In the gay and lesbian or LGBT movement, the smart term queer has been adopted by many even when they have not been particularly interested in the particularities of either queer theory or queer politics as discussed above. While queer as a political and theoretical concept, notwithstanding insistence on fluid outlines, was from the beginning defined “against a seemingly dissimilar ‘gay and lesbian identity’”, the use of queer as a simple equivalent to “gay and lesbian” or “LGBTI” may still well be the most commonly used adaptation of the term. It can be seen in mass media, among activists as well as in research. In other words, it seems that the queer-theoretical insight that concepts (such as heterosexuality) are defined through difference from their opposites or others is very pertinent to the concept of queer itself. However, this notion also includes the observation that all concepts are simultaneously dependent of and never separated from their excluded others. Queer continues to be perceived as a version of gay and lesbian politics or identity, possibly a reformed version, at best. This appropriation of the concept with little or no reference to – or even knowledge of – its theoretical or political implications has occasionally been considered controversial.
Both the theoretical and the political aspects of queer are defined, in different ways, through negation of gay and lesbian identities and politics. When the theoretical aspect is emphasised, queer to a great extent acquires its shape from the critique of the identity politics that sets homosexuals apart as a particular breed. According to this type of queer critique identity politics establishes a deep and fundamental difference between homo and hetero while it, at the same time, locks homo- and heterosexuality together in an inescapable relationship of mutual exclusion. When the weight is on the theoretical aspect, queer is presented as the opposite of identity politics that is judged problematic as it cements the minority position of homosexuality. In contrast, the criticism that springs from the political aspect of queer tends to castigate gays and lesbians for their meek assimilationist politics that strive for normalcy and stress similarity and sameness with “everybody else”.
It is not only people overlooking or being unaware of the political and theoretical queer critique of lesbian and gay or LGBT identity categories that identify queer with gay. Even scholars who critique and distance themselves from identity politics often find queer inextricably associated with gay and lesbian or LGBT(I). Even they assume that queer activism “free of” identity politics will continue to take place within the LGBT alliance. Several scholars contend that because identities have their strategic uses and carry great emotional investments they should not be abandoned completely as political tools even if faith in them as innate or essential is abandoned. Bolsø’s agenda, mentioned earlier, is different in this respect. While she does not talk about identity, she does envision the future of queer politics as separated from group markers such as LGBT.
In critical discourse, the part of the queer world defined by the cultural aspect of the concept is often perceived as mainstreamed, docile, consumerist, and commodified. Indeed, arrangements such as the Stockholm Pride Parade can hardly be viewed as counterculture when it has reportedly become the largest yearly spectator event in the country with tens of thousands in the parade and, at best, up to 500,000 viewers watching on the pavements. The former deviants have indeed become trendy, even if they are not universally popular. We find another example of this mainstreaming of queer that takes place in liberal, western urban settings in the analyses of urban geographers: vibrant gay quarters of the kind that house the marketable portion of queer culture have become perceived as a chic asset in the so-called city branding, attracting both tourists and the desirable, well-educated residents. Event organisers working in these circumstances can hardly be called activists any longer, but are perceived as workers in the entertainment business. One might ask (and many have) what they have in common with the angry militants or the youngsters who manifest their queer activism as squatters?
It is, however, not easy to draw absolute clear lines between different factions of queer activism. The commercial enterprises do not negate the political work that is done in LGBT organisations, sometimes with elements of queer-theoretical or -political thinking. The mainstreaming is also a geographically and socially limited phenomenon, and the picture is very different if one looks at many settings outside the English-speaking world and Western Europe. For example in Eastern Europe, there is nothing complicit in fighting for gay and lesbian rights. Also, the adoption of the English word queer in non-English contexts may in certain contexts (be strategically used to) actually conceal the sexual content of politics or scholarship that would be considered provocative. Sometimes, the importance of fluidity in queer theory may function the same way.
This review has been inclusive in the sense that I have not set particular preconditions for the use of the terms queer or queer activism. Rather, quite in the queer tradition of inclusiveness and keeping categories open, I have attempted to create an overview of the ways in which these terms have been used. The concept queer lives several parallel lives, in which its theoretical, political, and cultural aspects are emphasised differently. Hence, what is called “queer activism” also takes a multitude of shapes. If we are to keep the concept queer in its earliest stimulating undefined state, we will have to deal with increasing ambiguity and versatility in its uses. The typology of the theoretical, political, and cultural dimensions of queer may help us to develop our discussions, analyses, and practice of queer activism.