Tag Archives: community

What’s in an acronym? Parsing the LGBTQQIP2SAA community

11 Jul

Trying to cover everyone

Every few months another online debate flares up about exactly what the LGBT community should call itself. Generally speaking, most people default to LGBT (or GLBT, with a slight majority favoring the L-first version). This explicitly calls out key components of a diverse group: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. As shorthand goes, it’s fairly effective, recognizing the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity in four simple letters. Of course, it can’t please everyone, and like most compromises, leaves plenty of people feeling unheard.

Four other forms of shorthand see frequent use in the media and on the Internet. Many people opt simply for “gay.” Unfortunately, that leaves out any aspect of the community that doesn’t identify explicitly with same-sex attraction. It also traditionally applies to men, resulting in sexist language, however unintentional.

Opponents of the community typically use “the homosexual community” which manages to be gender neutral but also leaves out significant populations (although those populations may be just as happy not to get attention from these groups.) The more academic term “sexual minorities” is also used. Although this has broader meaning it also draws focus to the word “sexual,” avoidance of which resulted in the use of the word “gay” in the first place. Members of the LGBT community don’t want to be defined strictly by possible behavior, but as complex, fully realized human beings. In an America with a strong puritanical streak – even today – the word “sexual” still has too much power to stigmatize.

Many activists have reclaimed the word “queer” as a preferred descriptor. Taking back the word from the bullies and foes is a way to regain power. This is much like Bitch magazine co-opting a frequent slur as a way to raise feminist activists above their oppressors. For many, however, the scars from being called “queer” are too deep and too fresh to choose it as an identity. So what’s a diverse, inclusion-inclined community to do?

Over time, a number of other additions have been suggested to the LGBT acronym. The most common is Q, signifying “questioning” to recognize that many people are uncertain about their sexual orientation or gender identity (or both). Some also use the Q for queer. At full throttle, the letters wind up something like LGBTQQIP2SAA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,

  • Two Q’s to cover both bases (queer and questioning);
  • I for Intersex, people with two sets of genitalia or various chromosomal differences;
  • P for Pansexual, people who refuse to be pinned down on the Kinsey scale;
  • 2S for Two-Spirit, a tradition in many First Nations that considers sexual minorities to have both male and female spirits;
  • A for Asexual, people who do not identify with any orientation; and
  • A for Allies, recognizing that the community thrives best with loving supporters, although they are not really part of the community itself.

That manages to be pretty inclusive, but it’s also pretty unwieldy.

Labels are tricky things. Most oppressed and minority communities have struggled with finding a descriptor that they feel embraces them and that they can embrace. The evolution of Negro to Colored to Black to African-American shows a clear transition from outside labels to a community claiming its own identity, although many with the community object to African-American. The journey from Indians to Native Americans to First Nations is similar, with many outside the community being unfamiliar with the latter designation. The transition from handicapped to disabled was successful (and codified in law) but the attempt to destigmatize to “differently abled” was just too awkward to find common usage.

It’s that kind of awkwardness that stymies the best attempts to find the magic LGBT label. The problem stems from the best of intentions, inclusion. People are complex, with multiple identities. Everyone has a sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion (or lack thereof), ethnicity, and many other components. It’s laudable for the LGBT community to recognize that there is strength in working together and to try to find a descriptor that shows that intent. In the long run, the intent matters more than the label. Rather than take umbrage at a less than fully inclusive LGBTQ – which at least shows good intent – let’s focus on the work we need to do together to make this a better place for everyone.

Wednesday Word of the Week, May 25

25 May

A Home is Not a House

This week’s word is: HOME.

The place where you live — Macmillan Dictionary Online

I have been thinking about the concept of home a great deal lately. In just over two weeks, I will be moving from one home to another. I realize that in 21st Century America people move all the time, but this is a significant change for me.

I have lived my entire life in Vermont. Geographically, moving to Braintree, MA (part of Boston’s metropolitan area) isn’t such a big stretch. In almost every other way, it is a huge departure for me. Not only have I lived all my life in one state, I have lived 22 of my nearly 29 years in one town. For the past several months, I have even lived in the house where I grew up. Again, these facts may not be unusual, but they contribute to my sense of the magnitude of my coming change.

I am excited to be moving on with my life, even with many unknowns ahead of me. As I have started packing, I realized that the reason this move is less daunting than it might have been has to do with an old Word of the Week: FAMILY. I know that I have the support of Mom and Granddad, even though they’ll remain here. Distance doesn’t matter. This place will always be home, too. More than this, I am not moving on in a vacuum. I will be sharing a home with my dearest friends, Drew and John. That makes a new place home even before I get there.

I am a very lucky man. I haven’t really figured out my life (welcome to 28 in 2011!), but I have the support I need to feel at home and loved. I have the skill and education to make the most of the opportunities that exist, even in this horrible economy. I have been part of a strong community here, and, knowing how important community is to me, will make building a new one a top priority in my new home.

As I’ve been contemplating this change (and my great good fortune), I have come to realize that the definition of home I list above is tepid at best. The word has so much deeper meaning. Even people who have a “place where they live” may not feel at home. Perhaps their relationship is not valued, or is misunderstood, or they are treated as second-class by the people who surround them. This is the saddest thing I can imagine: not being able to feel at home at home.

That realization led me to understand another reason that I feel less overwhelmed by this move: I also have a virtual home. The Solipsistic Me is a wonderful community that has let me spread my wings and hone my voice. Michael has been my champion, teacher, and muse. I have always cared about the wider world but — until recently — had limited ways to touch it. Through this vehicle I feel that there is a bit of home awaiting me wherever I go. Thank you, regular readers and commenters for making that true. I hope your weekly visits to my e-maunderings have given you a bit of a home, too.

So what is home? They say (forgive the cliché) that it is where the heart is. That is very true, but misleading, just like the literal translation about residence. Home is knowing that you are wanted and loved, whether the people who feel that way are near or far. Home is the sense that, wherever you live, you have belonging somewhere. I am very luck to have Home, in many places. We should never rest until everyone can feel this way.

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