Alphabet Soup

UniSA’s Rainbow Club communications director Daniel Zander discusses the issues surrounding the acronym LGBT.

The current LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) acronym commonly used to refer to the queer community is growing out-dated and isn’t inclusive, as it no longer encapsulates the community’s collective identity. The need for more inclusive language is growing with the broadening of gender and sexual differences on the sexuality spectrum rather than the four groups that form the current commonly used acronym.

To encapsulate the entire community at present some suggest the acronym would need to extend to LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexural, asexual, gender-fuck, polyamorous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism), creating what critics call an ‘alphabet soup’. The acronym also creates a hierarchy where everyone is labeled and categorised rather than accepting that sexual and gender identities are fluid. While ‘Queer’, as a shorter, more effective and inclusive term has long been shunned by older members of the queer community due to its historical use, it has since been embraced as an umbrella term by young people in a postmodern way.

The broadening of the sexuality spectrum has highlighted the limitations in restricting individuals who identify as queer to LGBT. Attempts to make the acronym more inclusive stretch to LGBTIQA and even LGBTIQAAP, creating the aforementioned ‘alphabet soup’. Remembering every letter in the acronym is exhausting and it continues to grow. There are also debates about which letters should be placed first resulting in the hierarchy previously described.

The acronym in its historical use has been contentious in its inability to justify its order considering bisexuals statistically make up the largest percentage of those who identify as queer. It is often written as LGBT however is also commonly written as GLBT, placing gay men before others. Due to this there have been calls within the community to ditch the proper noun identities and assume an umbrella adjective term such as queer.

Labelling people with identities representative of a certain letter they may or may not completely identify with is often seen as categorisation despite sexuality being fluid. Rather than the alphabet soup being empowering with the awareness of more sexual and gender identities, it is disempowering as it excludes those whose sense of identity is fluid and can’t be labelled.

The community is being done a disservice by expanding the acronym for every micro group rather than projecting an understandable and simple message of equality for all. Alphabet soup unconvincingly provides a source of empowerment for many as it ignores the fact that gender, sex and sexual orientation are disparate of each other. Grouping individuals of ever expanding sexual and gender minorities into a single acronym delegitimises their identities and their progress in being included into language, suggesting everyone can be categorised separately rather than into a community that recognises fluidity. In reality the community is fractured, with categorical language adding to this.

Finding alternative umbrella language to the long-standing LGBT acronym is difficult considering the history of the queer community. Queer as an alternative term has been suggested by many after being taken back from its negative past by young people in a postmodern way, however it still has limitations. For older generations it is a negative and loaded term with a hateful history. For many decades it was used as an insult to refer to someone outside of society’s gender and heterosexual norms. The term was used to demean, devalue and insult those who don’t identify as cisgender or heterosexual, thus having negative connotations for older queer people.

Since 1990, however, when it was used at the New York Gay Pride Parade in an anonymous flyer, it has gradually changed from a negative to a positive, not carrying the same weight it once did. More recently it has been used in place of the LGBT acronym and extended alphabet soup versions, as an overarching umbrella term, which everyone in the community can feel they belong to rather than individuals and groups feeling excluded because their letter is not in the acronym. It is used as both a political statement and sexual identifier with advocates pushing against binary thinking, recognising the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It allows people to avoid strict boundaries that are associated with categorised language, simultaneously refusing to engage in conventional essentialist identity politics and making a move against heteronormativity. Young people particularly use it as an expansive term for a spectrum of sexual and gender variances, especially as interdisciplinary queer studies continue to move away from binaries such as heterosexual/homosexual and male/female. Queer media is an advocate of the term with websites such as Queer Nation, Queer Voices on the Huffington Post, and television shows such as Queer Eye and Queer as Folk. Older generations may see the term as self-depreciating, but younger people have embraced it as a positive self-identifier.

LGBT doesn’t allow the queer community to positively identify with a term that does not exclude or negatively categorise people, disempowering individuals through the creation of hierarchy in a categorical acronym. It has become increasingly apparent that the alphabet soup associated with the acronym is similarly disempowering as it continues to label individuals in an ever-expanding set of letters rather than preach acceptance and visibility for all. While queer may have a past as a derogative term used to discriminate against individuals or self depreciate, young people have since taken it back in a postmodern manner to better represent those with fluid or un-categorical identities, resisting binary thinking. It is the best alternative to an exclusive, hierarchal, and categorical acronym out of touch with the modern queer community.

Words by Daniel Zander
Image by Danny Jarratt

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