Monday, February 11, 2019

Queer Questions

When someone asked me if I could clear up a few questions about the queer world for them, I was expecting something that I could answer in a few sentences. Instead, I got this:

Q: Why does the LGBTQ+ acronym include gender identities as well as sexual orientations? I know they aren't the same, and not all identities are included, so why are some of them?

I thought it would be easiest to type out an answer somewhere other than on FB Messenger, which brought me here. And since I'm typing it out here, I may as well hit the "publish" button when I'm done. So hey, new blog post!

Note: I tend to say queer instead of LGBTQ+. I personally prefer this because queer is more inclusive than LGBTQ+ since, as noted in the questions above, not all the identities are present in LGBTQ+. The downside to using queer is that not everyone is comfortable with it. I acknowledge that my preference here is an imperfect solution, and my choice is colored by the fact that I call myself queer.

1) Why does the LGBTQ+ acronym include gender identities as well as sexual orientations?

A look at queer history shows gays and trans people often working together. (I'm ignoring other identities for the moment because even though they've always been present, they often aren't mentioned). Trans people were present at the Stonewall riot, and it's often (incorrectly) said that it was a trans woman who threw the first brick. Watch the film "Paris is Burning," which is about Harlem drag culture in the 80's, and you see gay men and trans people working together to make a place they can exist in relative peace. If I had made a point to educate myself further on queer history, I have no doubt that I would easily list off other examples showing a close allyship between gays and trans people.

Additionally, many consider sexual orientation and gender identities to be closely linked, and the two are often regularly confused with each other. An example of the two becoming ridiculously confused is the theory of sexual inversion, in which it was believed that a gay man was simply a woman in their soul, and that it was that inner woman who wanted to be with a man. According to this theory, bisexuals would be part man and part woman. This was what sexologists used to believe and teach.

Whether people conflate trans identities and sexual orientation due to our natural close allyship described above, or if the allyship occurred because of people's confusing sexual orientations with gender identities, I don't know. Either way, it's there, and it's why gender identities and sexual orientations are in the same acronym.

2) Why aren't all the identities included?

Set aside everything I just said about a close allyship between the different queer identites. It's definitely there in many cases, as we see in the expanding acronym, but not everyone likes to play nice.

I wish we were one big happy queer family, but the fact is that we're all human and humans can really suck. Within our sometimes dysfunctional queer family, the "you're not queer enough" argument is regularly thrown at bisexuals, asexuals, and intersex people (some even outright deny the existence of these identities). TERFs deny the existence of trans people, and unfortunately plenty of TERFs are queer. Even trans people will sometimes deny the existence of non-binary genders. Many argue that pansexual is just a fancy word for bisexual, which is its own can of worms. Aromantic is a word that probably only those who make a point of learning about different orientations will be familiar with.

Basically, not all the identities are included in part because not all of them are welcomed by everyone.

But not all the identities will be included even when we want to be all inclusive. There are so many that people often aren't sure how to include all of them, which is where the plus sign in LGBTQ+ comes into play. It's an attempt to be all inclusive, although some letters are inevitably favored over others.

Special note:

Not all asexual or intersex individuals consider themselves to be queer, but many do. 

Brief definitions for words that might not be known or which are often argued about:

Aromantic: little to no romantic attraction
Asexual: little to no sexual attraction 
Bisexual: attraction to two or more genders (there is overlap here with pansexual)
Non-binary: genders that don't fall into the binary man/woman way of thinking
Pansexual: attraction to all genders
TERF: trans exclusionary radical feminist, a.k.a. someone who uses their idea of feminism to argue that a "real woman" needs to be born with a vagina

photo from a Pride parade, a rainbow made of balloons