I don’t know why I suddenly started thinking about this (and asking Twitter about it) today. But I did, and the conversation was quite good, so I wanted to write a post. It’s kind of about labels and acronyms and diversity and inclusivity and other things – choice, importantly. A bit of privilege. All those words that crop up a lot when you move in “liberal” kinds of circles. And like thinking about issues. Also I propose a competition! Read on…
For the uninitiated, if you have no idea what I’m banging on about and need some definitions, I wrote a Background section at the end for you – if you’re open to learning something today, that is.
So, somehow there began a tendency to define some sexualities and gender identities (I find it interesting that the two seem to go hand-in-hand still, despite the increasingly clear message that one need not follow the other) and lump those definitions together in acronyms/initialisms. I don’t profess to know why that happened, but I have some of my own thoughts on a) why people choose to identify with certain labels and b) how that can be useful to them.
Acronyms & Initialisms
I asked Twitter for people’s thoughts on the use of “LGBT” vs. longer versions like “LGBTQQIAA” – lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and allies – if you’re wondering. Again, skip to the end for more on the details of those labels.
Obviously the longer version is quite unwieldy, perhaps not easily remembered and sends a lot of people into a strange rage because they don’t know what you’re talking about (ask?) or have for some reason turned into an Express reader who’s annoyed about the “PC brigade”. Apparently an option growing in popularity is GSM (gender & sexuality minority).
For me, the lengthier initialism (which could be even longer, actually) proves a point in itself; there are so many types of people (when we’re concentrating on gender identity and sexuality alone) that the use of such categories begins to lose meaning once you open your mind to that fact.
The longer version also introduces the people who do decide to ask to previously unknown concepts. In our conversation yesterday at least 3 people replied asking about the 5 letters at the end. Education is generally the first step in promoting understanding and tolerance, so surely that’s a good thing?
I really enjoyed having the discussion. I think it’s a good way to increase awareness, the capacity for welcoming environments, and helping people to feel comfortable in explaining their own views and stories, with the result of, hopefully, reducing prejudice and discrimination.
For funsies, here are some christian folks freaking out about all these heathens, because it will obviously end up with human-animal partnerships and worse (however, skipping to the end of that post, noting that the writer is an attorney is less amusing).
Given acronyms tend to work better, being pronouncable words, can you come up with some using some or all the letters? To choose from you could have any or all of the above plus some extra Bs and Gs (bigender, genderqueer/genderfuck etc.), P (pansexual), particles (and, in, for etc.), bits of words (e.g. Bi) and anything else you can justifiably think of.
To kick off, there’s a (fairly well-known?) one that was sent to me by @bishtraining: QUILTBAG.
And that one’s for Queer, Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, Allied, Gay and Genderqueer.
Gender And Sexual Minority And Noble-minded People In Solidarity and Support: GASMANPISS, simple. – @jonny_boy27
Please post your acronym suggestions (serious or otherwise) and what they stand for in the comments below! Personally I think I’ll stick with LGBT+ for now.
I’ll just put some thoughts forward as prompted by people’s tweets from here on, and if you’ve something to add about any of the points, again please do add it in the comments below!
I think it’s more helpful to embrace people as individuals. We won’t have true equality until we stop having to fit an “identity” - @DPWF0
While I agree it’s ideal to just take people for who they are, each separately, it’s also the case that lots of people like to have an identity. We all do, and how we define ourselves comes in different forms. People can and will choose labels for themselves. They could be hobbies, jobs, nationality/ethnicity, religion, sporting allegiances, even disabilities… subscribing to these kinds of cultural communities can offer people support. We often like to share experiences. Birds of a feather.
Martin had some objections to the ever-expanding initialism usage, specifically that it’s chiefly defining a ‘majority’ (cis heterosexuals).
But does such a majority even exist? What is it? Are there really so many 100% cis hetero people around? We both suspect that a lot of people, given a different environment (i.e. one that’s more aware of these issues and tolerant of the spectra involved), would be less inclined to so rigidly pigeonhole themselves into what is traditionally the ‘normal’ category (obviously I strongly object to the use of normal in this kind of discussion).
However, it seems to be quite likely that cis & hetero is at least for now the most common “skin to be in” and we may as well assume so until we have evidence to the contrary. Which perhaps makes the shorter xyz minority initialisms preferable.
