In Coyote’s timeline of “quoiromantic”, there’s a certain conflict that persisted for many years. Cor, who coined “quoiromantic”, has repeatedly asserted a broad meaning, as in “What even is romantic orientation?” Nonetheless, there has been a persistent misconception that it has a narrower meaning, as in “can’t tell the difference between platonic and romantic attraction”.
This is a historical pattern that repeats again and again. A term is intended as a broad umbrella to describe a large number of experiences, but the term acquires more narrow connotations. You can find examples in Coyote’s timelines of “queerplatonic” and related concepts. It happens to “gray-asexual”. It happens to “queer”. It even happens to sandwiches.
Note: Coyote has discussed the same historical pattern, with extensive links to examples. But my article was already written before Coyote’s was published, and I left it unchanged to show how we’re independently coming to similar conclusions.
I’ll discuss “quoiromantic”, “queer”, and sandwiches–but not in that order–and then at the bottom I’ll try to establish some rules for how to deal with it.
Queer is often intended as an umbrella term to describe people of all sorts of orientations and genders. But my husband (who is gay) doesn’t identify as queer, because of these three narrower connotations:
1. Queer as a slur. Sure, queer has been reclaimed, but to him the slur is still in living memory.*
2. Queer as political. Queer has a connotation of being radical and liberationist, as opposed to assimilationist.
3. Queer as an enigmatic orientation. In my experience with LGBTQ people, I’ve found that the people who most vocally identify as queer are those who have trouble fitting themselves into other established boxes. So, usually fluid pansexuals, not gay men.
His reasons are legitimate, but consider the consequences when lots of people go through the same process of deciding how to identify. If queer is always thought of first and foremost as a reclaimed slur, then the people who gravitate towards it will always be political radicals and activists. And if queer is a broad umbrella term, then the people who will make the most use out of it are people who don’t have a more specific umbrella term available to them, such as “gay”.
This poses a problem. Queer is a useful umbrella term. But some people under that umbrella (like my husband) disidentify with the term. So, do we just continue using the umbrella, in violation of the general principle that people have the right to determine their own labels? Do we come up with another umbrella term? Or do we deny that there is any legitimate use for an umbrella term at all?
In practice, we usually use other umbrella terms. For example, LGBTQ is clearly about queer people, but also specifically includes LGBT in case anybody in those groups doesn’t identify as queer. There are also MOGAI and GSRM, and probably a bunch of others.
But I would argue that these alternatives do not solve the problem, they just hit the reset button. New umbrella terms are also subject to erosion. LGBTQ has the issue that since it names specific groups, the rest of us who are not in those groups are left wondering if we’re included. MOGAI and GSRM have their own set of politics, which I don’t really understand.
Okay, everyone is wondering about the sandwiches thing, so I’ll put it here, er, sandwiched as it were between the two more serious examples.
Is a hotdog a sandwich? The definitive study of this question was done by Existential Comics, as excerpted below.Above, we see philosopher Rudolph Carnap argue that a hotdog is a sandwich on the grounds that it has all the properties of a sub sandwich. “Sandwich” is a broad umbrella term, and it seems clear that hotdogs are in fact encompassed under the umbrella.
However, Wittgenstein provides the following rebuttal:
We can see that even though hotdogs appear to be included in the sandwich umbrella, in practice people will be confused if you refer to a hotdog as a sandwich. This is because hotdogs are part of more specific category, “hotdog”, and it’s rarely necessary to refer to them by the broader category that they’re theoretically part of.
So is a hotdog a sandwich or not? Well, if we learned anything from “queer”, then the solution is to let the hotdog decide for itself.
Let’s return to our very first example, quoiromantic. Cor has defined it as the feeling of “what even is romantic orientation?”, but others have defined it more narrowly as “can’t tell between platonic and romantic”. And for the record, I’m on Cor’s side here. But where does this misunderstanding come from in the first place?
I speculate that the people who most strongly identify with “what even is romantic orientation?” are often coming from a personal experience of not being able to distinguish platonic and romantic relationships. And good for them, if they needed to fill a lexical gap, then “quoiromantic” was there for them.
But once a lot of people use “quoiromantic” to describe that particular experience, it becomes natural to think that that’s all the word means. People start having trouble imagining any other quoiromantic narrative. They may wrongly impose the “can’t tell between platonic and romantic” meaning onto quoiromantics who have had an entirely different experience in mind.
Dear readers, did you know? There are other terms to describe the experience of “can’t tell the difference between platonic romantic”. Going by the Aromantics wiki, “platoniromantic” means “not experiencing the distinction between platonic and romantic feelings.” “Idemromantic” means “not feeling the difference or being unable to distinguish the difference between romantic and platonic attraction but still differentiating between the two.” Both of these are under the quoiro umbrella.
These terms are fairly obscure and I’m not telling anybody whether or not to use them, I’m just bringing them to your attention. They’re part of a strategy to prevent umbrella erosion, by having narrower words that can be contrasted with the broader umbrella of quoiro.
We have to balance two interests: the need for broad umbrella terms, and the needs of people who fall under an umbrella but disidentify with it. I will lay out some general rules:
- If there is an umbrella, and you fit under its description, you may choose to identify with it or disidentify with it, or anything in between.
- If you disidentify with an umbrella, you should be cognizant that people with similar experiences may identify with the umbrella.
- If you identify with an umbrella term, you should be cognizant that other people with different experiences may identify with the umbrella.
- If you hear someone describe their experiences and then put it under an umbrella, do not assume that this is what the umbrella means, or that all people under the umbrella have a similar experience.
- If you’d like to use an umbrella term to advertise a group (e.g. “this is a queer space”), then you shall accept that accept that some people won’t show up because they don’t identify with the particular umbrella term you chose. You shall accept that some people will show up who fit the umbrella but don’t necessarily identify with it.
- If you do not mean to include the whole umbrella, then use narrower language when able. For example, if you’re not talking about trans people, use LGB instead of LGBT.
- You shall not argue that an umbrella term is invalid just because you yourself disidentify with it. Umbrellas always have people who disidentify with them.
What do you think?
*I know this echoes some arguments that have been made by ace exclusionists on Tumblr, where they say we should censor the word “queer” because it’s a reclaimed slur. But the exclusionist argument feels disingenuous to me, because it’s mostly coming from younger non-men. The people who have most personal experience with “queer” as a slur are older men, like my husband, and they don’t make quite the same arguments. (return)