No argument I have encountered is quite as pointless and virulent as the argument about who gets to count as queer. The most virulent subform of this argument is, of course, whether asexuals count as queer. Seriously, fun game: go on a relatively popular feminist/queer forum, ask whether asexuals are queer, watch everyone scream at each other, eat popcorn.

I really do not have a stake in this argument at all, since as far as I can tell the question of whether asexuals are queer makes absolutely no difference to anything in the actual world. Besides, a lot of people seem to have this idea that there is an Objective Real Definition of Queer and if we argue about it enough we will, through rational argument, discover the Platonic Form of Queer. That’s not how words work though. Words just mean what everyone agrees they mean.

Therefore, I have decided to list out every definition of queer that I have heard, with rationale, in the hopes that everyone will agree that they are all equally valid definitions that mark categories which actually exist and we can just pick the one that’s most suitable for whatever conversation we’re in.

Reclaimed Slur: This definition suggests that, since “queer” is a reclaimed slur, it should only be used in a badass “your insults cannot hurt me, I accept who I am” way. The problem with this is that people who use this argument very rarely carry it to its logical conclusion. “Queer,” as a slur, is primarily used against men who have sex with men and trans people who were male assigned at birth. Male crossdressers have more right to reclaim “queer” than I do.

LGBT: This definition says that “queer” refers to lesbians, gay people, bi people, and trans people. Like, maybe you want another word because you’ve been using the word LGBT too much? That can be a thing. “Queer”, in this definition, reflects the shared history of LGBT people and the fact that the oppressions they face (homophobia, transphobia, biphobia) are intimately linked. (Ace hate, on the other hand, is to the best of my knowledge more more closely related to rape culture and compulsory sexuality than to homophobia or transphobia.) This is the definition that most of the people who are on the “no, asexuals cannot say they’re queer” side use.

LGBT and also asexuals and aromantics: This definition says that since asexuals are also a minority sexual orientation, it makes sense to classify them in the same group as LGB people (the other three minority sexual orientations). Therefore, queer means people with a minority gender history or sexual orientation. (Some people include aromantics, who don’t experience romantic attraction to people, under the queer umbrella as well.)

A broader version of LGBT (plus possibly asexuals): This is the definition I like! There are lots of fuzzy edges around LGBT. Straight men who sometimes sleep with guys when they’re drunk. Women who fall in romantic love with people of all genders but only want to have sex with men. People who thought they were trans but ended up detransitioning. The fuzzy edges are in a very different position from those of us who are actually LGBT; however, it’s also important to acknowledge the ways in which we have similar lived experiences. Of course, this definition comes in asexual/aromantic and asexual/aromantic-free versions. (The fuzzy edges of asexuality are demisexuals and gray-asexuals.)

Gender and sexual minority: Everyone who has a minority gender or sexuality! This is really broad, because it includes not just asexuals, aromantics, and the fuzzy edges around LGBT, but kinky people, poly people, butch women, femme men, and basically anyone who takes at least a sentence to explain their gender or sexual orientation. This category can be justified because of the massive overlap between those groups, and because all these groups face people who think that their sexuality or gender is, for some reason, something other people are allowed to have opinions about.

People who are gender-revolutionary and question the gender binary: The queer writer Kate Bornstein has been known to define sex-positive trans-supportive straight people as “queer heterosexuals” and talk about how everyone who admits that their gender is in some way transgressive or ambiguous (as is everyone’s) is queer. I suppose it is indeed nice to have a word for that.

The subgroup of any of the above definitions that views their sexuality as political. Basically, the Kate Bornstein definition of queer, except limited to LGBT people, or LGBT people plus asexuals and aromantics, or gender and sexual minorities, or whatever. Queers are people who view their genders and sexualities as weapons against the cisheteropatriarchy and who probably write a lot of really terrible poetry about the matter. (By this definition, I’m not queer!)