022. p. 82)

    “Queer Theory is about freedom from the normal, especially when it comes to gender and sexuality. It says that oppression happens every time language constructs a sense of what is “normal” by defining categories—such as sex (male and female), gender (masculine and feminine), sexuality (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and so on)—and slotting people into them. These seemingly straightforward concepts are seen as oppressive, if not violent, and so the main objective of queer Theory is to examine, question, and subvert them in order to break them down.

    To do this, queer Theory uses the postmodern knowledge principle—which rejects the possibility that an objective reality is attainable—and the postmodern political principle—which sees society as structured in unjust systems of power. Queer Theory’s ultimate purpose is to identify the ways linguistic categories create oppression, and to disrupt them. It also uses the postmodern themes of the power of language (language creates the categories, enforces them, and scripts people into them) and the blurring of boundaries (the boundaries are arbitrary and oppressive, and can be erased by blurring them).

    Queer Theory values incoherence, illogic, and unintelligibility as tools to flout the norm in favor of the “queer,” which it proudly calls an “identity without an essence.” It’s vague by design and largely irrelevant in the real world except through social erosion, but it has profoundly influenced the development of postmodern Theory into its more recent applied forms, such as gender studies, trans activism, disability studies, and fat studies.”

    (Pluckrose, Helen, James Lindsay, and Rebecca Christiansen. Social (In)Justice. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2022. pp. 71-2)

    Above, Pluckrose & Lindsay refer to David Halperin’s vacuous concept of queerness:

    “As the very word implies, “queer” does not name some natural kind or refer to some determinate object; it acquires its meaning from its oppositional relation to the norm. Queer is by definition /whatever/ is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. /There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers./ It is an identity without an essence. “Queer,” then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative—a positionality that is not restricted to lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized because of her or his sexual practices: it could include some married couples without children, for example, or even (who knows?) some married couples /with/ children—with, perhaps, /very naughty/ children. “Queer,” in any case, does not designate a class of already objectified pathologies or perversions; rather, it describes a horizon of possibility whose precise extent and heterogeneous scope cannot in principle be delimited in advance. It is from the eccentric positionality occupied by the queer subject that it may become possible to envision a variety of possibilities for reordering the relations among sexual behaviors, erotic identities, constructions of gender, forms of knowledge, regimes of enunciation, logics of representation, modes of self-constitution, and practices of community—for restructuring, that is, the relations among power, truth, and desire.”

    (Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. p. 62)

    1. That first quote by Pluckrose and Lindsay really shows that queer theory opposes science in general, as they dislike organizing the world into meaningful categories. Without language to classify things like species into distinct categories, understanding the world becomes impossible (which is what they want).

  10. At this point I view LGBT&c as a political label, and the effacing of LG&B as an attempt to make the rest appear as a larger interest group.

  11. I’m gay and I loathe queer. The term has been co-opted by mostly straight young women who are looking for social clout. It’s become so “inclusive” it’s become meaningless.

  12. Gay is a colloquialism for homosexual or lesbian, and refers specifically to sexual preference.
    Queer is about revolution through disruption of sexual norms. It is more of a political theory than anything else. A key element of queer theory is that it has to always seek the transgressive. A queer activist might have advocated for Mr. Sedaris’s sexuality in the past, but gay monogamy does not outrage as many people these days.
    Queer theory right now is about getting people outraged when they watch their daughter lose some competition to a big hulking guy, who then gets to watch her shower and change afterwards, or getting 7 year olds to twerk on stage for dollars.
    If those practices become generally tolerated, they will escalate to something worse.

    I am a big fan of both David and Amy Sedaris. I read, watch, or listen to all their work that I can find, and have traveled to attend their performances.
    David Sedaris wants to be accepted for what he is, which a very different from someone who wants to provoke outrage and conflict.
    If anything, queer activism runs counter to his interests.

    Most mainstream gay folk who want to live normal, quiet lives are going to want to distance themselves from the queer movement as it goes farther into “love has no age” territory.

  13. In the mid-90s I spent some time hanging out with a very flamboyant, super smart, HIV+ artist and art teacher (he was at Cal-Arts in Valencia CA at the time) and his very gay male friends whose sobriquet of choice was “faggot”, or “fag” for short. (I don’t recall them ever using the terms queer, gay, homosexual, or anything else.) At first it was slightly shocking to hear them throw the word around as freely as some black youth do “nigger” or more usually “nigga”, but none of them seemed to care at all what they were called. I wonder what he thinks of all this if by some miracle he’s still among us. As usual, I suppose context is everything.

