I read this piece by Aussie comedian Tom Ballard on SBS Sexuality, and I was not impressed. I’ll start by saying his intent was certainly positive, but I think he got a few things quite seriously wrong.
In the piece he makes the case for abandoning the acronym LGBT and its extensions, in favor of catch-all acronyms like “GSRM” (“Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities”) or “GSD” (“Gender and Sexual Diversities”). I see his point, LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQIA etc are both cumbersome and they fail to be fully inclusive, and they always start with LGBT, leaving these four identities as ‘the main ones’, and leaving others as optional and supplementary. So he did make some good points.
However, Tom is a comedian, and the piece was intended as a comedy piece. It was fluffy and came across dismissive. And when discussing people’s identities, jokes are not the best way to do it. At least jokes that mock and ridicule the identities of people we are ignoring and excluding. And especially in a piece about inclusion. He used the too-often used tactic of fictitiously creating an absurdly long acronym to suggest that including identities we should be including is leading to the acronym becoming unwieldy, an (as he puts it) too long to fit on a T-shirt.
But (even ignoring the tired old joke) – who cares? Being inclusive sometimes is cumbersome. Sometimes it is inconvenient. They are some of the features of inclusivity – but the inconvenience is worth it. The identities we embrace by adding letters to our acronym are not to be mocked they’re to be celebrated (and as much as the L, and the G which, incidentally, there is always room for).
Tom’s point about it being impossible to be fully inclusive, though, is a good one. But I don’t think that favoring GSD or GSRM fixes this; I think it makes it worse. In our effort to be inclusive, we risk erasing identities. On paper, GSD works as a catch all – in practice it becomes the new LGB, a shorthand that really doesn’t include everyone it claims to. It becomes an easy way for people to claim allyship to the GSD community, when really they mean they gay men, and would never offer the same support to trans people, or asexual people, or polyamorous people. It’s a way of easily excluding identities while claiming to include them.
GSD and GSRM make me prickle as well because they seem to me a little sterile. A little respectable. They’re just not, well, just not queer enough. They’re acronyms that smack of gay men seeking assimilation. We know that gay men assimilate pretty well, but the rest of GSD/GSRM is left behind.
But more importantly, it extends this idea that we are one single community, when we are not. We are a collection of communities, often with a common cause, often with common enemies, often able to stand together and fight together as allies, but ultimately we are many, not just one. There is no single GSD community, and it’s harmful to pretend that there is. Rich gay men drinking champagne on a rooftop in London are not (always) the same community as, say, black trans women in the USA. Sometimes we have the same battle, often the same enemies, and we really can come together, but very often our communities are distinct and we should recognize and respect that. LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTIQ, LGBTIQA, LGBTQQIPPA, all give each identity and each community their own place in our common cause. They give us strength, not by saying that we are one, but that we are together.
All of this, however is worthless coming just from me, as I write from the same position as Tom Ballard. His piece, and perhaps mine, are examples of gay men wanting to lead the discourse on LGBT issues. It seems hypocritical to say this at the end of what I’ve written, but we need to let that go. It’s a privilege we have come to expect, and one we are so desperate to hold onto, but we have to let it go. We can’t be the gatekeepers of inclusivity. It’s not for us to be leaders, to decide how we brand our inclusivity. It is now simply our job to embrace diversity in our wide-ranging communities, and to celebrate each individual letter in whatever unwieldy glorious behemoth of an acronym LGBT+ becomes.
Note: all responses are welcome and encouraged. I anticipate that I may need to alter some of this based on others’ responses.
I added some thoughts to Sonya’s. Apologies for ugly formatting, Sonya’s words don’t deserve careful attention to things like aesthetics. John.
A friend recently used the term “straight queer” to describe someone who is very involved in LGBTQ activism but identifies as straight.Sounds like a double-barreled insult to me; ally is the usual term, and even then, we’re very careful how we use it.I fell in love with this term immediately.I bet you did. It allowed you to completely invade our space.
Although I dislike the word “queer” itself (I don’t agree with reclamation) just a thought – you don’t get to decide what words we use to describe ourselves, and why we use them I absolutely love what it stands for. I bet you don’t know what it stands for. It shows that sexuality is not something we can pin down, nor that we should be trying to. That’s not what it stands for.
