Full disclosure: I’m no fan of the contemporary ‘alphabet soup’ approach to describing the community. I feel it’s more divisive than inclusive, awkward to explain, and inadvertently inclined to make people feel left out.
How many letters and numbers would it take to adequately encompass the depth and breadth of the gender/sexual experience? Where do you stop? Whose cultural norms do you include, and which are rejected? And how do you accommodate changing perceptions and identities over long stretches of history?
This valiant attempt to be hyper-inclusive, to delineate every possible permutation of self, inevitably means that some few will still be left out. In a vain attempt to encompass everyone, have we instead become but a weird collection of isolationists?
Fearing the Other
LGBT has manifested some truly worrisome tribalism. Humans always seem more inclined to see difference than similarity. It’s why nations go to war, and is the very basis of racism and bigotry. It might be an amusing parlor game to distinguish bears from twinks, dyke from lipstick, jocks from geeks – but it does nothing to foster solidarity.
When the bears themselves started developing a nomenclature of pocket/polar/muscle/ginger bears -along with cubs, otters and others – I knew we were in trouble. These men were no longer trying to find acceptance in a community that often derided them on the basis of body type; they were now doing the same to each other. By giving labels to variations among their ranks, the differences have become more important than their sameness.
This behaviour only seems to increase with the expansion of gay rights. Seemingly no longer requiring the safe umbrella of a rights movement, the splintering and fracturing has run amok. This isn’t entirely new; how often have we engaged in gossipy nitpicking as we peruse other bar patrons? The alphabet approach just seems to have given a dollop of permission to this behaviour.
The Times They Are A-Changing
Back a couple or three generations ago, gay alone was a perfectly acceptable moniker for the movement, at least with respect to sexual orientation. But the dominance of gay men in the movement, particularly of the Caucasian variety, left many women feeling second class in what was supposed to be an egalitarianism exercise. So, an historically meaningful and conveniently specific word was purposefully adopted, and we evolved into the gay and lesbian rights movement.
Given the parallel feminist agenda, it was also a time when women sought to find separate safe spaces under their own banner. This wasn’t an especially new idea, but the open use of lesbian became more widely accepted within the feminist cause. In time, feminism also spawned a further adjustment, as ‘gay and lesbian’ morphed into ‘lesbian and gay’.
With the argument that homosexuality was just part of a natural spectrum of orientations came the inevitable “me, too” response from bisexuals – perhaps the most mistrusted of all. As perceived sexual chameleons, bisexuals were thought to unjustly benefit from the venues and institutions of the gay community while maintaining a socially acceptable ‘straight’ public face.
And so it went, as each constituency found a voice and demanded a place at the table – along with the requisite place card and additional monogram on the family linen. This blended family of choice, instead of adopting a common identity, has instead become the ultimate hyphenated surname.
That Which We Call a Rose
The question then becomes, what word or term to use instead? Efforts have already been made to adopt queer as a common banner, but for many it has the lingering stigma of being derogatory. That’s the point, says a younger generation, to take ownership of the word and strip it of its ability to do harm. Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to use that logic to justify uttering the N-word.
Back in the day, gay was adopted for much the same reason, to counter the claim that being homosexual meant that you were destined to live a miserable existence. Perhaps queer still has merit, but it has yet to gain any real traction. Alas, there doesn’t appear to be a winning alternative waiting in the wings, ready to unseat the current headliner. The overcrowded marquee, groaning under its own weight, won’t soon enjoy any relief.
Friends and supporters of the alphabet community must surely be confused by all this. Are we a true community, or simply huddled together under one massive acronym for security? In a sense, both of these are true.
What must our allies think as we squabble over pronouns? Then there’s the matter of how our online personals make us out to be little better than bigots the way we exclude from possibility anyone with a certain colour skin, mannerisms or body type. But that’s a matter for another column.
It would seem that the corporate world believes us to be homogenous. What else would explain how we’re depicted in both the media and event sponsorships. That same-same often manifests itself as young, white, male, fit and underdressed. So prevalent is this that, at best, lesbians are portrayed as being little more than gay men without a penis. Effusive drag queens rule, while the trans community remains invisible. But commercial messages thrive on simplicity, geared to those precious few seconds of an advertising impressions. Perhaps a little alphabet soup is the cure.
I can’t help but write this column but from the perspective of a GWM of a certain vintage. It’s not my purpose here to put anyone down, but to ask questions and open up dialogue to possibilities other than the chaotic status quo. Diversity is messy, but if it’s going to see any real success, it must also be open to constant observation and analysis.
LGBT is imperfect, for more reasons than those stated. Still, it’s now the standard bearer, something acknowledged even as the heading for this column. But is it the best that we can do?
Talk among yourselves.
Link: Read and Follow Rick’s LGBT 101 series here, /category/news/lgbt-101/