Queer Alphabet Soup: Moving Beyond Sexual Inclusivity

LGTBQIA…and the list goes on. What we once simply called gay expanded to gay and lesbian, then to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, and then further to include the umbrella term queer, as well as intersex and asexual.

A recent New York Times article by Michael Schulman tackles this expansion of inclusive terms, discussing the new generation of queers and the gender inclusivity that they are striving for.

“If the gay-rights movement today seems to revolve around same-sex marriage, this generation is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question isn’t whom they love, but who they are — that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation. But what to call this movement? Whereas “gay and lesbian” was once used to lump together various sexual minorities — and more recently “L.G.B.T.” to include bisexual and transgender — the new vanguard wants a broader, more inclusive abbreviation.”

Members of the older generations of gays and lesbians tend to shake their heads at this push for inclusivity. However, “if history is any guide, the age gap won’t be so easy to overcome. As liberated gay men in the 1970s once baffled their pre-Stonewall forebears, the new gender outlaws, to borrow a phrase from the transgender writer Kate Bornstein, may soon be running ideological circles around their elders.”

As a fourth-year student at a fairly progressive women’s college in Massachusetts, I’ve seen my fair share of this “radical” protest. Within queer environments (and I use the term queer to apply both to gender and sexuality), there has been a big push for this kind of inclusive environment, one that has space not only for variance in sexual preference, but for a wide variety of gender expressions and presentations.

Outside of this type of queer space, things change. And I’m not talking about conservative environments that tend to oust anything that’s not hetero and gender-normative. I’m talking about those spaces that are specifically Gay and Lesbian…and not queer.

When my partner (who is ftm transgender) and I spent a weekend in Provincetown last year volunteering for Family Week, a summer program for queer families, these divides were painfully obvious. Provincetown is a gay mecca- a little town on the tip of Cape Cod that serves as a tourist destination for wealthy, white gays and lesbians. However, it seems to include only that population.

My partner and I were referred to as “ladies” more times in two days than we ever have been in Western Massachusetts. We were asked if we wanted a special “ladies pedicure,” and frequently referred to as “lesbians.” This came as a bit of a shock for us. Granted, Western Mass is a special bubble of progressiveness, but we both grew up in Boston, and even walking around Downtown Crossing, we were more often perceived as a straight couple than as a lesbian one. Each space brings with it its own perceptions and understandings…Provincetown is a gay and lesbian spot, so we were perceived as lesbians. Downtown Boston has its homos, though far outnumbered by its heteros, and as a feminine presenting girl and a masculine-presenting trans guy, we were perceived as straight. Western Massachusetts is a progressive, inclusive little bubble, and we are more often than not asked what words we want to use.

Many argue that we need to add more letters to the so-called queer alphabet soup, and others stand by the original four-letter LGBT acronym. But the truth is, it’s not about the letters. It’s about community, openness, and inclusiveness.

In concluding my thoughts, I share with you the last few paragraphs of the New York Times article. At a University of Pennsylvania open-mic night for gender equality on campus, a student spoke about these terms.

““We have our lesbians, our gays,” he said, before adding, “bisexual, transsexual, queer, homosexual, asexual.” He took a breath and continued. “Pansexual. Omnisexual. Trisexual. Agender. Bi-gender. Third gender. Transgender. Transvestite. Intersexual. Two-spirit. Hijra. Polyamorous.”

By now, the list had turned into free verse. He ended: “Undecided. Questioning. Other. Human.””

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About Michaela

Michaela

Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.