The queer community is working overtime to fix its 'LGBTQ' problem

The queer community is working overtime to fix its 'LGBTQ' problem

CultureAugust 09, 2017 By Reilly Capps

Radical inclusivity is in.

More colors are being added to the rainbow flag. Facebook has 50 genders to choose from. Bathrooms are going gender-neutral.

Everyone wants to be included. Even in language. Even just the letters in an acronym.

Which is why the term "LGBT" is on its way out. Why? Not enough letters.

Here's what happened: there have always been people in the world who aren't heterosexuals.

But there's never been a good, all-inclusive word for these folks, since there's so many ways you can be a not-heterosexual.

Then "LGBT" came along, and it was, for a number of years, the politically-correct, inclusive and accepted way to say someone was lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.

But "LGBT" always left a lot of people out: folks who are asexual, pansexual, poly, intersex. And so on.

Not being represented hurt.

"Why do only certain letters get to be in the full acronym?" an advocate for LGBT rights asked four years ago in a New York Times story .

So, what to do? Over the past five or ten years, folks have added more letters and more letters to the "LGBT." First it was "q," for queer. Queer, writes Urban Dictionary, used to be an insult, but it's now being reclaimed as a self-affirming umbrella term for all kinds of people who aren't heterosexuals.

Mainstream media, who are always eager to attract and keep younger readers by using the language they identify with, caught onto this. And thought LGBTQ was the solution to the language problem.

"'LGBTQ' Will Replace 'LGBT,'" wrote Time.

But Time, like a lot of magazines, is written by old people for older people, and as soon as it identifies a trend and stoops to writing about it, the trend is already on its way out.

Like "LGBTQ," it's on the way out.

So are just the terms "lesbian and gay." More and more young people, writes GLAAD, are rejecting the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual as "too limiting and/or fraught with cultural connotations they feel don't apply to them."

Much hipper people than Time Magazine agreed. Last year, fashion designer Adrian Wu wrote an article in HuffPost saying, "It’s not really politically correct anymore to refer to the QUEER community as LGBT," they wrote. Adrian Wu describes themselves as gender non-conforming, meaning they don't describe themselves as masculine or feminine. And they use the pronoun "they" to describe themselves, since it's also gender non-conforming.

So where's Adrian Wu's letters? Why isn't GNC — gender non-conforming — in the LGBT acronym?

Unsure or what else to do, folks kept adding more and more letters to the LGBT acronym. They added "i," for intersex. Then "a," for asexual. (Occasionally, "a" means ally — people who are on the same side.)

Then there was added a "+," meaning: "and so on." Which would probably include Wu.

And, for a while, the acronym LGBTQIA+ grew more common.

But even LGBTQIA+ rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

When a writer for HuffPost, who is asexual, heard a fancy gym trying to attract queer folks say that the "a" in LGBTQIA+ stood for "ally" instead of "asexual," she said she felt her asexual orientation was "erased." Folks who are asexual, she wrote, "should be recognized in the queer alphabet soup."

No doubt. Leaving people out makes them feel hurt and devalued.

And, yet, the bowl of alphabet soup is overflowing.

Last year, the acronym LGBTQQIP2SAA started floating around the Internet. It stands for folks who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, 2-spirited and asexual ... as well as their allies. (TwoSpirit is a Native American identity; a person thinks of themselves as having two complete spirits, one male and one female, rather than one spirit that is somewhere in between. Folks who are intersex have both male and female sex organs. People who are pansexual are attracted to all kinds of folks, all along the LGBTQQIP2SAA spectrum.) A writer on UrbanDictionary says that LGBTQQIP2SAA "is the proper acronym for the queer community." However, that definition was downvoted two to one, meaning LGBTQQIP2SAA probably isn't the "proper" acronym for the queer community.

Obviously, LGBTQQIP2SAA was doomed from the start. 

LGBTQQIP2SAA looks more like a temporary bank password than a word. It's impossible to say in casual conversation. Even as inclusive as it is, LGBTQQIP2SAA leaves out folks who are, say, thirdgender, hijra, ladyboy, bi-curious, genderfluid, agender and more. 

In the end, settling on an acronym that includes every hyper-specific identity is like trying to live in a house when you're constantly adding bricks, and no one can agree on which bricks to include.

Folks suggested other, shorter acronyms. A fun one is QUILTBAG — Queer Undecided Lesbian Trans Bisexual Asexual Gay. But this sounds vaguely like an insult. "Quiltbag!"

Other acronyms include GSM: Gender and Sexual Minorities. Another is DSG: Diverse Sexualities and Genders.

What's next? Just keep cycling through acronyms? In this world where nearly everyone thinks of themselves as absolutely unique and basically unclassifiable, can you even classify people anymore? Does it even make sense to have a group that includes all these people?

Here's another possibility: acronyms themselves are on their way out. 

GLAAD, the organization quoted above, is leading the way on this. GLAAD used to stand for Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. But now the letters in GLAAD don't stand for anything. It didn't make sense to talk just about gays and lesbians, it says. And, no doubt, it wasn't realistic to start calling itself the LGBTQQIP2SAA Alliance Against Defamation.

There might be a way forward, though. A solution. A way out of the madness. And you can see it in some of the stories that highlight it. In both the UrbanDictionary entry on LGBTQQIP2SAA and the HuffPost article about why you can't say LGBTQ anymore, both writers criticize the acronyms as troublesome ways to talk about the "queer community."

Talking about the "queer community" is becoming more and more common.

So … maybe the best way to talk about the queer community is by saying … the queer community?

After all, queer isn't specific, it's fluid and changeable — just like real people are. With queer, you don't have to try to nail down your orientation into one of 12 or 39 or 212 hyper-specific categories.

"Queer" used to be a bad word. Remember "smear the queer"?

But Gen Z is embracing the word "queer." Middle-schoolers write it about themselves . Media critics talk about "queer representation" on TV. The University of Colorado has classes in "Queer Theory" and "Queer Popular Culture."

Maybe queer is the catchall term of the future.

As in all categorizations of people, it's important to think of people as people first, and a type of person second. People who are homeless. People who are rich. People who abuse drugs. People who are Asian. 

And people who are ... queer? 

Why not? What else are we going to do? Memorize LGBTQQIP2SAA? Keep adding letters until the end of time?

We are not.

So, in the words of an old chant: 

We're here. We're gonna say "queer." Get used to it.