Terms for the topic
Coming out (sexual orientation)
Gender & sexuality
Queer is a tricky term, used in multiple, and sometimes contradictory ways. Previously used as a derogatory insult, "queer" has productively been reclaimed by many (though not all) queers as a positive or neutral term. Most colloquially, queer is used as an umbrella term for people who contest normative conceptions of gender and sexuality ("not-straight"), thus including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* people, as well as others who don't quite fit into those categories or who experience fluidity in their genders or sexuality; some people thus feel that heterosexual, cis people who engage in non-normative sex (such as kink or polyamory) can be described as queer. Others use queer to identify their non-normative genders and/or sexualities because they feel that their genders and/or sexualities aren't adequately described by commonly used terms such as gay or lesbian. Queer can also be used to describe practices or theories that contest identity categories of all kinds, especially those of sexual orientation. In this sense, to "queer" is to call into question the idea of "gay" or "lesbian" at all, showing them to be historically specific and socially constructed to establish and discipline the distinction between "normal" and "abnormal." This is the valence of the term that is used in queer theory, an academic interdiscipline interested in questioning and exploring the production of sexuality. This guide uses both of these definitions of queer, providing both an introduction to "queer" as an umbrella or spectrum term, and an introduction to the field of queer theory.
Questioning is a term used to describe a person who is experiencing instability in their sexual orientation or gender identity. Questioning can occur at any point in a person's life, even after several years identifying solidly as one thing or another. However, questioning is often understood as a process of youth, when young people are just beginning to understand themselves sexually or as a member of a particular gender. Because of this, it is sometimes thought of as related to the process of coming out. However, questioning can last for any length of time, can co-occur with any other identity categories, and does not necessarily have to end in a coming out process. Because of its similarly unsettling qualities, it is associated in this guide with queer; this guide will provide resources in helping understand and provide resources for researching questioning people, particularly youth.