I was reading an article on the promulgation of the dental dam as a means of preventing sexually transmitted disease. Article here. The author of the article Arielle Duhaime-Ross consistently refers to lesbian women as "queer women".

Up until now, it had been my understanding that this term was a pejorative and insulting to homosexuals. That it implies their choice of lifestyle to be strange and aberrant. So, I was rather surprised to see this term being bandied about in a reasonably respectable online tech and lifestyle reporting website.

Shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" notwithstanding, it just didn't strike me as proper in the format.

Ms. Duhaime-Ross does not have a biography that I could find on her website. I couldn't discern if she, herself, is a lesbian and is using a preferred nomenclature. Or, if it is a term only used amongst "members of the club" similar to African American usage of the n-word.

I decided to post it here, hoping to better understand the protocol about the term. My motivation is to be able to address people as they wish to be addressed.


2 Answers 2


Important to note here is that "queer women" in this context does not mean "lesbian". It is explicitly defined as "women that have sex with women". This includes bisexual and trans* women who may not themselves identify as "lesbian". "Queer", in this usage, is meant to be a more inclusive term than "lesbian".

In the LGBTQ/QUILTBAG community (of which I am a member), "queer" is generally used as an umbrella term to encompass the broad scope of sexuality, gender identity, and gender presentation that falls outside the heterosexual/cisgender "mainstream". That seems to be the purpose of its use in the article.

  • Thanks! That insight is very helpful. So, is this a preferred way of saying women who have sex with other women??
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:31
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    Also, I've not seen QUILTBAG before. What is it an acronym for?
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:33
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    @DavidM For the purpose of the article, yes, because that's how the author defines its use. In general, though, "queer women" can have the broader meaning of "non-heterosexual and/or non-cisgender individuals that identify as women".
    – Roger
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:34
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    @DavidM QUILTBAG = Queer/Questioning, Unknown/Undefined. Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual/Androgynous, Gay/Genderqueer
    – Roger
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:35
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    This is a very good answer, I'll just add that "QUILTBAG" is sometimes used a little bit tongue in cheek, as the mentality is about recognizing that not everyone's biology/life fits into a neat little box, nor should they. Also, 'Queer', like a lot of reclaimed epithets, should be used by straight people towards others only with great caution and care.
    – swbarnes2
    Mar 20, 2014 at 22:35

The word has been "reclaimed" by some LGBTQ folks as their own word to describe their identities. The distinction between the pejorative use and the "reclaimed" use is largely a matter of the tone of the text in which the word is used. When in doubt, don't use it.

  • That is what I had figured. But, it seemed odd in a publication. You wouldn't typically see an informative article written by an African American using the n-word so casually.
    – David M
    Mar 20, 2014 at 17:48
  • I am old enough to remember when males homosexuals were described quite openly as 'queer'. But oddly, in the context of this question, I don't remember it being applied to lesbians.
    – WS2
    Mar 20, 2014 at 17:51
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    There are slight differences in the usages. In Queer Studies, which is a sub-discipline of sociology that studies LGBTQ contributions to society, this is a far more normal usage than the n-word would be in African-American Studies, for instance. Mar 20, 2014 at 17:57
  • @ElliottFrisch This originates from the Yorkshire adage 'There's nowt so queer as folk'. It is spoken when people, as they frequently do, behave in a thoroughly illogical way, perhaps against their own best interests. Just because it is no longer acceptable to describe homosexuals as 'queer' doesn't mean there is a complete embargo on the word in all contexts.
    – WS2
    Mar 20, 2014 at 18:15
  • The key word in this answer is some. Some, not all. There are a lot of LGBT people—especially but not exclusively older—who have no truck with "reclaiming" and greatly take exception to being described using a word that has its historical roots as a fairly harsh insult. Source: personal experience as a gay man who does not like being called 'queer' and will tell people explicitly to not call me 'queer'.
    – Tom Morris
    May 23, 2014 at 19:32

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