Q is for Queer


Q is for Queer

 

If I’m right, the title of this post raised hackles on the back of more than a few necks.  And it should have!  I don’t use it lightly, and yes, it bothered me more than a little to post this.

For me, this is one of a group of words that actually cause me to flinch when I hear.  I could have posted other words from this group on N day, C day, or the upcoming R day, but I chose today because out of all these words this one is the least unpleasant (which isn’t saying much).  I’m pretty certain that everybody has their own list that is personal to them.  My words are technically not curse words and this is not a cussing versus non-cussing debate, but they stand apart because their offensive, derisive nature of hate-speech.  I’m discussing them today because fiction writers deal with the possibility of using one or more of those tainted words in their stories all the time.

Our characters come alive in our writing and some of them take on persona’s that will almost certainly be contrary to how we act and believe.  Depending on the genre you write, they may also use language or touch upon themes we are not comfortable with.  I’m faced with that dilemma right now for my latest book.  A character in my story is poised to use the word above, and I find myself hesitating.  As a writer, I know its use perfectly fits this character and what he represents, but as a human being I wonder if I’m perpetuating the use of a word I would rather see fade out of existence.  I find myself struggling between using a word I personally view as repugnant, and feeling that I’m letting this indecision handicap the truthfulness of the writing.  Yes, I could choose a different word, a softer word that would convey a similar meaning, but wouldn’t I then be compromising what I know is right for this story?

In the end, I know I’ll use the word.  I must.  But what about you?  Have you come up against this yet?  If not, when the time comes and you’re faced with your own choice, will you be able to step outside the moral you and let the writer continue on?
 

37 comments

  1. I've been there a couple times too. I really hate the C-word, but I've used it in my writing, because my characters definitely don't have the same feelings about it as I. I do shudder to think that someday, someone might think that I use that word freely, but I guess that's the price to pay...

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  2. I grew up with the word queer simply meaning odd and slightly different, as in, "Isn't it queer we had two flats tires in one day?"

    I miss being able to use it in that way. I also miss using the word gay in the sense of being light-hearted and happy.

    I realize words in our wonderful English language evolve and change meaning (the word nice used to mean someone who was ignorant and stupid) but it kind of makes me mad that queer and gay have been usurped.

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  3. While I know the other meaning for queer, I thought you were going for the quirky meaning. I'm with Bish, why can we use words like queer and gay anymore. They were such nice words.

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  4. A character who uses such terms in-character is effective. In film, for instance, Matt Damon at the start of The Departed. Tell me that doesn't instantly define him.

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  5. As with all slang and profanity, not everyone uses the same.

    I mean there are still people who hear the word bitch and think only of a female dog (I'm not one of those people, certainly, but they are out there)

    When I come across strong language in writing, it helps me get a picture of the character

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  6. I had a character spit out the "C" word one day while I was writing and it caught me by surprise. I went through the same struggle of wondering whether or not I should leave the word in the dialogue. It makes me uncomfortable to hear it, it's insulting, but that's also partly why the character used it I think. It's true certain words do affect us emotionally that way and we have to figure out if it's worth using them or not.

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  7. Yes. Not quite as strongly as that, yet, but I know it's coming. Word choice is characterization.

    I had thought of using that word today, because it does have varied meanings and usage, but it has become a nasty slur.

    Play off the Page

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  8. Agreed. I think these words are generally considered so offensive that it increases the effectiveness when a character uses it.

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  9. I think you have to be true to the character and allow them to speak as they must. Like a few people have mentioned above, their word choices can be powerful in defining them for the reader, even if those choices aren't always safe or easy.

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  10. Great post! I've not had to deal with this yet, but I think you have to be true to the character. The ugliness of his personality will make the offensive nature of his speech more evident.

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  11. I think you can create such depth with a character with so few words when chosen correctly. This would help the reader understand who the character is. I have to fight this battle in my classrooms every day because people don't realize how hurtful words can be.

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  12. There will always be those readers, or non-readers who effectively *burn* a literary piece of work out of fear; who object to the language, the adult nature, how the author handled a particular situation, or simply the general content. They may even judge by nothing more than the front cover.

    There will also always be those readers who just aren't comfortable with 'all of the above' and therefore choose to fill their heads with something else. Of course, that is their distinction to make for themselves.

    Authenticity is what I look for in the characters and the story, without even really *looking* for it. I just *feel* it in the reading. If I may use an extreme example, how am I the reader to believe the white supremacist would spew out, "Hey! Mr. Homosexual! Get off my side of the planet!" Personally, I find it hard to believe this character would be so polite in their ugliness.

    I'm finding it is THE most difficult thing I am to do in my writing... Stay True to the character! Don't be afraid to write the story.

    If the priority is selling to a particular audience, then you adjust the *truth*. If the priority is selling the character, then you simply tell it like it is.

    Of course, just my *opinion*. *G*

    WWMTD (What Would Mark Twain Do?)

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  13. This is one of the reasons I'm glad that I write for the youngins. LOL. My stories are all pretty light, and if they do have "evil" characters, well, their world has a whole different vocabulary and their angry words aren't the same as ours.

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  14. Hate-filled words are heavily weighted with acute comments on taboo topics. Still as writers, it's definitely our job to explore those. Lionel Trilling said it best, ". . .a writer's speciality [is] to deal with taboos, to speak the unspoken, to reveal, to uncover, to show the interaction of people the difference between what we profess and how we act."

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  15. Totally get what you mean. I often wonder if people will think of me differently over cuss words or derogatory things such as this.

