HeatherN offers the final installment of a “Queer Dictionary” to help understand the terminology surrounding sexuality and gender.
Over the past couple of days we’ve covered terminology for sexual orientation, relationships, gender identity and biological sex. What, you may be asking, could possibly be left? Well quite a lot, actually. The previous two articles weren’t in alphabetical order, but the terms were organized in an intentional way. This time, there’s no reason not to put things in alphabetical order, except that I like to keep things consistent. So fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night (or morning, depending on when you’re reading this).
Autosexual: This is someone whose preference is sex with oneself (i.e. masturbation). Now wait, you say, shouldn’t this have been included in Part 1? Why yes, it should have; this is a sexual orientation and Part 1 was about sexual orientation. I actually didn’t learn this term until after I’d started this series of articles. Even as someone who is a LGBT activist, I’m not familiar with all the different terms, which is part of the problem with having so many labels. This brings us to the next term…
Queer: And here it is; the entry everyone’s been waiting for. Just what the dickens does queer mean? Generally, the term queer means strange and unusual. More recently it’s become an umbrella term that encompasses anyone and everyone who isn’t straight and/or cis-gendered. More than that, it also includes people who have consensual, non-vanilla sex (i.e. fetishes, BDSM, kink, etc). That’s what makes the title Queer as Folk so delicious. It’s a play on the old English phrase, “there’s naught so queer as folk,” which basically just means, “people are strange.” Yet it’s also a reference to the show’s subject matter, which encompasses gay men and women. It’s a double entendre without making any reference to a specific sex act and I love it! Go figure.
Now you may be wondering why we don’t throw this whole alphabet soup of terms under the wagon and just call everyone queer. It’d be so much simpler, and yeah, it really would be simpler. Well in part that’s due to way in which a lack of talking about an identity can make that identity stop existing. At the moment gay men are largely the most talked about “queer” group in the west (with bisexual women coming in a close second). There is a legitimate worry that if we stopped talking about the diverse sexual and gender identities, then we run the risk of marginalizing anyone who is queer but not a gay man or a bisexual woman1.
The other problem is the way in which, historically, the term queer has been so stigmatized. It hasn’t quite yet been taken back and reclaimed in the same way “gay” and “lesbian” have. However, it is still used and is gaining wider acceptance as an umbrella term. Personally, I like it.
Gender and Sexuality Minority: Another umbrella term used in much the same way queer is used. This has some of the same problems as the term queer, with regards to the way that umbrella terms can make some groups feel excluded. Also, using the term “minority” can leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths (no, not like that). It emphasizes the discrimination and oppression associated with being a minority, and ends up being a bit too depressing a term to use.
LGBT: (Also LGBTIQ, LGBTQ, and LGBTA) Technically these letters refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, queer and ally or asexual. Usually these acronyms are used synonymously with “queer” or “gender and sexuality minority” as an umbrealla term for non-heterosexual, non-cis-gendered people. These acronyms have their own problem; for the sake of brevity they are always shortened to only a handful of letters, and then at least some identities are left out.
Ally: These are people who identify as straight and cis-gendered but support the LGBT community and LGBT rights. Sometimes the “A” in LGBTA means asexual, and sometimes it means allies. How do you know which? Well, usually you can’t tell, though if the “a” is lowercase (LGBTa), chances are it means allies. Now you might be thinking, why make it lowercase? Well usually it’s to emphasize that whatever organization is using the phrase “LGBTa” was created to benefit LGBT individuals and while allies are most certainly welcome, they aren’t the focus.
Fluidity: Peeps are complicated. (Peeps as in people, not marshmallow peeps). Fluidity is why Anne Kronenberg, a self-identified lesbian, married a man. Fluidity explains how the U.K. television show Bob & Rose is actually based on a true story. It’s a potential explanation for why Eddie Izzard has been making public appearances dressed as a man for the past few years. I hope you get where I’m going with this. The concept on fluidity is based on the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate, but that they are not static. They can shift and change over a person’s life.
What the concept of fluidity does not suggest is that anyone can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The saying, “the heart wants what the heart wants,” is quite apropos when discussing sexual fluidity. This also doesn’t mean that everyone’s sexual and gender identity changes over their life. Plenty of people identify with the same sexual and gender identity from birth until death. It’s just that not everyone does.
Kink, Fetish, BDSM: The Good Men Proejct has had some great articles about kink culture, so mostly I’m just going to point you all there. Basically it describes people who incorporate erotic activities into their sex lives that might not be viewed as sexual by society at large. I’ll also explain the acronym BDSM – B&D: Bondage and discipline, D&S: Dominance and submission, and S&M: Sadism and masochism. Much like the term LGBT, BDSM is used as an umbrella term to encompass a variety of sexual practices that might not fit into those original three categories.
Self-identification: This is the concept that what an individual identifies as is more important than what society perceives as their identity. This works with the concept of fluidity in that if someone continues to identify as, say, a lesbian even though they are in a relationship with a man, they can and shouldn’t be ostracized or ridiculed because of it.
Heteronormativity: And here’s the term I use all the time. If you were wondering what the heck I meant by it, here it is. This is the cultural bias that places heterosexuality and being cis-gender in a place of privilege, and in assuming that those identities are not just normal, but natural. It’s the view that being male equals being a man, and that being a man means being sexually and romantically attracted to women. And conversely, that being female equals being a woman, and that being a woman means being sexually and romantically attracted to men. Non-normative sexuality and gender isn’t just treated as being statistically outside the norm, but rather as being so non-normal as to be interpreted as unnatural.
And that’s it; that’s all she wrote (or well, that’s all I wrote). This is the end of our discussion of gender and sexuality, but don’t let that be the end of your examination of the subject. If you want to examine these issues more, Google some of these terms, or go ahead and ask your questions in the comments. Or, if you feel like I’ve left something out, put that in the comments too. Just be gentle.
Image of small people on a rainbow courtesy of Shutterstock