|Posted on June 22, 2017 at 1:25 AM|
By Dennis Stone
When I was a kid we were the gay community. The world was much simpler then. It was overwhelmingly made up of straight people - the ones who had families and lived the “normal” life. Then there was a tiny band of gay people - outcasts, rebels, libertines, sinners, freedom fighters - who existed in the shadows but were increasingly making their presence known. “Bisexuals” were gay people not yet able to acknowledge their true identity. Lesbians were gay, and therefore easily absorbed by men into the “gay” classification. Trans people were so rare and invisible that they weren’t considered. The world was binary - straight people and gay people.
As the years have passed we have come to see that little in life is binary or simple. And so it is with our alternative community and how we see ourselves. The gay community became the LGB community in the mid-80s as we finally realized bisexuals were real, and decided that gay men and women deserved separate recognition. In the 90s we acknowledged our trans brothers and sisters and became LGBT. In 1996 “LGBTQ” gained currency, with the “Q” representing both “questioning” and “queer” as a catch-all designation.
In the 21st century we have been adding more and more letters to recognize more and more subgroups. One of the longer ones I’ve seen comes courtesy of the “Open House” residence at Wesleyan University: LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM. Those letters stand for: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamorous, Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism.”
My first reaction to the issue of our acronym is that I don’t think we should have one. I personally prefer “queer” as a simple term that encompasses all statuses under the “sexually non-conformist” umbrella. The ever growing acronym increasingly looks silly, and not just to straight people. And who gets to decide what statuses are included? It is not to our benefit to have a name with multiple variations and that appears to be a living, growing organism.
I have a more substantive problem, however, with the usage of our acronym in any of its iterations. The groups represented by each letter are widely disparate, with different life experiences, different challenges, different equality statuses, etc. To take an example from the Wesleyan acronym, how much similarity exists between a married straight guy into sadism and a gay or trans person? Differences are significant even for people included in the simplified acronym LGBT. As groups, gay people and trans people are substantially different. Bisexuals have unique identity and life issues. Gay men and lesbians often experience life as separate communities, and there has sometimes been an unfortunate level of distrust and animosity between the two groups.
The point is that the queer or LGBTQ+ community is anything but homogenous, but is too often treated, by friend and foe alike, as a monolithic entity. For example, bathroom laws are described as anti-LGBT, and stories in the gay press talk about how they endanger LGBT people. In fact, they violate the rights of one very small component of the LGBT community, but don’t impact the others at all.
That sounds as though I’m one of those gay people who wants to eliminate the “T” from “LGBT.” That is emphatically not true. I feel a kinship with trans people, and I feel a duty to use our combined clout (“stronger together,” as Hillary Clinton might put it!) to help all members of our coalition. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accurately understand and interpret our world. Gay kids shouldn’t be told that they are “under attack” because of a newly proposed bathroom bill. They SHOULD be told that our trans brothers and sisters are under attack, and that we should support them in any way we can.
As a writer I think it’s important to be able to refer to the gay community as an independent entity, with its own issues and realities, rather than as one part of a larger group. This is especially true from a “new millennial” perspective. The world is a dramatically different and better place today for gay people than it was throughout the previous years of my life. Unfortunately, the trans community today remains far behind us in acceptance and equality. Our current ethos - as expressed in the gay media - makes me feel a bit guilty for talking about the gay community as opposed to the LGBT community, and for talking about how positive things have become for gay people. However, it is neither selfish nor exclusionary to do so.
There are important characteristics - such as a history of social marginalization - that bind queer people together. But there are other important characteristics of each individual group that should be recognized, and that should allow us to consider and talk about each group individually.
I belong to the LGBT community. I also belong to the gay community. Those two communities are not the same thing. Sometimes I want to talk about the LGBT community, but in other contexts I want to split the acronym and talk about the individual realities of the gay community. And that’s OK.