I never spent much time in academia. I don’t have a degree under my belt, but I took Women’s Studies in 1999. By then I had discovered LGB, seen it change to LGBT and then seen that change to LGBTQ. Last week I heard it’s either LGBTT2IQQ or LGBTT2IQQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, two-spirited, intersex, queer, questioning, asexual). I didn’t know. I am married to a woman, planning a family with her, working in social services and I didn’t know. What’s wrong with me?
When you’re in school you feel like you’re at the height of progressive politics and “correct” use of language is everything. It seems to matter less somehow once you’re out in the real world where people are still muttering “faggot” under their breath and little boys are freaking out if you give them a pink marker. When you’re still addressing the most basic of stereotypes, LGBTT2IQQ seems like quantum physics and an incomplete theory at that. Where is the butch in LGBTT2IQQ? Where is boi, femme, hijra, dyke? There is a word for every letter of the alphabet that someone finds empowering even as someone else finds it offensive.
I don’t think that naming is ridiculous, just that maybe the acronym is a bad way to go. It might be easier to define our communities by who isn’t included instead of trying to spell out who is. Though now that I try, even that isn’t easy. Not textbook hetero?
Was it the Dalai Lama who said there should really be six billion religions, one for every person on earth? I think it’s the same with sexuality. Categories remind me of science class. Have we ever been a definable species? Desire is not quite so orderly. A friend and I were joking last week that we need a gesture, the [insert gesture here] formerly known as prince, queer, whatever. Incidentally, we both made a twisting motion with one hand, like screwing in a light bulb. Off centre, strange. How interesting.
I’ve been thinking about the significance of language a lot lately, trying to take “always,” “never” and “hate” out of my vocabulary. I call myself a queer woman most of the time, I say queer communities, queer parents, queer-positive. When I came out everything was gay gay gay — Elton John and kd lang were “like that.” My mom said “homosexual” (only when she had to). Kids at school called me a lesbian. Labels for my sexuality weighed awkwardly on me until I discovered queer.
I’m too young to feel the historic wrath of the word. For me queer felt light, foreign and satisfyingly secretive since no one in Scarborough ever used it. Broader words give me the freedom to change without having to turn in my community club card every two years.
But if you asked me now if I am a lesbian I’d say yes. If you asked me if I’d ever considered transitioning I’d say yes, too. So what? Should my queer be spelled differently so that you recognize my experience? The first time I read about “kyky” (from butch to femme and back again) in Audre Lorde’s Zami I thought, yes, that’s exactly what I am! But my “exactly” has changed a dozen times since then. What is the real function of a label? An accurate representation of our entire sexual history, the best word to describe us right now or just a general name for the “species”?
Am I rationalizing my own ignorance? Maybe I need to take a crash course in new definitions. New information, like the LGBTT2IQ, rarely trickles down to the trenches. Maybe we need a language hotline, but who would run it? Who would decide?
I am a verbal product of my generation and my experience, so queer is okay but dyke isn’t, boi is okay but fag isn’t. Everyone you ask has a different list. Sometimes it’s about history, sometimes it’s about “schooling,” sometimes it’s about culture, sometimes it’s about acoustics (lesbian has to be the ugliest word I’ve ever heard). It’s not like nationality. Trying to define something that is always in flux is like trying to choose one emotion to qualify your day. You could choose the one you felt most, or most recently, but it wouldn’t be an accurate description of your day at all.
I just read that the English language has more words than any other language. Where has it gotten us? I don’t think we’re any further to a more inclusive community because we have more words with which to describe ourselves.
It comes down to respect any way you write it. We all know someone who uses all the right words but still manages to offend, and we all know someone who doesn’t use the right ones yet manages to make everyone feel included and respected. Language is always secondary to decency.
I’m not saying that labels are the problem, just that they’re not the best, or the only, solution to exclusion.