Tuesday, November 28, 2017

LGBTQ2? QUILTBAG? A quick guide to politically correct initialisms

As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to make a historic apology later today to all those who have been discriminated against due to their gender and/or sexuality, you might, like me, need a little clarification on some of the labels being bandied around. LGBT is a common one, LGBTQ just about as common, but LGBTQ2 appears to be an increasingly-used all-inclusive version. There are also versions like LGBTQI (where I is for Intersex), LGBTQIA (where A is for sexual), and many others. One group even uses the rather unwieldy LGBTTQQIAAP, but let's not go there...
So, what does it all actually mean?
L for Lesbian and G for Gay are easy and pretty well-understood by all. Except ... isn't a lesbian just a gay woman? Why the need for a separate word? A bit of research suggests that lesbians (or gay women) really don't mind being called one or the other, and the minority that does have a preference are not actually offended in any way by the alternative. So, yes, we could probably dispense with the L. B is for Bisexual, but probably not for Bi-gender, which comes more under the heading of transgender (see below). So, L, G and B (LGB is, historically, the oldest initialism) are all about sexual attraction, or sexual orientation, as it is usually termed.
T, though, is for Tricky, because it is normally considered to stand for Transgender, but it could equally stand for Transsexual, Transvestite, and probably any number of other variants. These are not the same thing at all: transgender refers to people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, or brought up as; transsexual means transgender people who have undergone sex reassignment procedures, and have thus physically changed their gender; transvestite is a (usually) heterosexual male, who just enjoys dressing as a woman. The umbrella term trans or trans* covers (at least according to some): androgyne, agender, bigender, butch, CAFAB, CAMAB, cross-dresser, drag king, drag queen, femme, FTM, gender creative, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, gender variant, MTF, pangender, questioning, trans, trans man, trans woman, transfeminine, transgender, transmasculine, transsexual, and two-spirit. Phew!
Then things get really complicated with Q for Queer. I always thought that queer just meant "all of the above", i.e. anyone other than the straight, boring, heterosexual, traditional types. And in a way it does. It is another umbrella term, referring to anyone who is not heterosexual or cisgender (i.e. accepting of the gender identity assigned at birth), and it is an in-group term reclaimed from its previously pejorative meaning. Q, though, can also stand for Questioning, i.e. those still in the process of exploring their gender or sexuality. So, does Q add anything to the L, G, B and T that went before. Maybe, at least in its "questioning" guise, but maybe also in its "queer" meaning: some would argue that queer is a broader and deliberately ambiguous alternative to LGBT.
And what about that 2? 2 stands for Two-Spirit, a term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe certain individuals who fulfill a traditional "third gender" role within some Native American cultures. It is not necessarily equivalent to "LGBT native" (or, worse, "gay Indian"): it is properly used in a sacred, spiritual or ceremonial context. But it is pretty obscure and abstruse, and I would have thought that including it along with LGBTQ is perhaps taking inclusivity a little far. After all, there is a separate designation for the traditional Hindu transvestites, who are known as hijras - should we then include an H in the list?
I don't know, it all seems like a lot of pigeonholing to me, something I would have thought that sexual and gender minorities would prefer to avoid. Hell, there are even comprehensive online glossaries out there, to help you pigeonhole yourself with ever greater accuracy. But I'm not really sure what useful purpose they serve.
As for initialisms, personally I quite like QUILTBAG (queer/questioning intersex lesbian trans/two-spirit bisexual asexual/allied gay/genderqueer), as it at least has a bit of character and shows some evidence of a sense of humour. Apparently, it is accumulating quite a following online. Me, I will probably stick to the good old-fashioned LGBT. Or possibly LGBTQ if I am feeling particularly inclusive.

No comments: