The word queer is elusive and confusing; its etymology is uncertain, and academic and popular usage attributes conflicting meanings to the word. It is often used as an umbrella term that refers to a range of “nonnormative” sexualities and genders—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (GLBTIQ). In other contexts, queer is a term that resists identity categorizations based on sexual orientation (including heterosexual). As a theoretical strategy, queer reveals the social and historical constructions of identity formation and dualistic concepts that govern normative notions of gender and sexuality.

The OED suggests that the earliest references to queer may have appeared in the sixteenth century. These early examples of queer carried negative connotations, such as “vulgar,” “bad,” “worthless,” and “strange.” The early nineteenth century, and perhaps earlier, employed queer as a verb, meaning to “to put out of order,” “to interfere with.” The adjectival form also began to emerge during …

This essay may be found on page 161 of the printed volume.

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