We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Is "Queer" a Derogatory Word?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 29, 2024
Our promise to you
LanguageHumanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At LanguageHumanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The question of whether or not the term “queer” is derogatory has a complex answer, partly because the definition of the word is so malleable. Some people find the usage of this word to describe anyone extremely offensive, and they have very legitimate reasons for feeling this way. Others have chosen to reclaim “queer,” using it as a self-identification, and they support its use in a positive way. Ultimately, the decision to use or avoid the use of this word depends on you, but you may want to think carefully about how and when you use it.

Before delving into the murky waters surrounding the usage of this word, it may help to know how it is used. In a literal sense, “queer” means “unusual.” In the late 19th century, the term came to be used to describe members of the gay community, and it was used in a very derogatory way. However, in the 1980s, some members of the gay community decided to reclaim “queer,” much as other minority groups have reclaimed words that have historically been used in a derogatory way. At this point, the meanings of the word began to diverge, as did the venues in which its usage was appropriate.

”Queer” can be used to talk about someone within the homosexual community, but it is also used as a more general umbrella term to describe people with other sexual practices, such as asexuals, along with transgendered people, practitioners of BDSM, and other people who engage in activities outside the social norm. In this sense, “queer” could be considered an antonym to heteronormativity, a word which is sometimes used to discuss traditional heterosexual relationships. The use of this word as a convenient shorthand to describe people with non-heteronormative practices is very common, because other words to describe this large and varied community are very clunky.

Some people feel that the term is only appropriately used by people who identify as queer. For example, a gay man who identifies as queer could refer to himself and others this way, but a heterosexual man could not, even if he considered himself to be gay-friendly. Others feel that the use of the term is also appropriate among people who identify as “queer allies,” meaning that although they do not personally identify as queer, they support this community.

Like many words with a charged history, the appropriateness of this word depends on the context and the intent of the speaker. When people use “queer” as an insult, it is indeed derogatory and offensive, even when it is used to insult people who would normally happily self-identify with the word. However, increasing examples of positive usage of this word can be found; several popular television shows, for example, use “queer” in their titles, and campus associations for people who identify as gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/asexual/etc. often use the term in their names to be as all-inclusive as possible.

If you decide not to use this term because you find it personally offensive, no one is going to fault you for it. In fact, people who self-identify as queer would much rather see people refraining from use of the word out of uncertainty than see people using it as an insult. However, you might want to be prepared to see people using it as a positive term, and some people may specifically request that you refer to them this way.

As always, being aware of the language you and others use is never a bad thing. By being unafraid to speak up when you hear someone using a term in a way you find offensive, you may be able to spark a conversation which could be mutually educational. In addition to thinking about how words like “queer” and “gay” are used around you, you might also want to think about ablelist words like “lame” or “retarded,” or sexist terms such as “slut.”

LanguageHumanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a LanguageHumanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By jessiwan — On Mar 08, 2021

My take on this is that there shouldn't even be this discussion in the first place. Why should the straight population agonize over what word/s to use to refer to the gay population? And why should we care if they are offended? I know that I for one am not going to censor myself and change my diction just to suit some people. If gays think "queer" is offensive and some straight people respond to that by using a different word, I am sure that the new word would soon take on an offensive meaning too, and it's because there is something fundamentally abnormal about being gay/LGBT or whatever it's called. I know this is harsh, but truth does not care who it offends.

Oh and another thing: nobody cares whether you are "gender binary", or "gender-fluid", or "two-spirits", or whatever. Your sexuality, your gender identity, what gender you are attracted to, and all the related things, are of absolutely zero importance to the rest of us. I don't understand why some people even feel the need to bring this up in a public forum. The only people who would be interested in your sexuality are people who are romantically interested in you. We are not them.

By anon1002378 — On Nov 11, 2019

Only people who choose to identify as queer should be called queer. 'Queer community' then refers to people who identify this way. Calling other people queer (LGBT) is disrespectful, since they did not choose a word with so many negative connotations to describe themselves. Also, I refuse to view my sexuality as 'strange' or outside the norm. I'd much rather carry out that all sexuality that in the norm should be any of the LGBT+ letters. What's outside of the norm are things like sex without consent or pedophilia. Maybe we should call that queer.

