The Q Word That’s Better Not Spoken

portrait photo of woman with brown curly hair doing the shhh sign

Erin and I don’t second-guess ourselves a lot when we record our Gracefully & Frankly podcast. We are in charge of our own contributions. In other words, if one of us wants to remove something, we do it. It doesn’t happen often but recently I asked her to edit something I said.

Language evolves. We only have to look at the N word as evidence. This word that was first used during a terrible time in recent history to demean enslaved people, was taken back by their decendants. White people risk their reputation if they utter it. I fully support that notion and have no desire to say it. Between Black people the word has many applications. Sometimes it’s practically neutral.

After the Grammy Awards I said the word queer to describe one of the performers in a positive way. As in, look how far we’ve come. But I stopped and second-guessed myself because “queer” used to be an insult and a pejorative used against homosexuals. I would have been upset if even one listener didn’t know that the LGBTQIA+ community has taken back the word queer. Many openly describe themselves as queer. The Q in LBGTQIA+ stands for queer. (Some also say it stands for questioning.)

I simply couldn’t bear the thought of having to defend my use of the term for anyone who wasn’t aware of the way the language has changed. Even worse, if someone who was intolerant thought that I was like-minded, I’d be horrified. My gay and lesbian friends know I would never, ever say (or even think!) anything disrespectful. Someone who doesn’t know me might not be so sure. So we took it out.

The Problem With Cancel Culture

“I don’t believe in cancel culture. I believe in counsel culture.”

Kevin Powell, original star of The Real World

I don’t believe in this trend of “canceling” people, unless they’re truly horrible and unrepentant. In most cases, teaching them is a better way to go. Sometimes they genuinely don’t know that what they’ve said is offensive. As long as they’re willing to listen and learn, they deserve a break. We all take in information at different times, in different ways.

We have to allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. Language we used back in high school would cause mass fainting spells if spoken now. And if someone hasn’t learned that yet, I believe in giving them that information. If they still don’t care, then fill your boots. Cancel, delete and erase at will.

Had we left in the word queer and had someone taken me to task, I would have survived because I know my own heart and mind. But why put myself in that position? This is the kind of thing that makes broadcasting (and podcasting) and doing anything for public consumption, more difficult than it seems.

A Hard Lesson Learned

On Toronto radio long ago, I made a joke about a colleague hitting his head when he deliberately talked slowly and incoherently on the air. A brain injury support group not only complained to the highest broadcast authority, but I had to sign a lawyer-written apology for the ad-lib. Many years later I saw the exact same joke on a US network sitcom. I will never know whether anyone complained. But it proved to me that language, sensitivity and knowledge move at different paces in different places.

Unless I’m quoting someone, I’m putting the word queer on ice. My use of it was accurate but that pales when it’s possible someone might misunderstand it. I’ve decided it’s not my word to say. I asked a gay friend what he thought and he said, “everyone knows you would never use it the wrong way.” I appreciated that but I also wondered, do they know that for sure? I think it’s best that I return to the old adage, “when in doubt, leave it out.”

8 thoughts on “The Q Word That’s Better Not Spoken”

  1. Communications and language within society and how it is used and interpreted is an interesting, highly debatable and divisive topic.

    I always go back to what my communications professor said, “words don’t have meaning, people do!” And in a multi-culture society the meaning can easily get lost in the translation.

    For example, in your article you make reference to “LGBTQIA+” but I have seen this acronym printed in a number of ways such as “2SLGBTQ+”, “2SLGBTQI” and when I do a search, things just get more confusing.

    We’ve also become a highly more intolerant society unwilling to seek out the meaning of what is trying to be said and impose our own opinion.

    I just red an article on the origins of the “F” word an interesting read. And no I don’t take offence to its use.

  2. You are a sensitive person. You would never say something to offend internally.
    I have probably hashtaged the #q word 300 times in the 2 years I have been on Instagram ..not one complaint nor would it stop this q from using it. I did, however, almost go to Instagram jail for commenting on a standup comic’s set, ‘you’re killing me’ .
    I also can’t call a joking friend on Facebook a ‘p——‘.
    It’s an interesting world where we experience the internet police but the intentional hate, dangerous words of an ex-President goes unchecked. Some people are above and beyond the reach of the ‘woke’ police.
    I’m exhausted, barely awake, never woke.

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