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Alphabet soup
by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

An essay last week written by Winston Gieseke on Gay.com blasted the use of the acronym LGBT, shorthand for many as referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The argument was a simple one, the acronym has become too diluted as other terms have been added to it: queer, questioning, intersex and others have made it an acronym that is difficult to relate to, and unwieldy to use.

In a straw man argument, Gieseke writes, "[LGBT] reads like a bunch of dissimilar misfits grouped together. And if that's the case, should we throw in battered women and the Amish? They probably have sex, too. And what about WWII-era Japanese Americans? Then it could be LGBTQIAOPBAAWW2JA. Talk about a mouthful."

He backtracks off of this a paragraph later, arguing it is not the size of the acronym he can't wrap his mind around, it's that putting together these groups does not in itself create a cohesive community. In some ways, he has a point.

Yet neither the size of the acronym, nor his feelings about cohesive communities, really lies at the heart of his argument. Indeed, he spells it out even before the above quote when he says, "I am a gay man, and as far as I'm concerned that's a perfectly good label. Why? Because I'm not a lesbian, a transgender, or a bisexual, and beyond a basic human level, I don't relate to those who are."

This is where he errs.

No one is saying that Gieseke has to identify as an LGBT. That's not an identity, but a larger abbreviation for an association of sexual minorities. He can be perfectly content to be Mr. Gay Man all he wants. After all, we're talking about an essay on Gay.com, a site adorned by shirtless young Caucasian men, and Gieseke's piece itself features a full frontal nude male image with a strategically positioned purple triangle.

This is as much a website for me as, say, Maxim magazine's website is for straight women.

But Gieseke seems to like the good old days of "homosexual" and "homophile," before "lesbians seceded from the union." He wasn't even that bothered by LGB. But once "the transgenders" came along, according to Gieseke, all hell broke loose.

An aside: I find it interesting that he referred to transgender people as "the transgenders," when in the same article he decries the use of "gays" as a noun. Practicing what he preaches does not seem to apply – but I digress.

What his argument sounds like to me is this: by including other sexual minorities into the mix, his particular corner of the world is somehow less special, and is somehow threatened. In short, his argument is that allowing all these other people to the mix – like "the transgenders" – you somehow harm "traditional homosexuality." It's the same argument that, frankly, one can hear from anyone fighting against same-gender marriage. That he is expressing his opinions on Gay.com feels somewhat like preaching to the choir.

But Gay.com is part of a larger queer media empire. It is owned by Here Media, which also owns Out magazine and the Advocate, the latter of which felt that Gieseke's piece was newsworthy enough to include part of it on its own website. Further, discussions on this piece were reported by transgender community members to be heavily moderated, with respectful disagreement removed.

If I were more prone to conspiracy theories, I'd be looking at this as part of a wider plan to reframe the community, with gay men taking point – and all that goes with it – and leaving "the others" to be forgotten. Perhaps the best editorial can be about how those "uppity lesbians" don't need equal representation, or how bisexuals need to pick a side and get off the fence already.

An otherwise meaningless poll at the bottom of the page asks people what they think of the acronym "LGBTQIAOP," which adds asexual, omnisexual, and pansexual to the previously mentioned terms. Two of the five possible answers suggest cutting it back to LGB, or simply referring to us as "fag" or "dyke." I find myself wondering how Gieseke might feel if we went with LBT, or simply referring to us all as "trans." I strongly suspect he would feel erased. He would certainly not find anything with which to identify.

In the end, however, I do agree that the acronym as a whole is cumbersome. The trouble with it, as I see it, is that you can never fully include everyone who should be included. I know this just from the transgender community, where listing each identity label is impossible. And while I personally might refer to an LGBT community still – call me old-school – I know those four letters only begin to scratch the surface of a much broader group of sexual and gender-related identities than my mind can imagine.

Yet the way to address this is to not cut back to a small number of terms and call it a day. If the concern was it not being easy to identify with, then you've increased that issue for everyone by those scant few who do end up included.

No, what we need is a new term, one that has the usefulness and inclusion that is meant by LGBT – or even LGBTQIAOP – but without the pitfalls of identity politics. I do not know what that term is, nor have I heard any that sound like winners. If we are a cohesive community, however, we can find a term and make it work.

Gwen Smith, by way of full disclosure, worked for Gay.com a decade ago. You can find her on the web at http://www.gwensmith.com.

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