Workshop > Off-Limits: Slurs
Sep 28

Off-Limits: Slurs

What are Slurs?

Slurs are words that are degrading, and are meant as an insult. There are slurs for any minority group, and as such you will want to be aware of them so you can avoid them. This would be part of your research when you are beginning your story.


There are some words that have been reclaimed by the queer community. Namely, the word "queer". Queer was initially an offensive term used to degrade LGBTQ+ individuals, partially because queer was originally defined as "odd" or "strange".

Queer is still used in an offensive way, which is what makes words like this tricky. If the word is used in a hateful way, it can be incredibly hurtful, marking someone as "other". On the flip side, many people identify themselves as "queer", in some cases because they do not have another label that fits them better. Queer is not a term that only LGBTQ+ individuals can say (as in, a straight/cis individual can say "my queer friend" in reference to their friend that identifies as queer), but not all LGBTQ+ people have embraced this term (because this word has such an extensive history of being a hateful term, among other reasons.).

It is important to understand how your particular character relates to this word, because it is such a commonly-used term these days.

For some more information on this (and the below segment as well), read this page.

Why Can't I say that word?

This is a debate that you will probably hear a lot. The non-oppressed group will argue that they should be able to use a word the oppressed group has reclaimed. In some cases, such as the word "queer", this is not an issue. In others, the non-oppressed group is not allowed to use that word, because it is not their word to use. It is difficult to explain, and can spark arguments. The point is, there are some words that only the oppressed people can use, because they have taken a slur that was used on them, and turned around to claim it. By turning it into a word that is theirs, it does not carry the same negative and hurtful energy.

If you are a straight/cis person, you cannot use some queer words, and if you are a queer person, you cannot identify with certain labels depending on other factors. There are some labels that are specifically for poc (people of color) queer people (such as two-spirit being specifically a term for trans* Native Americans and First Nation folks), just as there are some words only for certain identities ("dyke" is a word you cannot use unless you are a queer woman, simple as that. Gay men cannot use this word, it is not their to reclaim.).

The take-away: you, as someone who is not oppressed, do not get to decide what is offensive to the oppressed people/minority. Even if you do not mean it in a malicious way, it can be offensive and hurtful. Your respect on this matter is deeply appreciated, so be sure that you're researching this subject when writing.

Some more information on words/phrases you personally should avoid can be found here.

The important thing is that you are being open and respectful of other people's identities.

Closing Activity

Has there ever been an instance where someone has called you a queer slur? Have you ever been told that your outfit was "gay", or something similar?

Tell us about it, and how it made you feel. If you are an ally, place yourself into the mindset of a closeted queer person overhearing that interaction. How would they feel? What would that interaction do to them?