A note on language:

Screen shot 2013-07-05 at 9.10.38 PM

Photo: John Olsen

Photo: John Olsen

There seems to be a screaming need for a catch-all term for lesbian women, gay men, bisexual people, transgender people, intersex people, asexual people, and those who know they are not strictly heterosexual but unsure or unwilling to identify with other labels. “LGBTQQIAA” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies, and Pansexuals) certainly has inclusiveness going for it, but is unwieldy to say, and difficult to remember in its entirety. There must be a “Saturday Night Live” skit in there somewhere.

We need something which doesn’t come with a risk of leaving someone out every time. Many (especially in the heterosexual, gender-conforming world) use “gay” as shorthand for all who aren’t heterosexual and gender-conforming. Some lesbians use this term this way too, but others take issue, feeling overlooked, and wishing that we could create new language that is gender-neutral or explicitly inclusive. One said, “‘Gay’ is sometimes used to specifically exclude women, so it’s confusing to also use it as shorthand for the whole spectrum plus transpeople.”

“Queer” has many things going for it in  my mind, easily connoting non-majority without being too specific, and carrying some attitude.  One lesbian put it this way:  “Some people don’t like ‘queer’ or ‘queer community’ to be used to describe them, but others like it because it’s taking back the language used against us and making it our own.”  Another said, “I have friends who hate ‘queer’ as an LGBT catch-all because of its definition as weird. It’s derogatory.”

To my ears, this echoes the history of the n-word and makes a non-queer person wonder if our use of it might be insensitive.One of my early interviewees for this book suggested “pride,” as as adjective, as in “the repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell came too late for many would-be career military personnel in the pride community.” The immediate association with “pride of lions” seems irresistible. Perhaps there is  smidgeon of defensiveness, but we in the comfortable heterosexual, gender-conforming majority can bear to be reminded of our harsh intolerance of so many years. The only problem, I think, is that it makes everybody else non-pride, and no one familiar with the Disney Empire wants to be a hyena.

I think we should resist lumping together disparate groups whose biggest common ground is simply not being in the hetero- and gender-conforming majority. In particular, transgender and intersex people face a much lower level of general awareness and understanding than gays and lesbians usually have. Thinking consciously about whether something also applies to the other groups might be the beginnings of breaking down some stereotyping. But where a catch-all is truly useful, I vote for “queer.”

While we are on the topic of language, I resist putting “out” in quotation marks, because it conveys a coyness and coded language that I believe we should avoid. Maybe one day the sexual orientation adjectival form will seem archaic, and only the prepositional meaning will remain in common usage. “She’s out now” will always precede something like, “but can I take a message?”

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3 thoughts on “A note on language:

  1. there can be no catch-all because there is no one-size-fits-all. In consideration of the diverse lifestyles and sexual/gender identities within the alphabet soup… I like the idea of taking back language/labels and claiming them for one’s own.

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