The Word 'Queer' Is Only Offensive If You're a Jerk

01/24/2015 10:27 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

The word "queer" is said to be derived from a 16th-century term meaning "eccentric." It was not until the late 19th century that the term "queer" was used in a derogatory manner to refer to effeminate males.

In the strange wilderness of adolescence, "LGBTQ" does not apply to young minds. We are just an intricate web of youthful androgynous beings trying to understand how we relate to the world and the many cultures around us.

In many subcultures queerness is a taboo subject, and the adversity that queer people have faced throughout history is astonishing. For example, "berdaches," or "two-spirits," were a common and regular part of everyday Native American culture, yet they were killed and fed to dogs by "heroes" like Christopher Columbus. Only select groups and religious institutions sought to harm queer persons, very much like today.

In my youth, queer kids were often referred to as effeminate, gay, or cross dressers of sorts. Usually those allegations were followed by words like "faggot," "fairy," "nancy," etc.

The word "queer" is one that still puzzles many minds today, depending on the context, as it is used now as an umbrella term for a staggeringly diverse community, one that becomes more so every day. However, for non-queer persons, one question remains: "When am I allowed to use the word 'queer'?"

In the '90s, New York brought the word "queer" back to the mainstream press, this time with a positive edge. Since then, much of our gay subculture has adopted the term as a neighborly and friendly one, often used amongst one another.

At this point, you're probably wondering, "But Chase, when I'm hanging out with my gay friends, when is it OK to say 'queer'? I feel like it's always the wrong time." Well, reader, let's try an example. Let's say Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi invite you over for dinner. Ellen laughs as her hand grazes Portia's leg, the two clinging to each other across from you on the couch. "So, Ellen, you and Portia are looking mighty queer!" you express gleefully.

Now, let's stop. "Queer" is an aesthetic, but it is also up to the person it is used toward and how they feel about it. Not everyone accepts the term everywhere, but with the right intention, it could be considered appropriate, generally speaking. However, if you're not queer, it may not have the same neighborly sense as it would coming from another from within the LGBTQ community. Now, perhaps something along the lines of "Ellen, I love the gritty, queer aesthetic of your space!" is a much more rounded compliment. Notice how it's not the only subject matter of the compliment, and it's used in a passive manner. This is more than OK in most situations, but you have to judge the situation.

My band was recently described as a "queer music duo," and I love it. Many friends asked if I found it offensive, and I giggled. It was used in a positive manner by a neighborly queer journalist. I like calling myself "queer."

Final verdict: Overall, the word does not carry the same weight as it once did. My advice to you, reader, is to find better language. Challenge yourself to think outside the box. Challenge yourself to rise above doing what's easy. Being mindful of your queer friends and neighbors may elevate the level of respect they have for you. What the community wants most is to be itself without being chastised. To chastise someone, you have to really think about what you will say to them. It's all in the intention. If you change your intention, you might even notice a little bit of queerness within yourself. If you can use the word "queer" in a more inclusive way, there is really nothing wrong with it; hooray for you! If you use it in a derogatory manner, shame on you; go polish the pair of metal balls hanging on the back of your pickup, bro. Queer hate is barbaric and Neanderthalesque. Everyone is a little curious sometimes; everyone has experimented and had second thoughts. I guess you could say everyone is a little bit queer. After all, a word is only as hurtful as you want it to be.