Queer vs. Gay: What’s The Difference Between The Two Terms?

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Are the two twinks guys kissing queer or gay?

By: John Hollywood

If you have been out for any amount of time, there’s a good you’ve been exposed to the term queer and gay during conversation. In fact, the words are used so much now that many believe they are interchangeable, if not synonymous.

But is that really true?

Not too long ago, a friend of mine named Steve – a gay man – shared with me that he didn’t like being referred to him as “queer”. When I asked him more about it, he said that word was on the same playing field as “sissy” and that it was offensive.

Much of his sentiment pretty much mirrored the viewpoint of so many gay guys I know. To sum it up, Steve felt there was too much negative history with the term, which traditionally has been used as an ugly, homophobic slur.

Honestly, I can respect that.

Related: Does being called queer offend you?

But simply disliking the word really doesn’t directly speak to the primary differences between gay and queer. And so to help get to the heart of the matter, I decided to talk to informally reach out to a dozen gay men that ranged in age from early 20’s to late 60’s.

While not scientific, my hope was to gather insight while shining a light on a cultural issue that probably deserves a lot more attention.

Here is what I found out.

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First, there wasn’t universal agreement on what exactly queer means. Surprise! In the world of gaydom, we sometimes struggle with defining wolves and otters, so I wasn’t shocked.

In any event, the younger gay men (under 30) thought that queer helped people get away from gender labels. Many of these same men also believed the term was often used as a generic catchall that’s grown to encompass anything not “straight”.

Here, we’re talking about folks that don’t identify as heterosexual and/or may include non-gender conforming or gender binary.

Now when it came time to talk to guys in their mid-thirties and up, the general consensus was that being “gay” was attraction based whereas “queer” was more political.

To a fault, pretty much all of the men (regardless of age) felt that the term gay was exclusive to sexual orientation. Queer was not.

As one guy (30’s) shared with me in a private email:

When you’re gay, it means you are homosexual. That means you gravitate heavily, if not entirely, towards people of the same sex. Ive known you a long time and you’ve always been attracted to guys. In my book, that makes you gay.

Here is what another person (late 50’s) shared with me via messenger:

The word queer has been hijacked by the f*** social justice warriors. Now, gender fluid and sexual fluid types are in the tent with transgender. Gay men got pushed out a long time ago. And the bisexuals are still looking for a home.

On a closing note, I’ll say here that I know some people hate labels. I completely get it. But I’ll also level with you. Words are often important.

Labels help groups come together for a common cause and to establish goals for the future. Without labels, we’d never be able to identify with one another and push back against the forces of bigotry and oppression.

And so my not so simple question to you is this. What is the difference between queer vs. gay?

PS: We should take all of this in context. Native Americans, which evolved from the phrase American Indians, are currently exploring a more inclusive term, such as Native Indians.

1 Comment

  1. Gay is attraction and queer political? They obviously know sweet bugger all about their history. Sydney Gay Liberation? Gay Activists Alliance? Gay Liberation Front?

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