What Do All Those Letters Stand for Anyway? The Case for LGBTQIAPK.

New York City Pride 2012

People often ask me “what do all those letters stand for, anyway?”  I’m not quite sure why they ask me, since most don’t know I belong in that alphabet soup somewhere.  But they ask, and I’m glad, because I think they should know.  However, there is definitely a part of me that’s annoyed by the question, and thinks, ‘come on people, keep up, it’s not rocket science.’  Of course, there are those who don’t know “what all those letters stand for” because they don’t want to, due to ignorance or hatred.  But there are also well-meaning allies who are having a hard time keeping up.

Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who fit within that list of letters, or a longer one we haven’t come up with yet, who don’t even know it.  It is confusing.  It should be.  That list of letters keeps growing and growing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite.  We probably need the whole alphabet to cover them.  I have this fantasy that one day when there are more of us who fit under the “queer” umbrella than don’t, it will finally be clear that we are all “sexual minorities.”

This is not at all to diminish the experience of people who have to live, openly or not, as sexual minorities in our culture right now.  But perhaps the reason they are in the “minority” is because of how many others are still closeted in various ways.  How many people must be out there who have never spent much time considering their sexual orientations or gender identities due to compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender-normativity, and/or compulsory sexual vanilla-ism in our culture?  And how many simply don’t fit labels our culture has yet produced?

I mean, honestly, how many of us have “normal,” monogamous sex, one man, one woman, in missionary position, nothing “dirty,” no bondage-discipline-dominance-submission-sado-masochism-kinky stuff, no outside partners, no shared partners, only clean, run-of-the-mill fantasies, barely any foreplay necessary, easy “normal” orgasms, vaginal for the women, no clitoral stimulation needed, male gets hard easily, cums at just the right moment, no props, no toys, no porn, male in the dominant-but-not-too-aggressive role, woman in the submissive or seductive-but-still-respectable role, only “normal” masturbation in between, like our televisions tell us to?

And how many of us fit neatly and comfortably into one of two biological sexes, as well as the gender identity and gender role identity that our culture would dictate?

Folks in drag at 2012 Pride.

One of the main reasons the acronym that formed around sexual orientations (LGB) has become murky is that the categories those letters cover keeps expanding.  When the gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender movements merged, a gender identity category was added to a list of sexual orientations.  I believe this was a pivotal point at which our society began to wrestle with how gender variance can interplay and overlap with sexual orientation.  This also opened the door for new identities such as “genderqueer” to emerge.  The term “queer” also became the label of choice for those who sought a more inclusive category, in some cases to avoid having to choose either a sexual orientation or gender identity label.  Queer has also been utilized by many who gravitate toward labels that haven’t gained status in the official acronym yet, like genderqueer and pansexual.  Finally, queer can be a political stance for allies or others who don’t necessarily ascribe to specific “queer” identities, but take on a “queer” stance or perspective.

Transgender calls into question the assumed match between biological sex and gender identity.  Intersex, also typically one of the commonly accepted “sexual minorities,” represents the almost 2% of the population who don’t fit neatly into existing biological categories of male and female according to Arlene Lev, author of Transgender Emergence.  If genderqueer and androgynous became part of the sexual minority acronym, it would represent yet another identity category, this time for those whose gender identities do not fit neatly into male/female gender categories.  Transgender, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex are all identities which call into question the gender binary.

For me, pansexual is a label that defies labels.  It pulls the rug out from under the gender binary as well as earlier concepts of sexual orientation, by separating sexual/affectional orientation from binary notions of gender.  It is essentially a refusal to define sexual orientation based on gender.  For some, it even calls into question the boundaries between sex/love relationships and non-romantic relationships.  To me it is an identity category which expands, rather than narrows who people can be and how.  As someone seeking to choose partners and set up my relationships and lifestyle based on criteria other than gender, I wasn’t sure how I fit into the queer spectrum until I discovered pansexuality.  I think I always identified with being queer, but I never felt entitled to identify as queer until I heard this term.  I am only identified as queer now because our culture was creative enough to produce such a concept.  How many other queer folks are out there for whom we don’t yet have labels?

