The word queer, meaning strange or deviant, has frequently been used as a pejorative term for non-heterosexual people including lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or questioning people. The gay and queer rights movements have altered the understanding of the term queer, and some members of the non-heterosexual community have reclaimed the term as a positive descriptor.

Choosing Not to Conform to Sexual and Gender Norms

Heteronormativity describes the behaviors, lifestyles, and other societal prescriptions that assume there are two distinct genders and that heterosexual sex is the “right” kind of sex. Dressing a young girl in pink dresses and telling her that she will get married one day to a man is an example of heteronormativity. The term queer is often used broadly to denote people who either do not subscribe to or do not fit into some aspect of heteronormativity. The queer movement is generally opposed to efforts designed to make people conform to gender or sexual norms. Many queer activists have argued for an abolition of gender or the addition of third or multiple genders.

Who Uses the Term Queer?

People who have used the term queer include:

  • People who identify as non-heterosexual including lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and pansexuals (people who feel sexual attraction to people regardless of sex or gender identity).
  • People who do not meet gender norms such as butch-identified women.
  • Transgender people.
  • Intersex people.
  • People who engage in non-traditional sexual practices such as BDSM.

Queer Studies

Queer studies are the academic discipline that studies the queer movement, the lives and lifestyles of queer-identified people, and the politics of gender. Well-known queer theorists include Kate Bornstein, the author of Gender Outlaw, and Judith Butler, a feminist philosopher who has written extensively on queer theory.

Queer theorists do not have a single, unified belief system. Rather, queer studies is a general framework that theorists use when addressing issues of gender, sex, and sexuality.


  1. Corber, R. J., & Valocchi, S. M. (2003). Queer studies: An interdisciplinary reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Last Updated: 08-20-2015

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