Queer is used to describe people and their actions who all deviate from what society for centuries considered “normal” heterosexual. In the past, the word queer was used as a derogatory term for homosexuals, just like its counterpart gay. It was therefore one of the many swear words used in all languages to describe homosexuality. In the mid-1990s, this term changed into a positive one: since then, non-heterosexual people have referred to themselves as queer. At first, this was because they wanted to distinguish themselves from other homosexuals who seemed too conformist to them personally. Too conformist meant, for example, that these homosexuals were interested in marriage. This reversal began in the USA within the LBGT community, but has since become established worldwide. LBGT is the English abbreviation for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (non-conformity of perceived gender with body characteristics).

As early as the late 1980s, the community was striving for a re-evaluation of the word queer. The aim was to transform the term into a positive word of defiance that would be recognized by society at large. During the last decades, the word developed into a collective term with both scientific and political significance.

In the German-speaking world, it was above all the philosopher Gudrun Perko who understood the term queer as a political and social movement. Her approach was to understand queer (quote): “in the sense of an open project that questions the supposedly natural order of things”. In her opinion, this approach covers areas of sexuality as well as debates about interculturality and multiculturalism, human rights and democracy, postcolonial critique and others.

In the German language, however, the term queer is not or has not been associated with sexuality to the same extent as in America. In 2005, Gudrun Perko therefore suggested that queer should ideally be translated as “strange” to express “being against the norm”.

Currently, according to the understanding of the aforementioned philosopher, queer is regarded as an umbrella term. Depending on how one sees oneself, queer can refer to very different things:

  •  In sexual terms, to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, BDSM-affiliated persons etc.
  • In gender terms, it refers to binary or non-binary transgender, genderqueer and intersex people.

The word queer thus encompasses all those who do not conform to the heteronormative idea of sexuality or the binary gender model (distinction of woman/man). The openly formulated term therefore offers diverse possibilities for identification. All people who call themselves queer are united by the idea that socially prevailing norms such as heterosexuality are questioned and ideally dissolved. This understanding of queer should make it possible to live life free of norms in umpteen different forms of sexual orientations and/or gender identities.

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