By anon995915 — On Jun 10, 2016

I find the term "queer" highly offensive. I liken it to slurs directed at blacks. I also dislike the alphabet soup (LGBT…Q...) that is used to encapsulate everyone who is not "straight". I propose adopting the term "curved"! It is inclusive of everyone who does not fit neatly into the "straight" box and it is not insulting. "Bent" has been used but suggests we are damaged.

By anon991661 — On Jul 07, 2015

I identify as a queer person. Queer is a convenient word to use as an umbrella term for the entire LGBT+ community, especially lesser-known identities like nonbinary people. The younger LGBT+ community really likes it, but I can see why older LGBT+ people wouldn't.

I'm a genderfluid androsexual. Most people understand what gay and bisexual are, but not many people understand what either genderfluid or androsexual mean. So it's just easier for me to say "I'm queer," rather than "I'm a genderfluid androsexual" on days where I really don't want to do the same Q&A I've done a hundred times before.

By anon967219 — On Aug 25, 2014

I'm a gay man and personally I don't like "queer". I don't see anything positive about reclaiming it and I do avoid using it.

Even if it's "reclaimed", it doesn't erase the history of it being used as an insult. It's also still common to hear it used in the homophobic context today among typical straight "frat bros", so it hasn't even gone away.

I've also grown up hearing the word "queer" regularly used in its correct original meaning: "odd or unusual". I have no problem with the word being used in this sense, obviously. However, to me I still think of this meaning when I hear gay people being called or calling themselves "queer". "Queer" suggests that there is something inherently weird and wrong with being gay, so I find it uncomfortable.

By anon346349 — On Aug 27, 2013

I must admit I'm a little unsure on this one. I've been on the fence about my sexual orientation for a while now, finding I'm mostly attracted to people of the opposite sex but do on occasion have crushes on people of the same sex. (Gay friends tell me I'm heteroflexible.) However, I think that for practical purposes, people would consider me an ally.

With that in mind, I wonder if my usage of the term would be considered offensive. I don't use it to describe any specific person, unless they prefer it, but I do use it to describe the LGBT community. I guess my question is whether or not saying something about the "queer community" is socially acceptable.

By amypollick — On Dec 19, 2012

@anon309841: For many people, using the word "queer" to refer to a gay person is insulting. And if they feel that way, I'm certainly not going to say they're wrong. Using a pejorative like "queer" may be insulting, insensitive and downright mean, and it may even be considered "hate speech," depending on the person and the context. However, just saying the word is *not* a hate crime.

By anon309841 — On Dec 19, 2012

It is wrong to use the word. It is hurtful to members of the gay community. Gay people who use it are traitors to the community. Straight people should never utter the word under any circumstances. It is a hate crime.

By ZipLine — On Aug 26, 2012

@MikeMason-- I agree. It also depends on the kind of relationship you have with the person that's saying it. I'm gay and I have a lot of friends who are straight. I have a couple that I have known since I was a kid. We literally grew up together.

Sometimes when we're hanging out and I'll say something or do something and my friends will say "you're so queer," but we just laugh. I'm never offended because I know they're joking and I know that they would never make fun of me about my sexual preference. They have been more open-minded about it than my parents.

So it really depends on the situation and the context the word is used in. It also depends on who's saying it and the kind of relationship you share with that person.

By bear78 — On Aug 25, 2012
So basically, the term is only derogatory if the person being described thinks it's derogatory? I don't know, that seems like kind of a slippery slope to me. For instance, I could see someone using this term in a hateful manner, then saying that he or she didn't think it was derogatory, since so many people who are not cisgendered are OK with the term. Thoughts?
By stoneMason — On Aug 24, 2012

With words like this, how you say it and your tone of voice and facial expression is really important. Two people can be saying the same word but the way one person says it can make it derogatory. So the underlying perceptions and the worldview of the person is important. We might not even realize sometimes how we're saying things and whether that is offensive to someone or not.

And of course, there are people who use the word "queer" in a derogatory way on purpose. So if you want to make sure that you don't insult anyone, it's better not to use this word. I don't use it just because there are better words I can use instead. There is no need to risk insulting someone.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
LanguageHumanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

LanguageHumanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.