Perhaps we’re reaching that almost ideal situation where it’s so uncommon to be bigoted about these things that it’s no longer necessary to define as “other”, because having a problem with something you don’t need to have a problem with is actually the most notable characteristic. The ideal situation obviously being a zero-bigotry one.
can that not just be reduced to “everyone but the bigots”… I take some issue with people rejecting labels because “we are all individuals” who have the luxury of rejecting them. – @endless_psych
Absolutely agree with this – it’s good if you say ‘differences are irrelevant to me’ – you are confident in yourself and other people’s choices, you probably treat people well as a result. It’s always nice when people can ‘come out’ to their friends about things and get a mildly surprised (or not) reaction coupled with not caring. It’s nice to know your friends well, and sexuality may or may not be a part of that, but it being unimportant is often a relief, given what some people have to go through.
But not everyone has the luxury of finding differences irrelevant; people facing discrimination, isolation, rejection and hatred have the ‘relevance’ of their difference pointed out to them in horrible ways. Identifying the bigotry, what it’s targeted at and why it’s unacceptable is important.
It’s all very well saying “we’re all human/people” but not everyone believes human rights are universal, still, and if we’re to continue pushing for their application to everyone, groups who face injustice need to be able to campaign on specific issues. Otherwise nothing would ever change. Having a banner to unite under can help to bring about changes for the better for specific groups, via increasing recognition:
esp if that recognition is bound up with state support and sciences e.g. The
#Transdocfail tweets – @drdaveobrien
An article here on what that hashtag revealed, although not news to some.
Invisibility is a problem for minorities that is caused not just by the majority but also other minority groups. I’ve written about bi-erasure coming from the gay/lesbian community previously. By denying someone’s claims about their own identity, you are only serving to support any discrimination they face, and in no way helping their struggle – which may be very similar to your own.
I think one reason for the expansion of the acronym is the inevitable failure of labels… To define a ‘Lesbian and Gay’ society, other groups become more visible by their absence. - @anandamide
Which fits perfectly with an article I read the other day about some universities in the USA and their student groups, from the POV of Stephen, who identifies as queer.
All of this finally led me to reading a bit about “intersectionality“, a word that’s been doing the rounds lately because of certain incidents. Sociology of the day!
I don’t think I agree with these concerns really, but I see where they’re coming from, and again am interested in others’ views. Regarding the longer initialism:
It’s unwieldy and few will ever know what it means. As EP said, it’s everyone but bigots. I’m sure it has it’s uses somewhere … Just not sure it’s ever going to be useful in combating prejudice in the wider public. - @frozenwarning
I’d go as far as to say that the increasingly complex ‘in-group’ language risks alienating the public… The easier it is to screw up by not knowing the right terms, the less well-meaning people will want to speak. - @mjrobbins
Again, please chip in below.
When it comes to sexuality, the world is clearly not only populated by heterosexuals (people who are attracted to people who identify as a different gender from themselves), whatever some conservative/religious types would like to believe. There you have your L for lesbian and G for gay – the homosexuals, or people who are attracted to people who identify as the same gender as they do. Most people are now familiar with these labels, and most are fine with it – but not all, there’s still nasty homophobic prejudice floating around.
For your B, the bisexuals; those attracted both to people who identify as the same gender as they do, and to those whose gender identity is different from theirs. A little more complicated, as the inadequacy of the gender binary means this doesn’t have to just include cisgender individuals, it could include trans* peeps too – some may therefore choose to identify as pansexual or omnisexual – though these don’t come into the main initialisms discussed here.
As for the T, that’ll be trans. Generally shortened to trans* now, because there’s a lot more to gender even than is widely thought at the moment. See here, but there’s also plenty of disagreement about it, and this post discusses that. Gender is a simple concept for a lot of people, as that’s how we’re taught, usually, growing up. Man/woman, male/female. But that’s not always adequate. Sometimes people’s bodies don’t match the gender they feel they are, if indeed they choose to acknowledge gender at all – most of us are lucky and things mostly match up, and there’s a term for that: cisgender (or cis for short). For those whose gender identity and physical gender are at odds to some degree, we can say transgender (from the Latin cis- prefix meaning on the same side, and trans- meaning on the opposite side. [Bio]Chemists will be familiar with these).
Moving on, there’s Queer – the old insult that has been reclaimed for people who prefer a less restrictive label but wish to identify with an “atypical” sexuality/gender ID group. Questioning has a variety of definitions; unsure, actively looking for something to settle on, or rejecting available options. Intersex is anyone whose genitalia are ambiguous to whatever degree; neither fully ‘male’ nor ‘female’, which is more common than often thought (unfortunately these people are subject to genital mutilation without their consent, which can have terrible consequences). Asexual is what it says on the tin – it’s perfectly valid for people to be uninterested in sex. This is often derided and pathologised, including by some in the so-called sex positive community, which is irritating.
Allies, finally, being anyone who is willing to fight against discrimination based on any of these things.
Edit: here’s a good video about it from a while back