Queer Reads Lexicon is a project started by Queer Reads Library in 2019 to explore queerness in the context of local languages, primarily in Cantonese.
The Wikipedia definition: A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge (such as nautical or medical). In linguistics, a lexicon is a language’s inventory of lexemes. The word lexicon derives from the Greek λεξικόν (lexikon), neuter of λεξικός (lexikos) meaning ‘of or for words’.
The words being used, circulated, and invented by queer people are evidence of the life and languages of our communication and recognition of each other in several places depending on one’s migration as well as local contexts. The lexicon is not only a tool but also an archive of our queer threads from past to present.
The ideology and the emancipation of queer identity is often associated with Western contexts and institutions. How have Chinese-speaking people in diverse geographic regions, both in China and in the diaspora, started our own dialect of queer language? We aim for this lexicon to be built and read by queer individuals and communities starting from Hong Kong, and further to different Chinese-speaking people around the world.
Queer Reads Lexicon (earlier named Cantonese Queer Lexicon) was directly inspired by a Vietnamese edition of a queer lexicon called Chỉ Bàn Lộn (by Vagina Talks and illustrated by Nhat Vo, Luu An & Linh Tom), which we bought at the Singapore Art Book Fair in 2018. After reading it, we reflected on the words queer people in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan use, and how they are at times mutually influential and also influenced by English colonization. So during May 2019 in Hong Kong, we invited roughly twenty queer folks from different disciplines and ages, all of whom were from our extended networks, for our first “Queer Lexicon” meeting/ workshop. We asked everyone to draw their mindmap of queer words they are familiar eith using. Those words became our first-hand material of the queer lexicon. The role of QRL is a living library of contemporary queer independent publications centered on queer Asian creatives, and we would like creating a lexicon to resonate with the library work we are doing (of circulating and collecting). We want to start from now and to trace back the local queer history of Hong Kong, all the way back to British colonial times.
The conventional lexicon is a collection of many words crossing a range of diverse general subjects. The queer lexicon is originally developed, written, and edited by queer people based on their first-hand lived experiences. We recognize that some terms in this lexicon may be outdated but we feel it is important to include queer terms that reflect the trajectory of how queer language has developed across generations.
We continue to gather words that we have collected ourselves and by our friends living in other places. Over the years, we have edited and designed them into zines. In 2021, our dear friends Teef Chan and J Wu of Mixed Rice Zines, helped design and print our very first lexicon zine on the occasion of WO MEN 2023: From Her to Here at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.
In 2023, QRL librarian Beatrix Pang edited and designed a new zine after a queer lexicon workshop hosted at Studio Voltaire in London.