Despite the relative mainstreaming of gay identity, there was only one Bisexual group in NYC's gigantic Pride Parade, and no one representing Pansexuals, Asexuals, etc.

Asexual, an identity which is often included within the sexual minority acronym, represents yet another identity type, this time regarding one’s level of interest in sex or identification as a sexual being.

“Questioning” doesn’t necessarily imply what one is questioning, further muddying the waters, but potentially drawing in more folks who are either unsure how they fit under the queer umbrella, or again, may ascribe to identities not yet defined.

Other potential categories relate to those sexual minorities who do not structure relationships around monogamy.  Polyamorists are candidates for inclusion in our acronym, in addition those who are “sexual minorities” by virtue of the less common sexual practices and/or sexual roles they take on, particularly those within the kink community.  K would cover those who practice bondage and discipline, dominance-submission and/or sado-masochism, as well as those with an incredibly diverse set of fetishes and preferences.  According to survey data around 15% of adults engage in some form of consensual sexual activity along the “kink” spectrum.  This is a higher percentage than identify as gay or lesbian.

This is my official petition to add the letters P and K to the more widely accepted LGBTQIA acronym, and to emphasize other “A” and “G” identities.  This would make room not only for myself, but for all those who already identify as genderqueer, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and those who are part of the kink community.   Perhaps seeing those additional letters will help some of the folks out there who haven’t been exposed to these identities understand themselves a bit better and feel they too have a place in the queer community.

LGGBTQQIAAPPK?  The categories of human sex and gender expression and identities they could represent is likely infinite.  If that acronym looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated “sexual minorities” while the rest of the human race is “normal” and fairly similar.  The truth is the level of diversity in our sexual lives as human beings means we are all sexual minorities.  As accepted and culturally understood identity categories continue to arise, this will become more and more apparent.  Perhaps the “queer” community, is, in fact, becoming more accurately described as the community of people who acknowledge the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and seek to be open to exploring that diversity within themselves and the culture at large.

Copyright 2012, UndercoverintheSuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

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To the Queer Kids of the United States: Amendment One is a Form of Bullying

Originally Appeared on RoleReboot.org, also appears on Feministing.com

This letter is to all the queer kids, the gay, lesbian, and bi kids, to the young adults who identify as transgender, genderqueer, pansexual, and/or androgynous, to the questioning kids, to the kids who were born intersex, to the high school and college kids in North Carolina and around the country.  This is to the elementary and junior high kids who are gender variant.  This is to all the kids who don’t fall neatly into the categories of “man” or “woman” or whose sexual and/or affectional orientations aren’t exclusively toward someone who falls into the opposite neatly-defined category.

Yesterday, a group of grown-ups voted overwhelmingly to use constitutional powers in the state of North Carolina to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.”  These were no doubt many of the same grown-ups who for much of last year were all riled up about bullying in schools and teen suicide.  As you probably know, the state had already used its constitution to ban “same-sex marriage.”  Apparently it was not enough to stop gay folks from marrying, the voters of NC felt the need to be absolutely sure there would be no way you would share equal rights, through civil unions, or any other measure.  Instead of democracy being utilized to protect minorities against hostile majorities, in this case, it is being used to legalize discrimination.  If this was really about marriage and its meaning, why not stop at a marriage ban?  This is bullying pure and simple.

When I was in high school, there was a rule that in order for a same-sex couple to attend the prom, they had to appear before the principal, “explain the nature of their relationship,” and get permission.  According to wikipedia, bullying is a form of “aggressive behavior,” involving “intimidation or coercion” that is often characterized by an “imbalance of power.”  Our school administration had more power than students, and was coercing same-sex couples not to attend the prom by setting up an intimidating situation.  What high school couple, gay or straight, would feel comfortable having to explain “the nature of their relationship” to the high school principal?  Grown-ups can bully kids as well as other kids.

