Since the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, we as a society have been attempting to coin a non-derogatory term for non-heterosexual identifying folk, and the community as a whole. While there are – incredibly valid – arguments to be made about the need for a label at all, the fact that our world is categorical by nature is undeniable, and thus any such term must be as empowering as it is inclusive.
Though it is true that we have come a long way since the days of the blanket-term ‘homosexual’, which carried deeply negative connotations, or ‘gay’ which was an obvious disservice to the vibrant and faceted community, there is still much progress to be made. Currently, the most widely recognised identifier is the acronym LGBT – denoting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender members of the community – the politics of which are still hotly debated.
In fact, as a queer person myself, this term rings a little too true to the lump ‘gay and lesbian’ label of days past. I am not the only one, however, who feels that we deserve a broader and more inclusive abbreviation. Shane Windmeyer, founder of North Carolina student advocacy group Campus Pride, shares this sentiment, acknowledging that many youths “do not define themselves on the spectrum of LGBT”. ‘LGBTQIA’ is my personal term of choice, and is emerging as the standard among the younger community. Although, the definition of each letter seems to mean something different depending on who you talk to.
‘Q’ often stands for ‘queer’ or ‘questioning’, both umbrella terms reclaimed by activists in the 1990’s, though the latter of which is often invalidated within the community as an ‘unreal’ identity. A disappointingly hypocritical thought process within a group fighting for recognition and acceptance, which is thankfully becoming somewhat archaic and frowned upon. ‘I’ is for ‘Intersex’, that is, those who do not have distinctly male or female genitalia, and is thankfully rarely contested for its validity.
‘A’, however, is where debates get a little heated. Although it undoubtedly represents ‘asexuality’, which characterises the absence of sexual attraction, there remains a polarising argument about whether this letter should be inclusive to ‘allies’.
The case made for this inclusion is often to accommodate for closeted individuals, who do not feel safe to come out but would still like to align themselves with the community. However, this notion in itself is a fallacy, as those closeted folk choosing to identify as ‘allies’, i.e. heterosexual supporters of the community, are not allies in the traditional sense. As Defira, an asexual identifying woman and incredible advocate for ace representation, so wonderfully put it “they are still non-heterosexual or non-cis. A closeted lesbian is still a lesbian, not an ally. A closeted trans woman is still a trans woman, not an ally.”
This, of course, is not to say these individuals should go without a space to feel safe and supported within the community, but levelling non-hetero or non-cis supporters of the community with a group facing everyday adversity speaks volumes of the acephobic attitudes polluting the community in recent years.
Allies are both needed and appreciated in a progressive society, but as Defira articulated so simply, “someone who wants to declare themselves an ally to the community has no place in taking up space at the table that needs to go to desperately marginalised identities.”
In attempts to combat the debate around lettered representation, suggestions have been made to drop this acronym entirely, opting for GSM – Gender & Sexual Minorities – instead.
Ron Suresha of Huffpost Queer Voices is one such advocate, for the way in which it expresses the community as a political entity, though he acknowledges that the word ‘minority’ is perceivably problematic. Defira shares this feeling, highlighting the Othering connotation of the word, in a community fighting for equality.
Moreover, there is the issue of cultural intelligibility. The acronym LGBT, or indeed LGBTQIA, is known by most people, and generally does not require further clarification. It’s a term that communicates history, to even those with rudimental knowledge of the community, in a way that GSM cannot yet do.
If deconstructing the current acronym shows us anything, it’s the regulatory nature of language and labels. As GSM linguistically constructs an Other, leading us to understand the concept by first understanding what it isn’t, it highlights the dangers of misused inclusivity. In the same way, LGBT regulates those who transcend the labels of ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender’, confining them to a miscellaneous category – in some cases, a ‘+’.
So as we debate these labels, which allow us to recognise as well as discuss people and experiences, we must take into account not only the risk of Othering, but the power of providing an identity – or even a sense of pride – to those who for so long felt they were something wrong.
It is illogical to delegitimise any marginalised group, or deny them the representation and community they justly deserve, by ignoring the extraordinary weight a label can hold. As Defira points out, “labels are a very personal way of making sense of ourselves and how we relate to the world”, and every person deserves to find their place.
Nichols, James Michael. “Queering Language: The Necessary Evolution From ‘LGBT'”. The Huffington Post. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Schulman, Michael. “Generation LGBTQIA”. Nytimes.com. N.p., 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Suresha, Ron. The Huffington Post. N.p., 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.