I’m used to reading inaccurate things about myself on the internet, but I had a surprise last week when reading an inaccurate description of myself in an article which I had written.
It was a piece for the Guardian website about the controversy over Benetton’s use of an image of the Pope. One line of the article (as it originally appeared) began, “As a gay Christian…”.
I’m not gay. I describe myself as queer. If you want to fit me into one of three narrow categories (and I’d rather you didn’t), then I could be described as bisexual (the majority of people I find attractive are female, but some are male).
Of course, there are various places on the internet in which I’m described as gay. On the whole, this doesn’t offend me. It’s just an inaccuracy, in the same way as if they said I was Scottish, left-handed or six foot tall. When I am offended is when people who know I’m not straight assume that I’m gay, as if there were only two possible sexual orientations.
On this occasion, I had written in the article (as it read when I submitted it to the Guardian), “As a queer Christian…”. I suspect the Guardian style guidelines regard the word “queer” as offensive, and so it was changed. Unfortunately, they assumed that “queer” meant “gay” and so substituted the word without asking me.
I’m aware that sub-editors have to read and edit a vast amount of material, often in a short space of time. I don’t object to my work being edited and I recognise that mistakes will sometimes be made. The Guardian changed the wording back to “queer” when I asked, and put a note at the bottom clarifying the issue. They sent me an email to apologise.
I understand that many people are still offended by the word “queer”, which has often been used as a term of abuse. I think it’s different when it is a matter of self-definition. Furthermore, “queer” is not a synonym for “gay” – or even for “gay or bisexual”. It can include, for example, people who are genderqueer (who consider that they don’t fit into binary categories of male and female) as well as others who challenge the boundaries commonly used to categorise sexuality or gender.
For convenience and ease of communication, I am happy to call myself “bisexual”, but when I do so, I feel I am going along with narrow categories. When I call myself “queer”, I am breaking free of them.