Whenever I start a new programming project at work, the words of my very first computer teacher, way back in high school, stick in my head: “Never start a program with a GOTO statement.” My project, which ran on an Apple //e, was dinged five points by Mr. Kotschevar because I didn’t follow that advice.
Whenever I’m landing an airplane, something that I can do quite well I might add, I can still hear the voice of my flight instructor and good friend, Chuck as I make my final approach: “whatever you do don’t get flat. Don’t get flat!” The way I approach a runway there’s not much of a chance that I’m going to get flat, but I still hear his words.
Words stick with us. Words make an impact. Words linger for a long time.
Every once in a while an activist in the gay community (I can never keep up with all the letters) will write an editorial stating that the gay community should reclaim the word “queer”. This thought stems from the way that some African-Americans have reclaimed the “N” word. The argument goes that by reclaiming the word queer, the power to hurt with that word dissipates and we own the label.
The truth of the matter for me is that I don’t want to be labeled.
Back in the early 1970s there was an episode of “Match Game 73” that included a question that went something like this: “Did you hear the latest about Batman and Robin? It turns out they’re _blank_”.
The contestant filled in the blank with “queer”. Nanette Fabray wrote “Fairies”. Elaine Joyce and Bobby Van wrote “Queer”. There was some decency on the panel: Charles Nelson Reilly wrote “Divine”. Richard Dawson wrote “Married”. Brett Somers feigned shock at the answers the others wrote and chimed in with “Lovers”.
The Game Show Network doesn’t show that episode anymore.
I can’t tell you the number of times that I was called “queer” when I was in high school. I have to admit that it didn’t sting as much as being called a faggot, which happened quite a bit as well. I still bristle at the word faggot. A friend jokingly said faggot to me not too long ago and I surprisingly reacted rather emotionally to the word even though he meant no harm and I knew that.
Words linger on for a long time.
I can understand the argument for reclaiming a word and by doing so taking away the negative connotations and power associated with it. The thing is, I don’t really want to be labeled. I’m just me. When I was in college a girl named Tracy (she was from Long Island) asked if I preferred to be called gay or would I prefer homosexual. I replied that I wanted to be called “John” (this was before I was more insistent that I be called J.P.). Yes, I am a gay man, I have a husband and I have had homosexual relations for 30 years (quit counting on your fingers, Mom). I’m happy with who I am and I’m comfortable with my sexual orientation. But I don’t want people making assumptions of me based on stereotypes that have historically been associated with words like queer or fag or gay or anything of that nature. Self-imposed expectations of being a gay man held me back for too long. The word queer held me back for too long.
As I prefer to say, if you insist on labeling me then remember this: I’m just a guy with a husband. While being gay is part of who I am, it doesn’t even come close to describing the full view of who or what I am. I don’t need a label, I don’t want a label, I don’t find any sort of empowerment in labels and I don’t really identify with any sense of community that chooses to label themselves with a string of letters or words like queer.
You can be as queer as you like (and it even pained me to type that sentence) but don’t expect me to get in lock step with your labeling system.