What Makes a Queen a Queen?

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SOME MONTHS AGO, an older gentleman at the center of a wide circle of friends his own age and younger died. A week after the funeral a text arrives from a fellow mourner: “I miss that queen.”           So do I. But it occurred to me that had that message shown up on someone else’s phone, the digital equivalent of a wrong number, it would almost certainly have mystified the receiver. Queen? What’s a queen?

“Queen” was once a term not fully understood—and certainly not used—outside the subculture in which it originated: gay bars and other meeting places. Gay men have always owned it. But today its use is creeping into mainstream vernacular via the corrupting touch of—what else?—merchandise and marketing.

A friend sends a text saying simply “nap queen.” I text back that it’s not yet noon, and that he’s showing his age, at which point a photo of a pillow positioned in a window display at Marshalls pops onto the screen. “Nap Queen,” reads the pillow. A crown hovering over the words is part of the logo. An on-line search reveals that Nap Queen is a brand. You can get Nap Queen mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, dorm decor, and hoodies. Buy one and proclaim your need to prioritize rest.

There is even a San Francisco-based business called Bitter Queens that “started as a spirited hobby amongst a duo of cocktail enthusiasts” and now retails, via mail order, “unique bitters flavors of superb quality destined for cocktail dens.” Please allow one to two weeks for delivery.

Marketing seizes words to sell things. It can turn transgression into toothpaste, attitude into cocktails. Is it possible to believe the geniuses appropriating “nap queen” haven’t the slightest idea what’s implied, namely a geriatric homosexual?

Elsewhere in the culture, you wonder if this infinitely elastic word, “queen”—a pejorative or a term of endearment, take your pick—is going the way of so many gay bars worldwide.

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