There's a rich diversity of sexualities but the labelling is getting a little out of hand
Given several possible genders and sexualities, will these categories settle?
Some definitions: L=Lesbian, G=Gay, B=Bisexual, Q=Queer, T=Transgender. This acronym sometimes has IA added to it as in LBGTQIA; herein, I=Intersex and A=Asexual, Aromantic or Agender though some define it as Ally (friends of LBGTQ). There isn’t an adequate definition of Queer, so it’s a little open. Alternative definitions of some of the above letters are G=Genderqueer (ambiguous), B=Bigender (quite different from Bisexual), Q=Questioning. The acronym is sometimes presented as LBGTQUIA where U=Undecided. In this situation U can substitute for Q in the sense of Questioning. Got that?
LBGTQ (and its related forms) defines alternative forms of sexuality as opposed to being heterosexual or “heteronormative”. It also incorporates definitions of gender, traditionally taken to consist of female (F) and male (M). If this is indeed the case, then we can at least assume three kinds of relationship to start with (where two individuals are concerned): M&F, M&M, and F&F. Bisexual may be stated as M&(F &/or M) and F&(F &/or M). This would give us LGB or at least GB (L is subsumed under G). As we can clearly see, none of this is especially scientific, logical or objective. Things start getting complicated as each gender takes on board the qualities of the other gender – T comes in. T clearly incorporates cross-dressing, non-binary, gender fluid, transvestite and the traditional meaning of transsexual.
The trouble is, according to one report from the BBC, schoolchildren are being taught there are over a hundred genders1! Exactly what could these be? Here’s a Facebook list:
Agender, Androgyne, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis, Cisgender, Cis Female, Cis Male, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Male, Cisgender Man, Cisgender Woman, Female to Male, FTM, Gender Fluid, Gender Nonconforming, Gender Questioning, Gender Variant, Genderqueer, Intersex, Male to Female, MTF, Neither, Neutrois, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Trans, Trans*, Trans Female, Trans* Female, Trans Male, Trans* Male, Trans Man, Trans* Man, Trans Person, Trans* Person, Trans Woman, Trans* Woman, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transgender Female, Transgender Male, Transgender Man, Transgender Person, Transgender Woman, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Transsexual Female, Transsexual Male, Transsexual Man, Transsexual Person, Transsexual Woman, Two-Spirit …
They both repeat or overlap several times. Translations may be found from Facebook or other sources. These categories seem changeable. Consider the following examples.
A “gay” male escort who bedded over 100 men now claims to be straight2. A Sri Lankan academic who lost her entire family in the 2004 tsunami, is now married to an English woman3. There’s a recent example of a Mormon conversion therapist, helping gay men become straight, who decided to come out as gay4. There are many more examples and historical ones are probably more interesting as they’ve been studied by several specialists. To quote a blog:
“Socrates, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Bram Stoker and Marlon Brando or even Oscar Wilde could not at all times be compartmentalised as one of those letters. In the case of Oscar Wilde, … (and it is he who took up the cudgel to argue he was not a sodomite) could be “bisexuality-plus”, rather than iconically gay. In a recent article in the London Review of Books by Philip Ball on Bram Stoker “One might assume from this that Stoker was a repressed homosexual. But what that actually means isn’t straightforward. In her essay in the Cambridge Companion, Heike Bauer writes that it was only in Stoker’s day that the boundaries of sexuality started to be fixed” around 1897. …“Hetero-normative” is actually anything but normative deserving further misplaced splitting.”5
The Victorian age and subsequent times had other names to describe non-“Heteronormative” sexualities largely excluded from the current LGBT lexicon. These include Dandy, “contented bachelor” and Uranian. Also tranny, butch, tomboy and ladyboy (some of these are still current). Yes, the lexicon is being updated but things are not getting any clearer.
As Fiona Dobson, a crossdresser therapist tries to articulate “Being labelled ‘trans’ or ‘crossdresser’ or just plain ‘queer’ is also unimportant. Those are terms others apply to something they observe, and as such are not really our concern … I don’t see any particular benefit … to slap a label on any of them [my members]. The labels simply don’t matter.”6
The biggest problem with the LGBTQ alphabet is that it ignores the “hetero-normative” spectrum – a very broad category in iteself. LGBT incorporates categories that are not mutually exclusive, conflict with one another and overlap. Its expansion seeks to pull in further types of minority categories to address a proliferation of tendencies from within the straight spectrum too. I’m sure that those who coined LGBT understand and fully appreciate this. LGBT people sensu lato, are not going to “return to the closet”, to paraphrase a UK Labour party politician recently7. Keeping the lexicon manageable would be sensible and many are at it.
The point is to appreciate that sexuality and gender, at least as felt within, are themselves changeable and not always fixed like a religion category people claim to belong to. Labels have their limits and sometimes it’s better not to get too deluded by them. As an IKEA commercial says with regards to returning goods “It’s OK to change your mind” or take Kuato from the film Total Recall 1990: “a man is defined by his action, not his memory”.
Some of these categories have an ancient pedigree8. Maybe increased leisure and less emphasis on families is augmenting expression in alternative sexualities.
We seem to be living through a profound shift in perceptions and practices of sexuality and expressions of gender in a social, moral and technological context that has just begun. It’s important to appreciate and value diversity and its contributions without getting too lost and having a capacity to simply enjoy our sense of home.