2/02/2009

Fighting an Uphill Battle

Paris peace talks Vietnam peace agreement signingImage via Wikipedia

During the Paris Peace Talks seeking to end the Vietnam War, the negotiators spent months trying to decide on the shape of the table. Some wanted a circular table so no one would appear to be in charge. Others wanted a traditional rectangular table. Round and round they went while a war dragged on and people died.

Sometimes I feel like our own community does this. It seems that every few months I come across some group or activist who has come up with a new name for our community. Once upon a time we were the "Gay Community" but then the feminist Lesbians got mad so we became the "Gay and Lesbian Community". That worked for awhile but then someone said that bisexuals needed to be more prominent and if we were going to mention bisexuals up front we'd better mention transexuals and transgender people so we became LGBT. Then some of the feminists got upset again because the "L" came first and that was "chauvanistic" so we became GLBT. Then someone decided that we needed to add in people who were "intersex" so we became GLBTI. Then we went back to LGBTI. Then someone decided we should reclaim the word "queer" so we became variously: LGBTIQ, GLBTIQ, LGBTQQ (the last one for "questioning"), and LGBTQ? (again but without a "q"). Then our community members who are non-White decided they wanted to be called "SGL" for "Same Gender Loving" because they felt the LGBTIQQ? community was too "white dominated."

Wikipedia has a fascinating breakdown of the various iterations of whatever it is that we are. If we keep it up though we're going to run through the whole alphabet trying to include everyone. Heck, we don't include heterosexuals who are supportive of us. So maybe we need to add an "s" or an "h" too.

Many variants exist including variations which merely change the order of the letters; however, LGBT or GLBT are the most common terms and the ones most frequently seen in current usage.[13] Although identical in meaning, “LGBT” may have a more feminist connotation than “GLBT” as it places the “L” (for “lesbian”) first.[13] When not inclusive of transgender people it is sometimes shortened to LGB.[13][14] LGBT or GLBT may also include additional “Q”s for “queer” and/or “questioning” (sometimes abbreviated with a question mark) (e.g., “LGBTQ”, “LGBTQQ”, or “GLBTQ?”).[15][16][17] Other variants may add a “U” for “unsure”; an “I” for intersex; another “T” for “transsexual” or “transvestite; another “T”, “TS”, or “2” for “Two‐Spirit” persons; an “A” or “SA” for straight allies; or an “A” for “asexual”.[18][19][20][21][22][23] Some may also add a P for pansexual or polyamorous, and an O for omnisexual or other.[2][13][24] The order of the letters has not been standardized; in addition to the variations between the positions of the initial “L” or “G”, the mentioned, less‐common letters, if used, may appear in almost any order.[13] Variant terms do not typically represent political differences within the community, but arise simply from the preferences of individuals and groups.[25] The terms transsexual and intersex are regarded by some people as falling under the umbrella term “transgender” though many transsexual and intersex people object to this (both for different reasons).[13]

“SGL” (i.e.same gender loving”) is sometimes favored among African‐Americans as a way of distinguishing themselves from what they regard as white‐dominated LGBT communities.[26] “MSM” (i.e.men who have sex with men”) is clinically used to describe men who have sex with other men without referring to their sexual orientation.[27][28]

A phrase introduced in the 2000s, “minority sexual and gender identities” (“MSGI”), used to include all letters and acronyms, has yet to find its way into common usage.[29] The magazine Anything That Moves coined the acronym FABGLITTER (from Fetish, Allies, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution), although this term has not made its way into common usage.[1]

My point in all this is that we spend an inordinate amount of time in our community on such intellectual masturbation. While we waste time and energy debating what group of letters and punctuation to use to refer to ourselves our enemies on the ultra right continue to consolidate power in parts of this country and manage to convince even moderate Americans we are to be feared.

I am never ceased to be amazed when I read about various meetings of our community how much time and energy are wasted on non-pertinent issues. There is always the person who feels the need to lecture everyone else about animal rights or vegetarianism. There is always the person who has to remind the white people that we are all secretly racist because we don't all have a boyfriend or girlfriend of a different race. There's always the feminist lesbian objecting to "patriarchal" words. There's the party queen objecting to actually establishing relationships because we're trying to "become like heterosexuals." There's the environmentalist who doesn't want to protest because the signs and flyers waste too much paper or the carbon "footprint" to gather so many people would be too great.

No wonder we can't seem to get anything accomplished. I've learned over the years that the liberal leanings of our community often lead to "Activist Attention Deficit Disorder." We can't focus long enough on our own collective problem to get anything done. Because everyone must be an idealist and "live [their] convictions" we are constantly hamstrung.

Because we use so many different labels the media isn't sure how to refer to us. If they choose the wrong label radical elements of the community respond with hysterics. In the fight over whether it's LGBTI, GLBTI, LGBTIQ, or just "gay community" we forget to actually respond to the issue raised!

Look, here's the deal. We have got to set aside all this trivial stuff until we manage to achieve equality in this country. Once we're set with protections like everyone else, we can get as catty and pissy with each other as we want to and argue from here until the end of time over names and labels.

For right now, though, the labels are useless and only confuse people both in our community and definitely outside our community. What do most of the people in America call us? "The Gay Community" or the "Gay and Lesbian Community." That's fine. Yes, it does not mention every possible variation on sexuality but it's easy to remember and it's how they know us. There is no sense wasting our energy on insisting on dozens of different iterations of initials that even we aren't sure about at times.

Let's stay on task, people. We've got a lot of work to do and intellectual and PC masturbation ain't going to get us over the finish line.


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