Skip to main content
What does it mean to be ‘queer’?

Jan 22, 2024

What does it mean to be ‘queer’?

Finnegan Shepard

These days, if you don’t live under a rock, you have most likely heard the term ‘queer’ used with increasing frequency, whether that’s on TV shows, in the news, at school, or at work. If you are curious about the term and want to learn about how queerness is defined and representations of queer identity in America today, this article is for you.


Queerness defined

Over the last decade, the word queer has been increasingly used to define one’s identity. Interestingly, the term can be applied to a variety of different ‘forms’ of identity, including sexuality, gender identity,  identity expression, and sometimes is even used in the context of a political stance or ideology. Because of the fact that the term is so open-ended and applicable to such a broad range of people, it is often viewed as an inclusive umbrella term within the LGBTQ+ community.. People who identify as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gay, transmasc, non-binary, and transgender (to name a few) are all welcome to identify as queer or to explore their queerness. Because of its broad use case, defining it can be tricky. If you go to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, you will find a definition that  is multifaceted, attempting to define a malleable term representative of an entire community.

A tertiary portion of the definition reads, “a: of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to members of one's own sex b: of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation c: of, relating to, or being a person whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity is not cisgender d: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female : GENDERQUEER, NONBINARY e: of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity differs from the sex the person was identified as having at birth : TRANSGENDER”.

This lengthy definition simultaneously reads as extremely broad while also leaving a bunch of questions open. One rather blunt way to think about queerness could be to define it both by what it is, but also by what it isn’t, or what it stands in contrast or opposition to. Queerness is not heteronormative. It doesn’t subscribe to a binary understanding of gender. It is ‘other than,’ as a mode of being, a mode of resistance, a mode of self-presentation, and a mode of belief. 

The grammatical definition also does not address the many persisting questions a queer person may have about what their queerness may mean in different realms of their life. Finding the queer label or community that resonates  is up to each individual person. Identity is truly about individual comfortability, and while definitions can be limiting (or vague) they can also be useful in the sense that putting a name on something can help bring similar individuals together to create a chosen family.

Composition featuring 3 different identities, cropped to only show the person's eyes


Representations of Queer Identity

While there are many different ways to think about and define queerness, there are also common symbols or representations of queer identity that form a kind of shared language. Below, we have collected a brief overview of some of the most popular ones. 


Image source: Human Rights Campaign

1. Queer Flag

A creation of a queer flag has been a more recent development within the LGBTQ+ community. The original pride flag (with six horizontal stripes of color) was developed in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker and was made to be an umbrella flag for the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community. Over time the rainbow pride flag has been adapted and altered to better include different identity groups. The most current flag is the pride progress flag designed in 2021 by Valentino Vecchieti. The flag features the original six rainbow stripes and a multicolored layered chevron representative of transgender pride and queer people of color. Within the chevron is a purple circle against a yellow background to honor the intersex community. The inclusive flag can be utilized by any members of the queer community to express their identity and place within the community. There is also a six stripe pastel rainbow flag with a seventh horizontal white stripe in the center specifically created for the queer community in 2015. The flag is unofficial and has not been widely adopted by the queer community However,  it is important to note that besides this flag and the pride progress flag, the inclusive nature of the queer label can allow for individuals to find themselves more aligned with any of the other pride flags created for different subgroups.



Image source: Qwear Fashion

2. Style and Clothing

Queer fashion allows for people to express their queerness and find clothing that feels most authentic to their identity. There are an increasing number of brands on the market explicitly serving the queer community. Some focus more on representation, some on signaling pride through flags, and some are focused on product innovation. Both& is a company that is laser focused on making the most euphoric clothing that directly addresses the needs of queer transmasc and non-binary individuals whose fashion needs are not catered to by the standard fashion industry. The representation of identity can be discovered in the design of Both& clothing. Every detail is highly intentional and a way for gender queer and trans people to discover their own gender euphoria. Some of the details include a subtle A-frame in top pieces to create a better fit around hips and reduced body length to alleviate bunching around the hips. Clothing is a front-facing vehicle for gender and identity expression, so finding clothes that fit one’s true self can be liberating and euphoric.



Bartender behind the bar at Cubbyhole NYC
Image source: Cubbyhole, NYC

3. Social Spaces

Finding a queer dedicated social space can help one discover a sense of belonging within their community and create long lasting connections with other queer individuals. Today, there are a plethora of spaces for queer people both online and in person (though the IRL ones tend to be centered in more urban areas). For instance, spaces like Dorothy, a lesbian cocktail lounge located in West Chicago, host events like queer book club and queer performances designed to emanate a sense of community. Online, many queer people find community through social media and platforms that facilitate interest-based, peer to peer connection. Discord, in particular, has emerged as a hub for this kind of community building. (If you are interested in joining Both&’s thriving discord space to chat about pronouns, books, workout routines, fan sketches of Bella Ramsey, and DIY clothing hacks, you can do so here).



How do you define queerness?

As always, we couldn’t resist bringing some community voices into the conversation. We asked “how do you define queerness”. Here are some of our favorite responses:


It is beautiful, the love of a community, being outside the norm and not caring.

– @spencerormond


The ability to be myself unapologetically.

– @georgia_mccartneycurson 


Queerness is being different, and being proud enough to celebrate them, not hide them.

– @clumpywoods


Getting to live a life I never dreamt of before coming out.

– @karysantayana 


Though it may seem frightening or intimidating to consider labels that are best fitting for your identity, it can also be liberating and euphoric to not only discover a label that feels authentic but to also connect with a community of people who share a similar experience. Queerness applies to a wide range of identities and celebrates being unique– being everything that is, isn’t, and is in between. While this article may have led you in the direction of better understanding queerness and the queer community, creating a fitting definition of queerness is subjective and dependent on what makes you feel most genuine to yourself. Expressing your own perceptions of what being queer means can help give voice to those who are still discovering what their identity means to them. We would love to hear from you about what being queer means and include your voices in future articles! Please send your thoughts to our Discord.

Transmasc person in beanie and blue Both& t-shirt, expressing gender joy