Based in a secret location in Dublin, Ireland, Aoife O’Riordan blogs at Consider the Tea Cosy about LGBTQ issues, feminism, secularism, social justice and how to make amazing vegan chili. She wants to have a nice long chat with all of you. She will try to make you roller skate.
TW for cis gay privilege that could make your eyes bleed. Don’t read this at work unless you have office walls thick enough to withstand obscenities.
There are some phrases that, when you see them in an article, you know aren’t going to lead to anywhere good. “Political correctness gone mad”, for one. “Some of my best friends are…”, for another. “I’m not a ___, but..” is definitely one. One of the phrases that takes the proverbial biscuit (and a lot of other proverbials), though, is this one:
Now, before you run off to compose a face-meltingly indignant email to the editor..
When the writer already knows that they’ve written something to get their readers face-meltingly indignant, things can only go two ways. It could be that they’ve come up with something so new and wonderful that it’ll take the rest of us years to get our heads around. Far more often, though, you’re about to read something that will have you facepalming so hard you end up with permanent dents on your forehead. If you’re unlucky, you might not be able to stop yourself from muttering obscenities at the screen in the middle of your office.
Fortunately for me, I read this at lunchtime. The article was published in GCN. A little context for those of you outside Ireland: GCN (that’s Gay Community News) is a free magazine serving the LGBT community. It’s been running since 1988. It’s available in pubs, cafes, and queer-friendly shops and community centres throughout the country. For many people, picking up a copy of GCN has been their first connection to their queer communities. For others who’ve never been able to come out, their subscription has been the only way they can connect to others. As a young queer person back in the late ’90s, me and my friends used to devour it from cover to cover. For decades, it’s been one of the ways that we find each other and remind ourselves that we’re not alone.
In Ireland, GCN is kind of a big deal.
LGBT Soup, eh?
The article in question, LGBT Soup, is an argument- if you could call it that- that The Community needs to go back to basics, get rid of the alphabet soup acronyms and call ourselves something more simple. In itself, this isn’t terribly controversial. It’s accepted that the LGBTQQIA communities have one hell of an unwieldy acronym, and plenty of attempts have been made to change it to something that’s at least pronounceable. Some people use Queer as an umbrella term. Some go with GSM for Gender and Sexuality Minorities. QUILTBAG (Queer Unidentified Intersex Lesbian Trans* Bi Ace Gay, as far as I’m aware) has been around for years. We’re a diverse set of communities, though, so none of them have yet stuck. So far, so good.
What’s all the fuss about?
The problem is that the author, Ciara McGrattan- who works as an assistant editor for GCN- thinks that what we need to do is get rid of all those pesky Ls, Bs, Ts- and god forbid Qs, Is and As- and go back to basics. That what the LGBT community needs is to call itself the gay community and shed the rest. Check out her charming way of proposing this:
I propose it’s time to simplify and perhaps employ a modicum of moderation to the unwieldy beast of LGBTLMFAO initials. Do you sleep with people of the same sex? Welcome to Gay Club. In a relationship with someone of the same-sex? Welcome to Gay Club. Trans and exclusively attracted to people of your gender? Welcome to Gay Club. Attracted to both sexes? Good for you, but unless you’re withsomeone of the same-sex, you aren’t part of Gay Club.
So, for the purposes of accuracy and economy of expression, LGBTetc should be replaced with ‘gay’. Just gay. That’s all. Simple. Elegant. Accurate.
Offended yet? To start with, there are the wildly biphobic inconsistencies within that very paragraph- if you sleep with people of the same sex, but are attracted to people of other sexes, then you can only be in Gay Club during the time you are actively with someone of the same sex. Gay Club works by negative marking, it seems- one stray glance at a particularly fine differently-sexed specimen of humanity and your Gay Club membership is revoked unless you are, at that very moment, actively involved with someone of the same sex. FSM forbid you be single.
And this, my friends, is McGrattan’s concept of ‘accuracy’. Hold on to your large glasses of gin, though (you don’t have one? If you’re ever inclined towards gin, I’d recommend one)- this gets far, far worse.
A little history
McGrattan has an interesting view of history. Here’s her impression of a half-century of queer activism:
By the mid-20th century the word [gay] began appearing as a synonym for homosexuality and, after briefly being hijacked Enid Blyton as the perfect noun to describe a spiffing day picnicking in Cornwall, was adopted by pre-Stonewall friends of Dorothy.
And so the ‘gay’ community, in name at least, began.
In time, the homosexual ladies felt unrepresented by ‘gay’ and so the word ‘lesbian’ (first coined in 1925) was included to refer to all those women suffering from the sexy, but burdensome, pain of same-sex attraction.
So, the gay community became the ‘gay and lesbian’ (GL) community. Then in the ’80s, perhaps because L and G were feeling lonesome, ‘bisexual’ (B) was added. GLB became the initials of choice for political correct citizens in describing the gay community.
By the 1990s ‘T’ (for transgender) was tacked on – despite the obvious difference between sexual orientation and gender identity – and the LGBT initials now familiar to all was born.
McGrattan seems to be going for a cheery, light-hearted tone here. However, let’s take a look at her language and what it implies. Gay is a synonym for homosexuality- yep, that’s true. Lesbians felt unrepresented by ‘gay’- also the case. We’re okay so far. Bisexuality, on the other hand, was added “because L and G were feeling lonesome”. And as for Trans? Well, that was “tacked on”.
Let’s talk about subjectivity and objectivity. To be a ‘subject’ in this case is to be an agent- a person who feels, thinks and acts. To be a subject is to be an individual worthy of consideration in your own right. To be an ‘object’ is what it sounds like. It’s to be treated as a thing which is only relevant where it affects others.
Do you see what McGrattan did there? Gays and lesbians have feelings and perspectives. Lesbians get to be underrepresented. Bisexual and trans people, though? What people? They’re just labels.
McGrattan, in a couple of paragraphs, blithely erases decades of struggle and activism by everyone but cisgender monosexual gay people. In an article that mentions Stonewall. Stonewall. The event that sparked off the modern queer liberation movement when people rioted because they were being arrested for wearing non gender-normative clothing. Let’s remember for a second that it wasn’t the respectable gender-normative gays who rioted at Stonewall. It was queers and queens.
McGrattan needs to give herself a history lesson, because she feels that the first the LGBT movement heard of trans people was in the 1990s:
By including an identity not specifically referring to same-sex attraction (T), the flood gates were opened. Now, before you run off to compose a face-meltingly indignant email to the editor about the unseemly transphobia of GCN, consider the fact that gay and trans are not synonyms. ‘Gay’ refers to same-sex attraction only, ‘transgender’ to the state of one’s gender identity.
But enough of history. Let’s talk homophobia and transphobia.
Homophobia, transphobia and gender policing
As we saw above, McGrattan feels that gender and sexuality are two entirely separate things and that there is no good reason for trans and
LGB gay people to ally with each other. I guess McGrattan must be lucky enough to be one of the rare LGBT people who has never been the victim of homophobia. She’s lucky. Me, I’m not so lucky. Let me tell you a story, k?
I don’t generally get much homophobic abuse these days. Hardly ever, in fact. If I do, it’s when I’m with my partner being obviously queer in public. It sucks and it hurts, but we are lucky have a couple of intersections going for us that keep us under people’s radar a lot of the time.
I wasn’t always so lucky. I used to get a hell of a lot more homophobic abuse than I do now. It used to be a regular thing that happened most times that I left the house. The difference?
I used to look like this:
Now I look more like this:
These days, you can’t always tell that I’m queer when I walk down the street. Why? Because the way that I present myself is more gender-normative. Because, inaccurate as stereotypes about gender and sexuality may be, they inform the snap judgements that every person I walk past makes about me without even knowing they’re doing it.
