All of Us Strangers sparks an argument that Michael Stevens is keen to debate.

The gay film All of Us Strangers has been a hit this summer. With two beautiful, talented men in the lead, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, it’s not hard to see why.

It’s a beautiful, mysterious and evocative love story between Adam and Harry. There’s an age gap between them. Adam appears to be in his late 40s, while Harry is in his late 20s. And their relationship dynamic appears to have hit different nerves across the generations of viewers.


In one scene, Adam describes himself as ‘gay’. Harry replies, “I call myself queer. It seems more polite. Like it hides all the dick-sucking.”

This comment stood out to me. When people in our communities started using the word ‘queer’ in the early 90s to describe ourselves, it was seen as edgy, revolutionary and defiant. Of course, there are some for whom it will always be a horrible, degrading insult – the word that was used to attack them as they were growing up. Others see it as powerful and liberating, a smack in the face to people who try to bully us with it. In contrast, ‘gay’ was seen as polite, jovial and middle class, yet now Harry is calling ‘queer’ polite. What happened?

The fact is, “queer” offers a way of talking about our communities without talking about one of the most defining things about us, one of the things that has been the excuse for societies around the globe to persecute and punish us – how we have sex and who with. It was never saying “I’m a man who loves another man” that caused us problems. It was saying, “I’m a man, and I want to have sex with other men,” that did. ‘Queer’ avoids referencing these physical acts and sinks all that into some wider idea of difference without being explicit.

I do sense that society in general and people from rainbow communities today, especially younger ones, are less confident in talking openly about bodies and sexual acts than we were. There seems to be a fear that people might be offended or triggered – or consider such talk inappropriate. There appears to be a rise in prissiness and a mistrust of raunch and lust. ‘Queer’ now gives a hint of what might be behind the curtain, but without disturbing anyone with actual details. In contrast, Gay Liberation was founded in part on the idea of openly celebrating our sex lives.

‘Queer’ has become so mainstream that over the last five to ten years, even some straight people have been using it to merely identify themselves as outside the norm, different from normal society, but without the term signalling same-sex attraction, sexual activity or transgressing gender boundaries, as it used to.

How relevant is ‘queer’ if it has become so polite and normal now? If it’s becoming simply a standard way of describing a general group of social non-conformists, perhaps it’s time for us to go back to some more old-fashioned terms that emphasise the more shocking and scandalous parts of who we are, who we get turned on by, who we desire, who we love and who we fuck. The idea that women can find satisfaction and happiness without a man profoundly disturbs traditional social arrangements. The idea that gender boundaries of male and female are not forever fixed in each person is equally disturbing in most societies.
Maybe it’s time to revive some of those older explicit terms that identify us by who and how we love and fuck. Just as we don’t need to call a spade a ‘digging implement,’ so we don’t need to call a sodomite or sapphist a queer. Let’s proudly reclaim those words that really make the straights pay attention – instead of this bland, sexless eunuch of a word.