The ever-growing LGBTQQA alphabet soup wow, “alphabet soup” is a term used by people who aim to mock inclusivity, so way to show that you’re one of them is a testament to the fact that sexuality and gender identity are very complex things specific to the individual. I personally identify as queer because I don’t want to categorize my sexuality in a society that is obsessed with clearly labeling it. Actually our society is obsessed with labeling genders and sexualities that are not cishet. Your identity is the default, so even when you remove all labels, you are still not queer. Sorry to burst your bubble.
The term “queer” disrupts how we think about sexuality it doesn’t, it’s been used for decades to other us and we’re now using it to strengthen our own identity. The only disruption it caused was to our cause. and “straight queer” builds upon this disruption in the sense that it tries to destroy our identities, yes, you are right. It destabilizes what we believe about the LGBTQ community well, it destabalizes the LGBTQ community, but maybe not what you believe about it; most notably that LGBTQ and straight are mutually exclusive you’re talking about heterosexual trans people here, right?. Queer includes straight it doesn’t . Straight is queer too. It isn’t . Sexuality is a big melting pot that doesn’t need, nor functions well with labels. We need labels because they give meaning and reality to our identity. Shoving us in your melting pot labeled “OTHER” is not helpful. At all.
Some might argue that it’s not fair to allow people with all the societal privilege of straightness to identify under the LGBTQ umbrella and thereby enter LGBTQ space. You can identify however you want, but stay the fuck out of our safe spaces with this attitude. I disagree. You don’t get to disagree. We are living in a time when “the closet” is becoming more and more obsolete frankly, it’s feeling more and more necessary right now and the LGBTQ community is slowly becoming a part of “mainstream” society but only because of people like you invading our spaces and trying to destroy our sense of community from within. There is less of a need for exclusively LGBTQ space there is ALWAYS a need for safe spaces. Additionally, queer activism is at a point where we are working to normalize a variety of sexualities you basically know zero about queer activism. Calling in to question the normalcy of “heterosexuality”, the way the term “straight queer” inevitably does, is a surefire way to destabilize the association between heterosexuality and normalcy. It doesn’t though, it just allows you to believe that you have removed yourself from the group that oppresses us, and allows you to believe that the acts of oppression you are carrying out are actually you being oppressed. With this attitude, I repeat: stay the fuck out of our spaces.
Although I believe “straight” can be a part of “queer”, I don’t believe every single person now falls under the LGBTQ umbrella. Correct I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling people like Paul Ryan or Glenn Beck “straight queer”. Good. On the other side of the spectrum, I also don’t believe that one needs to engage in LGBTQ activism in order to “prove” themselves to the LGBTQ community. Correct. But really, I shouldn’t be picking and choosing who is “straight queer”. Including yourself, tbh. No identity label – gay, queer, straight – should be slapped onto any person. Correct. People should be able to embrace the term “straight queer” themselves – whatever their reasons may be. Stay. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Our. Safe. Spaces.
In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.
It’s all got me rather irritated.
All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.
We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.
But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.
Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.
Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.
But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.
There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.
But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.
I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.
There’s a guy in my life. We sit next to each other and watch TV. We share a house, share a bed. We share some of our money. We’re invited to parties together. Sometimes we fuck. We report each other’s incomes on our tax returns. We reported every last detail of our relationship to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that I could come and live here.
But I don’t know what to call him.
It’s a strange thing, not having a go-to word for that person; I think it comes from a few places:
Heteronormativity means that unless I make it explicitly clear, most of society will assume that the person I’m talking about is a woman. Sometimes this will be because, well, society just assumes people are straight, but bizarrely this will often be out of some strange, misguided ‘politeness’ where, based on gay stereotypes, they’ll assume I’m gay but pretend to assume my [whatever we want to call them] is a woman so as not to offend me.
(To be clear: this offends me.)
Internalised homophobia contributes to this dilemma in a huge way too. And it is, in a way, working with heteronormativity but in the opposite direction. Not always, but sometimes, I feel the desire to hide, and to keep the gender of him as ambiguous as possible. It’s absurd, and as I’ve discussed before I’m very much “out”, and it is a very rare thing that I feel a need to actually hide my sexual orientation out of fears for personal safety etc.
