Hi, dear friend, thanks for asking me. I know you’ve been waiting to talk about this with me for a while. Understand that everything below is my own definition, my own viewpoint. Also, because of the people I usually converse about this stuff every day, I may throw out some unfamiliar words that I fail to define. Please ask again if you don’t understand!
There’s no simple answer for what queer means. And every person you ask who self-identifies as queer will have a slightly—or very different—definition. That’s the beauty of the term. And while it has a problematic past and continues to be a problematic, insulting term in various parts of the country/world, for me it is the one label that I’m okay with, because you cannot sketch out its borders. It’s definition can and does change as the way I define myself and the way I relate to the rest of the world changes. I don’t feel stuck, trapped, limited, or policed. “Queer” is a verb as well as an adjective. It describes not only myself but also the lens I use to read through canon literary works to find the unwritten story, to bring Emily Dickinson’s hidden desires to light, to look at the things politicians say and do, and to question critically my role in activist movements. It is also a “label” for a desire that is not heteronormative (something that is considered “normal” because it fits into a stereotypical, heterosexual way of life), that does fit with sex/gender binaries (systems of two things contrasting that erase all other narratives or possibilities, like boy/girl, straight/gay, black/white, same/different, night/day)…
I identify as queer because my gender and my desire are too complicated to be boiled down to “a woman who desires another woman.” I am queer because I love women. I am also queer because I don’t always feel like a woman, or the way my society defines the term “women.” I do not identify as a lesbian because it just doesn’t fit me. For me (and I’ll keep emphasizing that, because there are many people who don’t agree), lesbian feels confining, like I have to squish all of my rough edges of identity and disagreeing parts into a particular mold. There are parts of the way I act, dress, believe, talk, desire, want, live that do not align with the way I see those who identify as “lesbian,” or the way the word itself feels to me. I identify as queer because I don’t always agree with mainstream gay and lesbian politics and the goals they say I should have. I identify as queer because my gender and my desire are too complicated to be boiled down to “a woman who desires another woman.”
The term queer is often used as an umbrella term for LGBTTIQA (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, transsexual, intersex, asexual, queer). It’s a way to create a sense of community among many varied identities that are marginalized in similar ways, that does not list them in a hierarchal way. However, this grouping is still problematic because each of these communities has their own individual struggles, and there is still a lot prejudice, cissexism, and misogyny happening to cause ruptures between them. Also, lesbian, bi, asexual, and gay are sexual orientations, while transgender and transsexual are gender identities. Queer works as both.
Generalities are also problematic because they erase (make invisible, marginalize, actually erase from the historical archive) the subjectivity of an individual’s experience and positionality (where they are socially located: class, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, geography, etc). However, this is a little of what queer means to me. I hope it begins to answer your question.