For many of us, the term "queer" conjured a negative connotation growing up. In fact, one of the first times I personally encountered the term in any sort of positive context was watching the show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (shoutout Pennsyltucky). While queer is both proudly embraced and rejected by people today, Dazed published a brief examination of the word's history, including its roots as a slur.
John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry (yes, that’s seriously his title) gave us the first recorded written example of queer as a slur back in 1894. Douglas had discovered his son was embroiled in a gay relationship with Oscar Wilde; he became concerned at the potential of a gay sex scandal and immediately set out to prosecute Wilde in any way possible. He achieved his mission, launching a lengthy court case which argued the iconic playwright was a sodomy-obsessed old man that lured gay prostitutes into a lifestyle of degeneracy. It was throughout this court case that the original letter surfaced – Douglas had used ‘Snob Queers’ as a descriptor for gay men, establishing ‘queer’’s reputation as a gay slur.
American newspapers used ‘queer’ as a derogatory term almost immediately, using it to highlight the fact that homosexuality was strange and abnormal. Interestingly, it was most frequently used to specifically attack effeminate gay men. Back in Britain, however, the Oxford Dictionary differentiated between using it as an adjective and a verb – even now, it seems pointless to highlight that calling someone ‘a queer’ sounds more offensive than using it as an adjective. Its original definitions still remained ingrained within language, but the word’s reputation took a downhill slide and slowly but surely became intrinsically linked with hate speech and homophobia.
Head over to Dazed to read more.