Put these two things together, and combine them with a desire for honesty as well as warmth, and I’m left with essentially zero good choices for what that guy actually is.
Partner is the one people like to use to sound inoffensive, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offend me, it does make me want to vomit. It’s so sterile and bland, makes our relationship sound like a business arrangement, transactional. It is totally unrepresentative of a relationship based on love and mutual admiration.
Lover. Fuck off.
Spouse crops up on forms and official documents. The Immigration Department uses spouse and I don’t like it at all. Partly because it’s incorrect (yes, de facto spouse is correct I suppose, Border Force), but we’re not married, we have decided not to get married, and we don’t like the idea of marriage. Our relationship looks a little bit like a marriage, at least from the outside, but that is certainly not what it is. (I also really dislike the word, aesthetically.)
Husband is a word I sometimes use to piss people off, but mostly I don’t like it. Again, it’s too marriagey for my taste, and if I’m honest it makes me feel subordinate.
I sometimes use Other Half but I don’t like it all that much. It implies that people are not complete unless they’re in a relationship (and note the “half” – it could never be “he’s one of my other thirds”, which is another reason – even though I personally am not polyamorous – I dislike it). It’s slightly better than Better Half though, which makes me see red.
Related is Significant Other, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it feels a bit glib. He’s more than just “significant”, but like other half, I feel it does downplay the significance of myself in my own life.
I used to dislike Boyfriend intensely. It seemed okay for young people, or people who hadn’t been in the relationship for a very long time, but for a co-habiting couple in a stable, long-term relationship, it always sounded a little immature. My feelings on that have changed a little now. Using boyfriend feels like a rejection of societal norms. It feels like an acknowledgement that marriage is not some ideal or a goal to aim for. And I like that it pisses some people off or confuses them (as I’ve said before, I’m over caring whether people are confused or not).
Still I don’t call him my boyfriend nearly as often as I’d like. Maybe it’s a feeling that I ought to hide something about him, maybe it’s a desire to be taken seriously. It’s all indicative of an urgent need to unlearn all this rubbish that surrounds relationships and society’s ideals when it comes to talking about them. But I’m working on it.
I’d be interested to know what words you like, dislike, use and avoid. Let me know in the comments or in a tweet!
Since this debate on marriage and same-sex couples isn’t going away any time soon, I expect in the coming year or so I’ll be writing a fair bit about it. There isn’t a particular term I stick with when talking about it, which I understand can be confusing. But here are my thoughts on some of the more common terms used when discussing this matter.
I should mention that I don’t think any of them is ideal, which is perhaps why I chop and change, and switch about when writing. Sometimes I deliberately use one or another, but really they’re all pretty crap.
I’ll start with the “big” one, and the one which seems to have been adopted as the “right” one. I hate it. I hate hate hate it. Not that I’m opposed to equality, of course (although I should say here that since I learned about the concept of liberation I’ve been forever giving equality activists massive side-eye), but because mostly proponents of changes to marriage legislation don’t actually advocate equality; rather just an extension of privilege.
Many view forms of marriage that include same-sex couples, but exclude trans people as unproblematic. That’s not equality. Many advocate restricting marriage to gender-binary people, and that’s not equality either. Almost all are happy restricting marriage to monogamous couples. Again, not equality. Most completely reject the notion that marriage itself is an institution based on inequality, both within a marriage, and as part of a society that affords privileges to married people that are not afforded to unmarried people. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s how we’ve decided to run our society. Maybe it’s the only administrative solution to society circa 2015. All of that may be true, but it’s not equality.
I hardly use the term marriage equality (except in tags!), and it infuriates me when people use it blindly as though equality is something that can be achieved very easily with these sort of band-aid solutions, ignoring all the inequality and injustice that is ignored or even caused by marriage and extending marriage.
Equality is not brought about just by saying the word.
Gay marriage is so problematic, but it’s the one I tend to use most, and perhaps for that reason. It’s a term that doesn’t pretend to be inclusive, or equal, or fully descriptive. That said, I don’t really like the way it aligns itself so neatly with the very real idea that gay marriage activism is almost exclusively in the realm of middle-class gay white cis men.
