What’s in a name? My obsession with words has been obvious from a very early age to, well, everyone within ear- or email-shot of me at any time. So, the fact I grew up to become a lawyer and newspaper co-owner is no surprise at all to anyone who knew me as a kid.
What would surprise anyone who knew me as a kid is my use of the word “queer” as a personal identifier. Not because I haven’t been out of the closet my whole life (because I have), but because anyone who used that word around me prior to the last couple of years would have gotten a verbal lesson in why they should never use it again. Growing up in Albuquerque, my civil rights lawyer, Freedom Rider mother taught me that the word “queer” was an awful derogatory term—a slur.
Nicole M. from Albuquerque explained that she knows this tension well, saying, “I don’t like labels, and with LGBTQ, I feel like I have to pick one. ‘Queer’ lets me just be me. My aunt doesn’t like the word though. She says I should be offended by it.”
Joe C., who is also from Albuquerque and also identifies as queer, added, “To me ‘queer’ is more inclusive. Being Native [American] I don’t feel that ‘LGBTQ’ represents two-spirited people. So I use the word ‘queer’ when I speak about myself.”
This conversation isn’t just happening in our community, it’s also happening in newsrooms across the country. The AP (Associated Press) Stylebook instructs that, “Queer is acceptable for people and organizations that use the term to identify themselves. Do not use it when intended as a slur.”
Over at National Public Radio, Jason DeRose says in an NPR story on the topic that, “When NPR does use the word ‘queer,’ it is not done as an afterthought, but the result of much conversation by newsroom leaders.” DeRose is not only a senior editor for NPR overseeing its LGBTQ reporting, he is also a longtime member of the NLGJA, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
A story in the Des Moines Register also addressed the topic after it published a story that used “queer” in quoting a person speaking about themselves and their community “prompting readers to ask why any newspaper would print such an offensive and insensitive term.” The Register responded that it refers to GLAAD for guidance on its use of the word.
It took many years and a frank conversation about the very voice of this newspaper at its founding to feel the word had been rid of its thorns for me. And so The Paper.’s masthead reads “queer-owned”—because both owners (myself and Pat Davis) use the word in identifying ourselves. Like Joe from Albuquerque, I came to find “queer” a more inclusive identifier. And as a person who feels cramped being in any one checkbox, “queer” gives me the space I need to feel comfortable.
So, to borrow from another famous quote, what’s in a name, it seems, is—as with the beauty of the rose itself—in the eye of the beholder.