“Queer” is such a simple, unassuming little word. Who ever could have guessed that we would come to saddle it with so much pretentious baggage-so many grandiose theories, political agendas, philosophical projects, apocalyptic meanings? A word that was once commonly understood to mean “strange,” “odd,” “unusual,” “abnormal,” or “sick,” and was routinely applied to lesbians and gay men as a term of abuse, now intimates possibilities so complex and rarified that entire volumes are devoted to spelling them out. Even to define queer, we now think, is to limit its potential, its magical power to usher in a new age of sexual radicalism and fluid gender possibilities. How did a word with such humble origins, a word that until quite lately many decent people were reluctant even to utter, come to acquire so many portentous-weighty yet vaporous-significations? While waiting for someone to explain that trajectory, I will review a few points along its path.
By David M. Halperin, 2003