If You Loved Hannah Montana In The 2000s, You’re Probably Queer
How a Disney star aided me in my journey of reclaiming the term queer.
That chilly December morning after attending the Hannah Montana concert in 2007, I was on cloud nine. I skipped into school, singing the song “Rock Star” with my head held high. I was gracing the Catholic school hallways, belting lyrics like, “I’m unusual, not so typical, way too smart to be waiting around…” until I noticed the boys in my third-grade class starting to whisper and point in my direction. Consequently, they began shouting names at me, one being “queer.” I felt confused and singled out, shocked that my sheer joy could be the source of any pointed judgment. That was one of the first moments I vividly remember shoving down innate happiness to fit in with my peers. Looking back a decade later, who knew I’d find the utmost validation in reclaiming the term “queer” to describe my boundless individuality.
Let’s do a little gay history recap… The word “queer” originated in the nineteenth century, when the term was used to mark individuals considered “odd or outside social norms.” It was often used in scandals and speculation, such as Oscar Wilde’s infamous trial of 1895, where witnesses referred to him and folks like him as “Snob Queers.” By the twentieth century, it was primarily used to describe “something or someone ‘strange,’” and often (but not always) coincided with reasons for perceived sexual or gender nonconformity. During the rise of the AIDS Movement in the 1970s, “queer” was in its prime of pejorative use, with actual LGBTQIA+ folks on the fence on how they felt about it, some rejecting it and some using it as a proud proclamation. Fast forward to the early 1990s, creative LGBT activists began to wryly reclaim “queer,” using it as the face of a movement in an effort to reject social and political sedimentation.
Today, the word “queer” is a deliberately ambiguous term, often used to denote a sexual or gender identity that doesn’t necessarily correspond to established cisgender and heterosexual norms. Queer means to be comfortable outside the line of any binary, giving an individual representation without the need for specificity. The totality and amalgamation of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, so to speak. Queer offers someone the radical potential to subvert the norms, with no need to prove any certain level of “queerness.” Throw out your Kinsey Scale if you’re looking; you’re probably just queer!
Growing up in the golden age of Disney Channel, I definitely felt represented by certain pop stars & actresses, but I didn’t know how to verbalize that validation yet. For example, Hannah Montana’s double life / secret part of herself where she gets to “live out her dreams as a superstar” is nothing short of a coming-out innuendo. Upon coming to terms with my sexuality in my late teens, I felt like I had to prove myself to the gay male community, similarly to how I had to prove my “straightness” to those third-grade bullies. I felt I needed to show that I was “hot enough, proud enough, sexual enough,” and it always left me feeling incomplete. I wasn’t sure where I stood, and using a binary term felt inauthentic. I came out as Bisexual in June of 2020. Ever since that liberating day three years ago, I now use 'queer’ to describe myself more than ever.
Shortly after my coming out as Bi, I grew resentful of any term in the LGBTQIA+ alphabet that made me feel rigid and monolithic. It wasn’t until I took a “Queer Theory” class in college that I discovered the elasticity of using the word “queer." I learned how the word offered solace to those who felt misrepresented in their prescribed LGBTQIA+ identity. By using it, I’m not straying away from being bisexual; instead, I’m offering a vast spectrum of adaptability to describe myself. That’s what being my authentic self is truly about: not sticking to one binary, one finite decision, but evolving and adapting as I develop my individuality. Fully living out the ambiguously queer Hannah Montana lyrics in real-time.
Within this Queer Theory course, I learned how the word Queer is mercurial and can be used as an identity, a noun, and a verb. Using the word as a kind of doing instead of just being— holds an immense amount of possibility, as we can not just identify with it but actively practice it. “Queering the norm” or “Queering up a situation” is to push past fixed categorizations and offer an unapologetically different approach. This brings me to how using the term can transcend sexual & gender identity. When using the word Queer, one must carry a profound level of intersectionality with it for the word to be exercised to the fullest extent. Using an intersectional queer lens to analyze any subject extends our thinking about race, power, oppression, globalization, and much more. The goal is to vehemently reject any prescribed normativity and openly welcome the contrary.
These semantics are merely the tip of the iceberg in exploring the world of “queer,” but a visit that is completely necessary to make progress with anti-normative acceptance. Queer is not one thing but all things. You don’t have to hook up with the same gender, wear colorful makeup or hang out at the Stonewall Inn to be considered Queer. If you find yourself looking for a symbol of expression that helps you stray outside social norms, queer away my friend (and stream some Hannah Montana while you do it, dammit!).
McCann, H. Monaghan, W. (2019) Queer Theory Now: From Foundations to Futures. Bloomsbury Publishing