Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies


Greggor Mattson

Committee Member(s)

Patrick O'Connor
Margaret D. Kamitsuka
Evangeline Marcella Heiliger


Identity, Language, Gender and sexual minorities, Queer, LGBTQ, United States


When queer took the world of AIDS activism and the academy by storm in the late 20th century, activists and academics leapt to understand and define this reclaimed word and predict its trajectory. Some academics claimed that queer would avoid obsolescence, remaining an anti-assimilationist beacon for activists, while others worried that lumping anyone with non-normative sexualities or lifestyle practices under the same umbrella would inaccurately homogenize disparate groups and detract from specific causes. This study aims to understand the meanings of the word queer among students at Oberlin College today, over a quarter century after the beginning of the word’s reclamation. Through semi-structured in-depth interviews, I asked 17 non-heterosexual or non-cisgender students to describe their relationships with and perceptions of the word queer at their college and in other places they’ve lived, keeping this question at the core of my research: How are Oberlin College students using queer today, and how do uses of this word impact and interact with the ways in which Oberlin students conceive of identity, community, and politics? I interviewed several Case Western Reserve University students to better understand how current uses of queer in Oberlin are particular to this time and place. My findings indicate that queer’s multiple meanings as an identity term and a synonym of non-normative cause it to occupy a position of tension as a simultaneously fixed and relational term. Queer’s ambiguity can render it both hopeful and ineffective as a community unifier or political beacon, but the contradictions people encounter at the boundaries of the word allow queer to remain salient as a term that embodies the ever-shifting challenges of people marginalized because of gender and sexuality.