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|Spectra and binaries|
Queer is a blanket term that is generally used to refer to the set of any sexualities or genders that deviate from the social norm of cisgender heterosexual (although some would argue that it should be used in an even wider context, for example, including cisgender heterosexuals whose sexual behavior is not "vanilla"). It is, in many cases, considered to be preferable to the "LGBT" family of terms, as it is all-inclusive and does not force specific (and likely imprecise) labeling.
The term is also sometimes used as a self-identifier by those who wish to tie their sexuality to a radical critique of society and maintain an outsider status. Implicit in the latter usage is a rejection of the mainstreaming of gay sexuality in an inherently heteronormative, capitalist, racist, sexist society, or the prioritization of conservative issues by the LGBT community including same-sex marriage and military service. This is especially so when such campaigns exclude transgender, polyamorous, runaway and "criminalized" queer youth, and other alternative sexualities, thereby keeping them on the margins. For example, consider these quotes from the Queer Nation Manifesto, first distributed at a gay rights march in 1990 by ACT UP activists:
- "That everyday you wake up alive, relatively happy, and a functioning human being, you are committing a rebellious act. You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary. [...] Being queer means leading a different sort of life. It's not about the mainstream, profit-margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It's not about executive directors, privilege and elitism. It's about being on the margins, defining ourselves."
The above paragraph, notably, raises a caveat to the use of "queer" as an umbrella term for the "alphabet soup" (LGBTIQ...): to the extent that "queer" refers to a specific subculture defined above, it may become, or already be, as inappropriate an umbrella term as "gay", and for the same reasons. The evolution of the term's usage is in flux, but large numbers of people in the LGBTIQ... communities do not identify themselves as "queer", which suggests that the umbrella-term usage of "queer" may not be likely to persist.
"Queer" is an example of a reclaimed word: the term was almost exclusively derogatory in the past, and has only recently become an acceptable term, at least within certain linguistic contexts (comparable to the reclamation of "nigger"). The extent to which that reclamation has diffused into the larger linguistic context of the population at large is an open question. It's also an example of language evolution in action; the current sense has only been widespread since the early to mid 1990s or so, and before that almost always referred exclusively to homosexual people.