This article is for anyone who’s ever asked themselves “Am I queer?” or “Am I queer enough?”
(Spoiler alert: The answer to the first Q = the answer to the second Q).
Here we go!
Typically an umbrella term, “queer” is an identifier that means outside the norm of society, explains Eva Bloom, a queer peer sexuality educator, sex science communicator, and creator of F*ck the Patriarchy, F*ck Yourself, a shame-busting program for non-men.
The so-called norms of society that they’re referring to are cisgender, allosexual, and heterosexual.
“If you’re anywhere outside those identifiers — even a little bit! — you can be queer,” they say.
Sometimes people who are “not straight” or “not cisgender” or “not allosexual” might identify “just” as queer.
And sometimes they may layer “queer” alongside another identity. For example, someone might be a queer bisexual dyke, or a queer trans man, or a queer biromantic asexual.
“Historically, ‘queer’ was used as a slur against the queer community,” says Rae McDaniel, a licensed clinical counselor and gender and sex therapist based in Chicago.
Starting in the 18th century, the word started to get slung at people assumed to be “homosexual” or “engaging in homosexual activity.” Folk who fell outside the acceptable versions of “man” and “woman” also fell victim to the word.
However, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, LGBTQ+ communities began to reclaim the term both as a personal identifier (“I am queer”) and as a field of study (queer theory), says McDaniel.
What fueled this reclamation? Mainly, anger. During the AIDS epidemic, LGBTQ+ communities were (rightfully!) pissed at the lack of response (or compassion!) from doctors, politicians, and unaffected citizens.
Out of spite and in power, LGBTQ+ people began using the word as both an identity and a rallying cry. “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear,” for example, became a common march chant.
“For some people, especially those alive at a time when queer was used exclusively as a slur, queer is still a dirty word,” says McDaniel.
As such, you should never call someone queer unless that’s a word they would use to refer to themselves.
Due to its history as a slur, many (queer) people see it as having political power.
“For many, identifying as queer is a way of saying ‘I resist cis-hetero patriarchal society that stuffs people into tiny cisgender, heterosexual boxes,’” says McDaniel. For these folks, queerness is about trying to disrupt the people, systems, and institutions that disadvantage minorities.
For them, “queerness is about freedom to be yourself while also working towards others’ freedom as well,” they say.
For the record, you don’t have to be queer to be invested in actively disrupting systems of oppression!
Straight, cisgender, allosexual individuals can and should be doing this activist work, too.
That’s a question only you can answer!
If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions, you may be queer:
- Does the term “queer” elicit feelings of excitement, euphoria, delight, comfort, or joy?
- Does it give a sense of belonging or community?
- Does the fluidity of queerness feel freeing?
- Does your gender exist outside of society’s understanding of acceptable manhood or womanhood?
- Is your sexuality something other than straight?
- Do you experience sexual attraction somewhere on the asexual spectrum?
Remember: “You don’t need to have gone through a physical transition, have a particular kind of gender expression, or even have a queer dating or sexual history in order to claim the label,” says Casey Tanner, a queer licensed clinical counselor, certified sex therapist, and expert for pleasure product company LELO.
“It refers to a sense of self, rather than any behavior or appearance,” adds Tanner.
If you’re queer, you’re queer enough. Full stop.
Unfortunately, many people who want to identify as queer worry that they’re somehow not adequately queer or queer enough to take on the term for themselves. (Tanner says this is known as “queer imposter syndrome.”)
Bloom notes this is an especially common phenomenon among bi+ women and femmes — especially those who have a history of dating men or are currently in a relationship with a nonqueer man.
“Often, the question of ‘Am I queer enough?’ is the result of internalized biphobia and femme-phobia,” she says. Blergh.
While this feeling of inadequacy is common, they say, “You don’t have to worry, sweetie, if you’re queer, you’re queer enough.”
That stands if:
- You’re in a so-called “straight passing” relationship, aka a relationship others assume to be heterosexual.
- Nobody knows you’re queer but you.
- You’re a new member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
- You’re not physically “clockable” or identifiable as queer.
- You don’t have any queer friends.
- You have no sexual or dating history.
- Your sexual and dating history doesn’t “confirm” your queerness.
No doubt, there’s tremendous privilege that accompanies “passing” as straight (aka not being publicly identifiable as queer).
But, “on the flip side, queer (and bi+) invisibility is associated with increased depression and anxiety and decreased access to affirming healthcare,” says Tanner.
Why? “We all crave being seen and accepted for who we are, and if we aren’t seen, we aren’t accepted,” she says.
Further, not feeling queer enough to enter queer spaces isolates people from the opportunity to make queer friends and join a queer community, says McDaniel.
“And connection to community is an important part of resiliency,” explains McDaniel. “So not feeling able to enter, welcomed by, or seen as queer by the people in your life can have profound impacts on mental health, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.”
The short answer: Connect to the queer community. These avenues can all help.
Read queer books
“Consuming a wide variety of queer stories is an excellent way to normalize queerness for yourself, and even see yourself in the pages,” says Bloom.
Queer memoirs in particular can be powerful for identification. For example:
Watch queer movies and TV shows
“If you’re constantly consuming cisgender and or straight images and media, it becomes easy to forget to affirm the queer part of you,” says McDaniel.
On top of that, it can expedite feelings of inadequacy and otherness.
Listen to queer podcasts
From raunchy to educational, there are queer podcasts for every queer listener’s taste.
Trust, you’ll like all the below!
Follow queer people on Instagram
“Filling your feed with people who are unapologetic in their queerness, can both normalize queerness while validating your own queerness and identity,” says Bloom.
Following people who show off their queer joy, in particular, can be pretty damn invigorating, she says.
Get on TikTok, and maybe even participate
One of the great things about TikTok is how excellent the algorithm is at showing you the content you want to see.
To get on queer TikTok, mass-follow a bunch of the suggested accounts that pop up after following your fave queer comedian, celeb, sex educator, podcaster, or influencer. Then, enjoy falling down the rabbit hole of your now very queer For You feed.
“When you feel comfortable, you might participate in one of the TikTok sound overlays that applies to you,” says Bloom. “This may help other queer people find you, which may lead to friendships or community.”
Attend a queer event online
Thanks to the pandemic, there continue to be all sorts of online queer dance parties, matchmaking games, book readings, and performances, says Bloom.
“For some queer people, these online events feel less intimidating than in-person events because you can leave when you want, keep your camera off, and stay anonymous if you choose,” they say.
If that’s you, she says, “Attend, attend, attend!”
Keep hunting for community until you find one that affirms you
It’s important to remember that the queer community isn’t a monolith.
So, if you attend an event and don’t find queer people who affirm your queerness, keep looking, suggests McDaniel.
“I guarantee there are people out there in the world who will believe and affirm your queerness just because you tell them who you are,” they say. “And when you find them, it can be incredibly affirming and euphoric.”
Identity gatekeeping, which is the act of trying to limit access to who can use an identifier, happens with most gender and sexual identities. And every (!) single (!) time (!) it’s not only disgusting but potentially life endangering.
“Telling queer people that they aren’t queer enough or that they shouldn’t have access to the queer community is no small potatoes,” says Bloom. “It can be detrimental to someone’s mental health.”
So, if you’re reading this and you’re being an identity gatekeeper, cut it out.
There are times that queer imposter syndrome and gatekeepers may make you feel otherwise, but if you’re queer, you ARE queer enough.
Queer is queer is queer is queer enough. We promise.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.