What is ‘Reappropriation’? | Being.LGBT What is 'Reappropriation'? - Being.LGBT
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What is ‘Reappropriation’?

‘Reappropriation’ has become an important cultural process for many once oppressed groups. Why is it important?

Added to Library, on 19 August, 2015

What is ‘Reappropriation’?

Reappropriation, also known as reclamation, is a process by which a cultural group – for example, the LGBTQIA+ community – reclaims terms or artefacts that were previously used to belittle, humiliate or harass that group, and to shift language terminology to reappropriate terms from being pejorative to being terms of self-empowerment, endearment and/or pride.

An important example of successful reappropriation is the word gay. The word was originally used as an adjective meaning: ‘carefree’, ‘happy’ or ‘bright and showy’. The word later became associated in the stiff, conservative world of the mid-20th century with people who lead carefree, hedonistic and uninhibited lifestyles; whilst its antonym, straight, became associated with seriousness, respectability and conventionality. It wasn’t long before the negative connotations of the word gay became a pejorative term associated with the homosexual community, with straight thus becoming associated with those who were not homosexual.

However, as usage of the term increased, the term was then adopted by the homosexual community as a ‘recommended term’, and in doing so, the negative connotations of the word when referring to homosexual people became lost, to the point where in modern society, gay is used almost exclusively as a noun for same-sex attracted people, rather than people who are carefree, hedonistic or uninhibited (although, unfortunately, due to the negative connotations associated with being gay, the word then started to circulate as an adjective for something undesirable or unworthy).

Similar attempts have been made, to varying degrees of success, to reclaim terms such as queer, dyke, poof, homo, fag and butch – all terms that originally had pejorative meanings and used with the intent to insult. One example of reclamation is the lesbian motorbike club Dykes on Bikes.

In many communities, reclamation is seen as an important and essential part of a community’s ongoing fight for acceptance. However, it is often controversial, and during the reclamation process there may be many who feel the word in question shouldn’t be used, such as those individuals who associate the word with intensely negative experiences, thus the word becomes a ‘trigger word’.

Language shifts in reappropriation may vary from region to region; for example, Dykes on Bikes have faced criticism within the Queer community for their use of the word ‘dyke’, and the term Queer (used on this website, and many Queer organisations) is seen by some as contentious. Even within Queer communities, terms may be widely accepted by one subculture, but not another – for example, the word tranny is considered problematic amongst some transgender individuals and groups, but not among other factions of the Queer community.

It is important to note that the reclamation process must be initiated and carried out by members to which the term is used against; for example, straight allies would be advised against using terms that are considered problematic and in the process of reappropriation (such as dyke and poof), and cisgender individuals should be aware that terms like tranny are still considered extremely offensive by some transgender individuals.

Reappropriation advocacy, although contentious, has been adopted by a great number of Queer organisations and high-profile individuals.

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What is ‘Reappropriation’?