→ A queer use is when you use something for a purpose “very different” from that which was “originally intended.”
Use need not correspond to intended function. Most if not all objects can have a use, or, more accurately be made useable by being put to use. A sledgehammer can pound or it can be used as a paperweight or lever. A handsaw can cut a board and be used as straight-edge or to make music. A chair can be sat in and used to prop open a door. These uses make them “useful objects”.
→ Something cannot be used for anything, which means that use is a restriction of possibility that is material. Nevertheless, there is something queer about use; intentions do not exhaust possibilities.
Intended functionality can mean who something is for, not just what something is for. The post box has become a home for nesting birds. Of course, the post-box could only become a nest if it stops being used as a post-box – hence the sign “please don’t use” addressed to would-be posters of letters. Sometimes a change of function does not require a change of form. The birds use the small opening intended for letters as a door, a way of getting in and out of the box.
We can turn up to find a space already occupied:
Audre Lorde, speaking at the only panel where where black feminists and lesbians are represented in 1978:
She uses the time and the space she has been given to make a critique, perhaps a complaint, about the time and space Black feminism and lesbianism has been given. The work of critique often involves pointing out the structures that are not noticed by those who are enabled by them. That critique was to become one of her best-known essays, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” (1984).
Intended use defines what something is for and can be seen especially by those who it is not for:
Aimi Hamraie describes in Building Access*:*
“Examine any doorway, window, toilet, chair or desk…and you will find the outline of the body meant to use it” (2017, 19). Those who are not meant to use doorways tend to notice doors; we notice what stops our progression. A disabled academic has to keep pointing out that rooms are inaccessible because they keep booking rooms that are inaccessible: “I worry about drawing attention to myself. But this is what happens when you hire a person in a wheelchair. There have been major access issues at the university.” She spoke of “the drain, the exhaustion, the sense of why should I have to be the one who speaks out.” You have to speak out because others do not; and because you speak out, others can justify their own silence. They hear you, so it becomes about you; “major access issues” become your issues.
For some, to be accommodated requires modifying an existing structure or arrangement. Those who are not accommodated are often required to do this work – even if what they are asking for is compliance with existing polices. We can call this work diversity work: the work we have to do in order to be accommodated; the work we have to do because we are not accommodated. Queer use is another way of thinking about diversity work, which is to say, queer use can be understood as the ordinary and painstaking work of challenging existing structures or modifying existing arrangements.
Diversity is this sign: bird welcome, or more typically, minorities welcome!