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  16. D.L. it worked. My hair did hackle-raise. LOL You're right. Language is very important and if an author uses a word like "niggerdly" they'd better be ready for a firestorm.keep up the A-Z posting. Almost done!
    Signature
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

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  17. P.S. Typo. Niggardly (adjective)
    1. reluctant to give or spend; stingy; miserly.
    2. meanly or ungenerously small or scanty: a niggardly tip to a waiter.

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  18. It's always hard to use these words in writing - at least for me. But then I think about how these words used to mean something different. Like queer. It wasn't always a slur. And that helps me.

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  19. Everyone else has said my own thoughts very well... and what a mature group of commenters!!! I really like scarlett's ending: "If the priority is selling to a particular audience, then you adjust the *truth*. If the priority is selling the character, then you simply tell it like it is."

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  20. I have a number of characters who spout racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs. It wouldn't be true to who they were if they didn't use those words, nor to the eras in which they live if they were all about love and tolerance. My own paternal grandma uses the N word, and she genuinely believes African-Americans used to WANT to be called that word, and doesn't think it's a slur word at all.

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  21. As long as the word is used in the context of a true characterization, I think it's a valid use, and can be an extremely effective characterization.

    If you're using intentionally to merely try to shock your reader, or to somehow make your work seem 'edgy', then I think it's a wrong choice.

    Basically, for the artist, it comes down to the same thing as anyone who uses that or any other emotionally-charged word: What's your motive?

    If your motive is pure, than the word is just a word; If your motive is tainted, than it can taint any word you use.

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  22. I feel your writing must be truthful and honest. If you are using these words in a manner that is truthful, you don't perpetuate the wrongful use of them but open folks eyes to the reality...and the pain they cause. Good luck with this very touchy issue!
    Shannon

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  23. As a reader, I understand that not everything I read is what that author truly believes or uses in his or her life. It's fiction. You have to be true to the story. Most non-writers understand that, too. (That is, the ones who appreciate the value of the written word and fight book banning just as hard as writers do.)

    So I think if it's right for the story and the character, then go for it.

    Good luck with whatever you decide!!

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  24. Word choice defines my characters. I swear a lot in real life and so does my character. Not all of them cause that would be a little too much but I do have one character that walks in the foot prints of Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino. Slurs, jabs, and cussing. And to top it off, my character is a she. Attractive, huh?

    And think about it. Suzanne Collins didn't use any negative discriptions for Thresh or Rue in Hunger Games and when the movie came around; people still had problems that they were black. Really?! She discribed them as dark skinned.

    You can't win them all.

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  25. The word 'queer' doesn't have the negative connotations in all cultures. As with many words, I think a lot of meaning is carried by how it's said.
    Rhia from Five Minute Piece for Inspiration (about #776 on A to Z list).

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  26. I like to think that when I write 'bad words', it's my CHARACTERS saying it. Not me. Because, even if I don't use the words in any way, my characters can sometimes be mean and say things that I wouldn't say.

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  27. Queer still just means 'odd' to me.
    I could've loaded my two books with words more suited to fighter pilots. (I've been around real fighter pilots and I know they cuss!) But I don't speak that way, and to me, my work is a reflection of me. So I picked one basic slang word, damn, (two if you count ass, which I only used twice) and stuck with that. Now I feel safe recommending my books to anyone.

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  28. I'm not sure my characters have ever wanted to use words that I wouldn't use. Perhaps I just haven't put them in the right situation.

    I understand your hesitancy - but the character has to ring true. Could you not have another character reprimand him?

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  29. I think as long as it fits in with the situation and the character it should be in. Profanity shouldn't be put in just for shock value.

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  30. I'm another one who is more disturbed that perfectly good words have been twisted to have a different connotations than originally intended. What useful words will be ruined next?
    But that doesn't address your question. In your case I guess if it seems like an appropriate use for how you're using it, then why pander.


    Lee
    Places I Remember
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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  31. I do my best to use words that fit, whether that word is good, bad, offensive, or whatever. Of course, since everyone perceives words differently, the word that 'fits' isn't always clear.

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  32. I haven't had to face this situation yet. I agree with Bish, some words have been distorted and that is a shame.

    Great post!

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  33. I haven't faced this yet - I write romantic suspense, so I'm hoping it never comes up.

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  34. Know what's sad? I know what the 'N', 'C', and 'R' words are.
    Know what's good? I never say them.

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  35. Shiver! I never thought about it that way, but I guess it is the same as an actor acting out a part

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  36. I'm late to posting on this because I'm behind in my blog reading, but my $0.02...

    I'm gay, and I've had people on the street shout all kinds of things at me over the years, including "queer."

    It's not a word I love to hear/read, obviously. But at the same time I absolutely believe that you deny the full range of the human experience if you erase hate and hateful language from your writing. If it's in character for someone to use a slur, then they should use it. That said, context is important. Would I be thrilled if the protagonist in a story, the person with whom I'm supposed to identify, casually referred to gay people as "queers"? Not so much.

    I know there was a YA author recently who took a lot of flak because her characters repeatedly used the word "retarded" to mean someone stupid. Now, I get that that's probably a realistic portrayal of how some teens talk. But was it a choice I would have made? In that context, definitely not. It wasn't necessary to move the story forward; it was thrown around carelessly and without critique; it normalized the word and seemed to make it "okay" for people to use it that way. I'd have left it out.

    Readers expect realistic dialogue, yes. But they also understand that what they're reading has been crafted for them by a writer; it's not a reality TV show. Each word has been CHOSEN. If there's not a good reason, or if that reason is cheap shock value at the expense of a marginalized group, then discerning readers are going to give that book/author the side eye.

    TL;DR: words are powerful, and they matter. None of them are off-limits, but if you're using charged words, you should have a reason.

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