By Matt Radford
The office is small and cramped, a pink nook in the back corner of the Library Building.
Throughout the school year, five days a week, dedicated staff and volunteers work in the RyePRIDE office, and within this fissure of Ryerson queer spirit there is a vernacular that to many, is foreign. This day, like many other days at Ryerson, countless classes are finishing and the stairwells swell with students.
“Fag” yells an anonymous someone from within a conclave of friends. “Fuckin’ fags,” is yelled–one more time for good measure before running off down the hall. A smirk runs across the face of one of the volunteers as he retorts, “Of course I am.”
A lingo has developed within the queer community that to many is a strange mixture of insults and clinical terms. Over the past decade, a culture of reclaiming words that were previously used pejoratively has taken over the main language of the queer community.
“Language plays a huge role, it creates the culture, just like any other group,” says Kathy Gardner, volunteer coordinator for RyePRIDE. “Unfortunately, most of it is derogatory terms created by the heterosexual community and reclaimed by the queer community.”
The usual suspects are well known: fag, dyke, queer, homo, fudge packer, lesbo, sissy, to name a few. But others have developed, being both unique of themselves and combinations of others. Here is brief run down: Heteroflexible: A hetero-sexual person with a queer mindset. Pansexual: A person attracted to multiple genders.
Genderqueer: A person who does not acknowledge or fit into a male/female model. Trannyfag: A transgendered person who is attracted to people of a more masculine gender. Boi: A boyish gay man or a biological female with a boyish appearance. “Even with a term like butch’ you have to be careful,” says Gardner. “I was told that as a women you cannot call yourself butch unless you wear leather, have tattoos, or several piercings.”
But even within the queer community, racial differences come into play in regards to language, Gardner says. “Many queer people of colour don’t use the terms gay’ or lesbian’ because they consider them ‘white’ terms. White people will use the term ‘soft butch’, while people in the black community would say ‘stud’.”
But outside the queer community, there is confusion around the reclaiming of words. “Despite (the words) being reclaimed, they still hurt,” says Andre Goh, the Educational Equity Advisor for Ryerson’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Services. “These words have in the past been used to create invisibility, and most who use them don’t get far.
The question then, is when is it, or isn’t it, OK?” asks Goh. “We need to create an opportunity to debate it.” Throughout this article, the term “queer” has been used several times. As one of the commonly reclaimed words used today, “queer” has taken on a whole new definition. “The word queer’ is used by young people and academics,” says Neil Thomlinson, a professor at Ryerson’s School of Politics and Public Administration. “This isn’t going to last,” Tomlinson said.
Over the past few years, as the ever-growing list of acronyms has grown from LGBT to LGBTTTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Two-Spirited, Intersexed and Queer), the term “queer” was brought in as a cover-all for anyone who isn’t heterosexual. “It got to the point of how many letters can we put before it stops being a community,” says Thomlinson. “It has not produced inclusion, it has produced the illusion of inclusion. I’m not sure who decided the term ‘gay’ had a gender.”