Photo Series of PRIDE Cupcakes (c) Tina Ballew
Queer (adj.) – deviating from what is expected or normal.
Semantics are the foundation of LGBTQIA culture. We are constantly evaluating which words are acceptable and inclusive. Is it possible to find a label that describes our otherness without “othering”?
In academic circles, and culturally, we seem to have settled on “queer.”
The adjective form, in modern settings, generally has a positive or neutral connotation, as in “queer woman.” When used as a noun, it is typically pejorative (see: “kill the queers”). But what happens when queer becomes a verb: “to queer”?
Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle is an excellent example. Gaiman queers a well-known fairytale, remaking the story according to non-heteronormative ideals.
Queering sometimes includes gender swapping and same-sex love interests, behavior that goes against gender stereotypes, and an aesthetic that is distinctly otherworldly.
Preschools in Sweden are slowly dismantling the gender binary with the use of the genderless pronoun “hen” and classroom materials that avoid stereotypical representations of gender.
Because artists are expected to produce work that challenges the status quo, this kind of social change generally begins in creative communities. For example, risk-taking across gender lines has roots in the theater world when societal norms required that men cross-dress to play female roles.
Then, once artists try something out, progressive schools pick it up, forward-thinking nonprofits take a turn and, finally, mainstream culture swoops in and commodifies it. It follows that if we can queer fairytales and fuck with societal expectations in the creative world and in education, then we can also do it with their business.
Queer business models have nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender identity. A company that queers business will use a model that deviates from what is expected in a way that breaks down the binary and creates new rules. So what does a queer business model look like?
Startups utilize very queer business models. Many of them prioritize people over profit. They regularly hire people with little to no experience in the industry. Their organizational culture encourages inclusion, risk-taking, collaborating between teams, time to pursue side projects (see Google’s 20% time), and physical workspaces that sometimes defy gravity.
Basik is a razor company that uses gender-neutral packaging to allow buyers to customize their product to meet their specific needs. In an interview with FastCoDesign, founder Saana Hellsten said, “Given today’s gender spectrum, from trans men and women to drag queens to genderqueer people, there’s no reason to think the function of a razor denotes the gender of its user.”
Butchbaby & Co. creates clothes for pregnant people of all gender identities, “alternity” wear that acknowledges that “pregnancy belongs to all those who can carry a child, regardless of sexual orientation or gender presentation.”
STACKEDD Magazine (hi!) is queering typical models of publication and distribution by promoting the voices of female identifying writers, with minimal upfront investment, comment-free online space and succeeding in reaching nearly equal readership from men and women.
While our history as a queer community is full of bad memories and mud in the face, queer itself is not a dirty word. Queering is dirty work. Queering is necessary work.Queering is a beautiful act of resistance and creativity, and the only one that demands that we examine and reinvent our world every day. If done well, it serves marginalized voices and intersectional stories from all backgrounds.
All of us – especially business owners – should be queering the world every chance we get. The business world and its profits must not be immune from progress.
We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re coming for your profits.