Alphabet Soup

ABC…LGBTQQAI…XYZ?  So what’s with the alphabet soup?

First things first:
L: Lesbian
G: Gay
B: Bisexual
T: Trans (Transgender; Transexual; Transvestite)
Q: Queer*
Q: Questioning
A: Ally
I: Intersex
*Please note that queer is one of many words that offends even people within the LGBTetc. community.  Many of the words within and beyond the alphabet soup are used as insults; sensitivity is important, as even well-intentioned attempts at understanding can come across as attacks or as labelling, especially due to the ways in which “gay” and other words are used as insults.

There are several versions; LGBT and GLBT are the most common.  Some groups have started to add the I: LGBTI or GLBTI.  Some have started to add the Q.  Some the Q and the I.  Sometimes women’s rights groups use LBT to refer only to women.  And so on.

Who is still left out?

In the end, labels aren’t enough.  They are limited and often cause a lack of understanding even where they attempt to create it.  That said, in the system we’re in, people seem to need labels and boxes to conceptualize their world, so many try various acronyms, words, and phrases to describe themselves and others.

What are FTM and MTF?
FTM: Female to Male
MTF: Male to Female
Click here for more on trans terminology.

It’s important to think about your questions if you have them, as well as your answers…

It’s also important to understand that everyone within any given label, term, phrase, group, or umbrella term still has their own understanding of what that identity means for them.

Then there’s “homosexuals” for gays and lesbians, “trans” for transgender and transexuals, “queer,” often used as an umbrella term for anyone outside the “norm”…  And then there are all of the more colloquial terms, some of them used by the community (twink, bear, lipstick), some of them used to insult the community, and some like “dyke” that are often reclaimed from insult to self-identification.

“Which acronym/term/phrase should I use?”
Well… it depends.  I’ll tell you about the ones I use.  Generally speaking about those who challenge sexuality and gender norms, I use LGBTQQAI/LGBTetc. (in less formal settings) or sexual and gender minorities (in academic writing, as it is not commonly used by individuals or organization to self-identify).  There are people who don’t fit into LGBT, though I often shorten the alphabet soup to these four letters for the sake of brevity, hence the addition of “etc.”.  This is the same reason why I use the phrase “sexual minorities” in or “sexual and gender minorities” in my academic writing.  One of my main problems with the alphabet soup is that it tends to put a label on everyone in it.  The phrase sexual minorities leaves a little more wiggle room and provides greater opportunity for self-identification, which is especially important when doing any kind of research where you are working directly with people, such as in an interview.  It allows each person to be under an umbrella they can generally identify with instead of being shoved in a box.

The Inclusion of Allies
First, they are always important.  When members of the majority side with the minority, the minority gains obvious power.  Second, the inclusion of the A works somewhat subtly to reduce the divide between “straight” and something other than straight, making it less important whether the person you love is of the opposite sex/gender.  It makes sexualities and gender identities beyond the “norm” less “abnormal” by expanding the boundaries of sexuality and gender in and of themselves.

Sexual Minorities’ Human Rights
Especially in terms of human rights, it is important to include everyone, hence my use of LGBTQQAIetc./”sexual and gender minorities.”  While the alphabet is still limited, it’s as broad an abbreviation as currently exists, and is more easily understood by a wider audience, especially since “sexual minorities” is rarely even used by individuals who might identify with the phrase upon understanding what it means (Jack Donnelly addresses this conflict in Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice).

I find it most important to allow each individual to identify themselves as they wish, be it with a label from the alphabet soup or an umbrella term or phrase, and that regardless of their chosen label or lack thereof, ensure that their rights, too are protected.

It Gets Better:
The Trevor Project:
The Human Rights Campaign:
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Project:
Human Rights Watch (LGBT Rights):
Amnesty International (LGBT Rights):
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network:
The Give a Damn Campaign:
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual , Trans and Intersex Association:
And SO many more!  Search for organizations based on specific needs or interests, such as “gay men,” “questioning teens,” “bisexual women”…

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5 Responses to Alphabet Soup

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