    1. I don’t mind that ‘queer’ and ‘dyke’ have been reclaimed. I’ll use them now, too. I am still personally uncomfortable using the terms ‘faggot’ or ‘fag’ – but do find myself using ‘fag hag’, simply because it is a useful concept, even though I can’t find terminology I find less objectionable.

      Back to the initial title: What’s the right adjective: “gay” or “queer”?

      You might notice that in a few of the posts here, people are not only using ‘gay’ as an adjective, but also as a noun. Due to some gut instinct, I dislike when people use ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ as nouns, but ‘homosexual’ and ‘lesbian’ seem fine to me (He is a gay? No. She is a queer? No. He is a homosexual. Sure. She is a lesbian. Sure.). This may be a generational thing. I’m not sure whether we really need the nouns. “He is a man who has sex with men (MSM)” (regardless as to whether he identifies as gay, bi, straight, pan, poly, or whatever else). I understand the push for people-first language.

      I also find it interesting to see which nominalized adjectives are used in the collective singular vs. the plural. (“A school for the deaf”, “for the blind”, “for the gays”, “for the queers”)

      1. People can call themselves what they want, but I have to say on a personal level, “queer” and “dyke” strike me as particularly ugly words. I can’t imagine wanting to be called either, even if I were a gay woman/lesbian. Utterly off-putting.

        What is it with the far left’s utter obsession with constantly re-negotiating labels and terms? It’s bizarre how much importance they put in to labels.

        1. What is it with the far left’s utter obsession with constantly re-negotiating labels and terms?

          What you seem to be saying is that they shouldn’t keep words already in circulation, but they also shouldn’t keep adopting new words. One, the other, or both are going to continue to happen.

          In this case, reclaiming a slur is an attempt to reverse the dysphemism treadmill where an insulting term is phased out, and the term that replaces it becomes an insult, too. If a term for your identity group exists that is inherently shameful, using a neutral term will not remove the shame from the insulting term; people will continue to find insults. Turning the shameful term into a term of pride disempowers the insult: “Yeah, I’m [insert slur]. What’s the problem?

          1. And, as a separate post, because I could understand why our host might choose not to publish it…

            This is a significant difference between the evolution of the terms ‘queer’ and ‘nigger’. Everyone is no encouraged to use the former term, whereas only members of a particular in-group are privileged to use the latter. In allowing everyone to use the former term neutrally or proudly, we’ve effectively neutralized it. It stigmatizing the latter, we’ve given it a LOT more power.

            (And I will not refer to the latter word while partially censoring it, as in ‘the N-Word’. That just gives it more power.)

  14. “Sorry, sir, this is a Progressive bookstore. We have no humor section.”

    Brings to mind another joke, which I’m sure I’ve embellished a bit:

    “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
    “That’s not funny, you misogynistic, cis-heteronormative a**h*le”

  15. I doubt the distinction via words will ever be resolved. Language changes, yada, yada. My anecdote: I had a lesbian boss who was in her 40’s. I was mutual friends with a gay man who called himself a fag in her presence, we were in our 20’s. I don’t know if that’s how he actually referred to himself, but my lesbian boss exclaimed one day, “You’re gay?” And he answered, “You didn’t know I was a fag?” She retorted, “DON’T call yourself THAT!” She was from the South, and I gathered the word had a lot of negative connotations for her. She seemed actually afraid for him labeling himself thus. He shrugged it off, but I’ll always remember that exchange; it has made me weary of saying “fag” and so I simply don’t. Anyway, just an anecdote.

        1. Context loses its relevance once a word achieves “magic” status, Then it can’t even be used in a mention or a quote. Context and intent should always matter, but the woke have triumphed to an extent unbelievable ten years ago.

  16. As a middle-aged gay man (10 years younger than David Sedaris), I refuse to use the term “queer”, both because it was a word that was thrown at me as an insult when I was a teenager in the 80s and because nowadays it seems to be used by anybody, including (especially?) straight people who want to feel special.

  17. As a queer identified person, I can tell you that the word “queer” was likely specifically chosen as a label due to it’s negative connotations, and the people who I know who identify as such tend to be very out and flamboyant and recognizable as queer. Not all people can be fit into a little box as “gay” or “lesbian.” And in fact even the word “bisexual” has certain connotations. You can’t choose your “queerness” any more than you can make a choice about who you are attracted to, and the physical/emotional response you get when thinking about a certain type of sex. But I certainly understand the abhorrence about being labelled a word which for years was a derogatory term.

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