The term is becoming ever less acceptable, and I think (hope!) that reflects a growing realization that not all (and in fact most) people who are not heterosexual are not gay. A marriage between two bisexual women, for instance, would not accurately be described as a “gay marriage”. Neither would a marriage between, say, a heterosexual trans man (whose legally registered gender was inaccurate) and a cis woman, even though current marriage legislation excludes them.
The term excludes so many people, but it knows it does. Perhaps I shouldn’t use it, but I do – not because I think it’s in any way adequate, but because in a group of terms that are all inadequate, this one is the most inadequate.
Same-sex marriage is a term that feels so clinical to me and I don’t really like it. Perhaps it’s the most accurate, but similar to what I mentioned above, it relies heavily on cis, binary norms. It’s exclusionary, but selectively so. Many relationships that are excluded from marriage now, but would be included in any proposed changes to the Marriage Act are not “same sex” relationships. And more so than gay marriage this is a term that people use to sneakily exclude people – and as usual it’s the people who most need inclusivity.
One day, perhaps, we’ll have marriage that includes everyone, and a society where unmarried people are not discriminated against. One day we will be able to talk about marriage, and not have to specify that we’re not just talking about marriage between cishet two-people couples. One day there won’t be a distinction between man-woman marriages and other types of marriage. Unfortunately today is not that day. Where inequality exists, we have to be able to name it, but while inequality exists we can’t just say marriage without a qualifier and be understood.
Language is wholly inadequate when discussing inequality, and especially when trying to reconcile the way people actually live with an institution associated with tradition, bigotry and administration. I can’t think of any term that is adequate for talking about extending marriage to all relationships that doesn’t exclude people or lie about its intentions in some way.
I was going to write something about anxiety and social anxiety, and about how I have real difficulty telling people that I like them. But then that led me to thinking about a time I told someone another emotion that they made me feel, and that ended strangely, and then I thought about some other relationships that were just strange and never really went anywhere, so I thought it would be more fun to tell a couple of stories about hook-ups that just didn’t happen.
2002, October probably I was a fresh-faced student, living by myself in a room in student flats, having left home about a month before. There was this guy who lived in another flat in the same complex, and I developed a bit of a crush on him (goodness knows why, I am horrified at the thought now, years later). We became friends, and we’d go out a fair bit, clubbing, drinking. One night after we walked home together (we usually did), we stopped outside his block, and he asked if I’d like to come up to his flat for coffee or something. At the risk of over-explaining, I didn’t take this as an invitation to actually drink coffee. I was wrong. We got up to the flat and he put the kettle on, and he asked if I wanted tea or coffee. I said coffee, but then he said that he didn’t have any coffee and was tea alright? I’m not sure exactly at what point I realised that this was not going to go anywhere ever, but I definitely knew by the time, after I had said that yes tea would be okay, he went over to the other side of the kitchen, took a used teabag which had been drying out on the radiator, and made me a cup of tea with it.
2008, February-ish I think a short one! This was after a long-term relationship had ended, and I was out with friends. And friends had other friends and one of them was this guy, and we were hanging out together at the club. And I really fancied him. On the way out he asked if I wanted to share a taxi, and I said yes but could we go back to his (I never had this sort of courage when sober!). He said yes that sounded like a good idea (I remember those words) and he got in the taxi, but I said wait! and that I wanted a burger from the dodgy burger van that was outside the club. So I went to get a burger and I got him one too and made him eat it. We held hands in the taxi back to his, and then we both fell asleep. I’m sure we had other intentions, but nothing came of that.
2009, January I think I was on a ship in the Caribbean and I was in the crew bar with this guy who I had had a crush on, like, forever (4 months), and somehow I found myself in his cabin. We ended up on his bed in a state of semi-undress. He had the bottom bunk. I went to kiss him, but he said no, he doesn’t kiss. Then he put his hand on my chest and pushed me up, pinning me against the underneath of the top bunk and held me there. He let me down and then we chatted for a bit and then I went back to my cabin. About a week later he asked why I had been avoiding him – I said that I hadn’t been, but honestly he had frightened me. After he left the ship a few months later I was talking to one of his friends in the disco who told me that he’d left me alone after that because he’d frightened me, but he really didn’t want to.
In conclusion, I quite like the stability of being in a relationship.