Is it time to rethink the acronym used to identify sexual and gender diverse communities? Comedian Tom Ballard looks at the problems of the alphabet soup.
Tom Ballard

10 Nov 2015 - 11:28 AM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2015 - 3:06 PM

My dad works in disability access. One time I asked him, “So – what’s it like working with disabled people?” 

“I don’t work with disabled people,” he said. “I work with people with disabilities.” 

Now sure, that there is a fairly small linguistic tweak. At the time I probably dismissed it as part of dad’s pedantry and rolled my eyes at him (like a total legend). But now I get it.

The things we call ourselves - and each other - matter. The term “disabled person” gives someone’s disability the headline; “asylum seeker” reduces someone’s entire existence to a single action they’ve taken. Conversely, the terms “a person with a disability” and “a person seeking asylum” remind us that the animal before you is, first and foremost, a person – you know, those things we tend to identify with and care about. 

Politically correct language confronts discrimination. It challenges listeners to consider their prejudice and check their privilege. It celebrates identity and flies a triumphant flag for visibility and inclusion. Pernickety though it may be, PC talk is important, despite what some members of the WSTRM (white straight rich male) community will tell you. 

“Queer” is the Madonna of vocabulary: it’s reinvented itself a million times and every homosexual has an opinion on it. 

But it can get complicated. The word “queer” initially meant “peculiar”, then in the late 19th century it became a pejorative term for same-sex attracted people, then in the '80s sexual minority activists reclaimed it and now it’s regularly identified as an alternative catchall term for people who identify as sexually or gender diverse. 

“Queer” is the Madonna of vocabulary: it’s reinvented itself a million times and every homosexual has an opinion on it. 

But what do those five letters actually mean? Does it challenge existing stereotypes or reinforce them? Is it inclusive enough? Should we keep it just because it handily rhymes with “here”? 

This leaflet – distributed at a pride march in New York in 1990 – contains some very strong (and racy) thoughts on the term: 

Being queer means leading a different sort of life. It's not about the mainstream, profit margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It's not about executive directors, privilege and elitism.  It's about being on the margins, defining ourselves; it's about gender-fuck and secrets, what's beneath the belt and deep inside the heart; it's about the night. 

Being queer is "grass roots" because we know that every one of us, every body, every cunt, every heart and ass and dick is a world of pleasure waiting to be explored.

GOODNESS GRACIOUS! *clutches pearls*

The slightly-less-exhilarating option that emerged around the same time is the acronym “LGBT” (“Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender”), or its now slightly unwieldy descendent, “LGBTQQIPAA” (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Pansexual Asexual Ally). 

Heck, if you’re feeling particularly inclusive, why not whack a “2S” (“Two Spirits”) in there to acknowledge the tradition of some indigenous peoples that considers sexual minorities to possess both male and female spirits?

But then what about the Kink community? And Swingers? And Polyamorous People? And Bears? And Twinks? And Rice Queens? And Butches? And Femmes? And Nudists?

And Parents, who should really be in a completely different sexual class of their own so we don’t have to think about them touching each other?

If we include everyone’s initial will we even be able to fit our collective label on a t-shirt?

I normally love a mouthful, but “LGBTQQIPAA2SKSPPBTRQBFNP” might be bordering on excessive. 

But then, restricting the size of the acronym might suggest a hierarchy, as if the first four letters, LGBT, are somehow “the main ones” and all the others describe the realms of freaks and weirdos. That’s problematic too: a truly inclusive community shouldn’t propagate some kind of ladder of importance. 

Leave that shit to competitive sport, I say. 

I think this is a real doozy. For some, flicking the Vs at heteronormativity and proudly embracing a label that reflects who they are is vital and liberating. Others find labels silly. The inclusion of the “B” helps combat the tendancy to ignore bir , but if we include everyone’s initial will we even be able to fit our collective label on a t-shirt? 

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle with the adoption of a catchall acronym like “GSRM” (“Gender, Sexuality and Romantic Minorities”) or “GSD” (“Gender and Sexual Diversities"). Who knows? I’ve been single for the past two-and-a-half-years, so I don't have a great track record of knowing what will make gays happy. 

If you’re asking me to propose some brand new terms, I guess I could suggest: Rainbow Citizens, P-WACS (People Who Aren’t Cisgendered or Straight), Faggatronians or Super Awesome Power People Who Mega-Fuck With The Status Quo 4 EVA. 

To be honest, I’m not at all fussed if you’re an L or a G or a Q or a 2S. The crucial thing is: are you DTF?

Tom Ballard is a comedian. You can follow him on Twitter.