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.