Gender and sexuality may be entirely separate- that’s a complicated conversation for another day. Homophobia and transphobia, though? Are and always have been inextricably intertwined. I get less homophobic abuse walking down the street with my arm around my partner now, than I did ten years ago walking alone. Homophobes don’t give a rat’s ass about the intricacies of our identities. They hate us the same either way.
Which leads me to McGrattan’s next point.
Intersex? Ace? Poly? What are they doing in MY movement?
When exactly did LGBT become the dumping ground for every non-heterosexual orientation?
Remember how homophobes and transphobes don’t tend to be too concerned with the precise nature of your personal identification before starting the hate party? It turns out that the people who oppress and marginalise cis mono gay people tend to be only to happy to include the rest of us. It’s funny, isn’t it? In a way, the homophobes have a better understanding of why the LGBT movement is the umbrella it is than McGrattan does. They know that what unites us all is that we are outside heteronormativity. McGrattan doesn’t seem to get it.
What McGrattan needs to understand is that this is not her movement. It’s not her community. It’s ours.
The LGBT movement was never meant to be one person’s identity. Every relationship form and desire other than monogamous heterosexuality is, to one extent or another, marginalised in our society. And we are all minorities- individually, at least. We are an umbrella. We join with each other to provide solidarity, safety and community. To create a space where the norm is to be, yes, something other than cis, straight and mono.
The LGBT movement is not and never was for cis gay people only. If you think it was, go and read Sylvia Rivera‘s stories of how drag culture was forcibly erased by assimilationist cis gay people after Stonewall. Those of us on the other side of the acronym- the Bs, the Ts, the As and Qs and Is and all of the rest of us- have always been here. If McGrattan doesn’t know that, then it is because we have been ignored and erased by assimilationist cis gay people who found our existence inconvenient.
But you know something? I am not an afterthought. Trans, intersex, asexual and intersex people are not afterthoughts either. We are not something to be tacked on after the big-G of the gay community. We are here, we have always been here, and we are not going away.
Not Good Enough
Since this article was published, our LGBT community and wonderful allies have expressed appropriately massive outrage. GCN have responded in two ways.
They published an astoundingly insulting editor’s response. This response included the phrase “we apologise to anyone who feels offended”. This kind of apology is one we’ve all used. You know when you think someone is massively overreacting to something you’ve done? And you say something like “I’m sorry you feel that way”? You’re not really sorry. If you genuinely regret something, you’ll say that you’re sorry for the thing that you’ve done. Not for someone’s emotional response to it.
As for the rest of the response? It doesn’t get any better.
It is important to point out that the opinions expressed by our columnists, both in the magazine and on-line, are their own and not the opinions of the NLGF or GCN. … Ciara is the Deputy Editor of GCN, but her column is personal opinion.
GCN are unwilling to take any responsibility for this column, despite the fact that it was written by their Deputy Editor. Presumably another editor was also involved in deciding to print this piece. They continue with this:
Her opinion may not be popular, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a right to express it. Anyone who responds to her column has a right to express their opinion too. This is the basis of free speech.
The alternative is not to publish opinions because everyone might not agree with them.
No, GCN. That is not the alternative. The alternative is to be a publication that takes its responsibility to the queer community seriously. One which does not publish degrading speech about the community it claims to serve. On this matter, I have a question for GCN. Would you ever publish a piece stating that gay people have no place in the LGBT community? Would you say that publishing homophobic vitriol in GCN is necessary if we are to ensure freedom of speech?
If not, then remember: you are treating everyone other than cis gay people as second-class members of the LGBT community.
The other thing that GCN have done is invite anyone to write an opposing article to be reviewed for publication– in GCN. If anything could show that this is nothing more than a cynical attempt to drum up controversy, it’s this. But more than that- this shows clearly that GCN have no trouble bulldozing over entire communities within the LGBTQIA umbrella if it suits them. Transphobia, biphobia, erasure of ace, intersex and poly identities? Not a problem. To GCN, it’s nothing more than ratings.
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