That was 16 years ago.  I would like to think that if your school principal made rules at your school blatantly intended to bestow certain privileges on straight kids, and outright deny them the queer kids, grown-ups would be up in arms, civil rights lawyers would be on call, change.org petitions would be circulating, and youtube videos would be going viral.  What if the football coach decided to require you to be straight to be on the team?  What if the criteria for being on the honor roll necessitated being cis-gender?  What if the graduation requirements included “gender normative behavior,” clearly identifying you as “male” or “female?”  Adults would never stand for other adults bullying you in this way and stomping on your rights.  And yet… haven’t they?  Denying crucial rights of being able to protect yourself and your future family sets up a series of intimidating situations.  These scenarios, like not being able to come to your partners aide at the hospital, facing loss of rights to your own children, and financial discrimination, are meant to coerce you into gender and hetero-normative behavior.

Amendment one is bullying, pure and simple.  It may not send a kid to the brink of severe depression, or worse, the way daily threats and slurs by other kids could, partly because, as young people, your peer group is so critically important.  However, amending the constitution of a state to make sure you will not have rights that straight people have adds to an atmosphere of coercion and intimidation.  Any grown-up who doesn’t see that is kidding themselves.  Perhaps when they cast their ballots yesterday, North Carolina’s adults weren’t thinking about gay kids sitting in their rooms contemplating whether it’s preferable to live in this world queer or not live in this world.  Perhaps they were picturing other adults who those voters imagined could weather that emotional burden.  Perhaps they were not thinking of human beings at all.  Perhaps they think that by passing this law they will somehow prevent or contain your queerness, but we know that’s as absurd as thinking keeping you ignorant about sex is going to stop you from having it.  Eventually it is going to occur to you that our society is bullying you.  The emotional toll of living in a society that would amend constitutions to deny you rights and the inevitable outcome that will have for some of you will be blood on the hands of those grown-ups in North Carolina.

I know what you’re thinking queer kids.  How are they even going to figure out which relationships will count as “one man and one woman?  Will transmen count as men?  Where will the line be drawn?  Will full gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy be necessary to be considered solidly within one or the other gender?  Or will natal biological gender stand no matter the steps one has taken to change one’s biological sex?  How will a natal woman who identifies as male but doesn’t have a penis determine who he is legally permitted to marry?    Thus, does this law actually also require one must be cis-gender to marry?  What about the almost 2% of North Carolina’s population who were born intersex and thus don’t fit biologically into male/female categories?  Will they be allowed to marry anyone?  No one?  What about the folks who identify as genderqueer, androgynous, neither male nor female, or both male and female?  Will these folks be able to marry?

I don’t need to tell you the answers to these questions, because you already know.  The answer is they don’t know.  The answer is many of those grown-ups who are so enraged about kids being bullied don’t even know these identity categories exist.  Perhaps they’ve never sat and talked with someone who is suffering the torment of feeling her gender identity does not fit with her biological body?  Perhaps they’ve never considered that male and female might not be neatly defined, discrete categories for everyone in society?  Perhaps some of them are themselves transgender, gender variant, or were born intersex, but feel you should live your lives in silence and conform to gender norms as they did.  Perhaps they believe by stopping you from marrying, they can force Pandora’s box closed and never have to wrestle with any of these questions.  But they can’t, because of you.

This is not one of those letters apologizing for the bigotry and ignorance in the world you are about to inherit.  It is a call to action and a recognition of your tremendous power.  The balance of power may lie with the bullies now, but that is going to change.  Many of you voted and advocated against this amendment yesterday, and many more of you will be voting soon.  You young people are overwhelmingly more likely than your parents and their peers to support equal rights.  You are thinking outside the gender binary and questioning traditional notions of identity with language and ways of being that are not even on the voting public’s radar yet.  As more parents demand rights and respect for their gay and gender non-conforming kids, and as you all become increasingly empowered, your voices will become louder.  Through natural demographic shifts your numbers and the numbers of your allies will increase.  As you continue to use the internet and social media, tools you utilize better than any of us, that power imbalance will start to shift, as you become more and more visible.  So if you are feeling bullied today I want to validate that feeling and say that yes, you are being bullied, but it is not forever.  It gets better.  You are going to fix this.

Copyright 2012 undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero