Pride Month is here, and with it comes a host of people who mean well, but might not be close enough to the world of the LGBTQIA+ to feel like they can navigate the waters of the terminology.
“Help! What does this all mean?”
Let’s start with that alphabet soup. “What are all those L, G, B… letters about? And then there’s a plus (+) sign? We have to do math now to figure out who people are?!”
It seems like as soon as at least most people have gotten at least most of the abbreviation down, another letter is added. This can be frustrating, sure. Now imagine how LGBTQ people feel because they aren’t even recognized in the way they identify.
Why is this important? After years, sometimes decades, of living a life that consisted of hiding who you really are because it was deemed “unacceptable” by others, there is something inexplicable about finding that your true identity has become accepted by the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s a step in the direction of overall acceptance, which is a great thing in the life of a human being.
So let’s get down to business. What is the “right” expression of the term that seems to never stop changing? According to the Associated Press, LGBTQ is the most effective, widely accepted way to address the topic of our community. There will be times when, for example, people use a few extra letters, and yes, maybe even a math symbol. It’s pretty simple after you get the basic abbreviation down, and we will talk through it all.
Q. Queer (can also mean Questioning)
So what about the other letters? The two most common letters included nowadays are:
A. Asexual (some also say this can stand for “ally,” however, many refute this as allies are not actually LGBTQ themselves)
+ The plus symbol basically wraps up all the rest of the newest discoveries and/or terminology: terms like Pansexual and Demisexual.
There are myriad ways of defining oneself, and the world is ever-changing. Instead of instantly deciding that someone’s term is invalid because it’s new and/or you don’t know what it means, ask the person who introduced it to you. It means more to an individual that you are trying to learn and understand than you could know.
One community, two topics
It is extremely important to understand that there are two types of identities that, while equally important, are not the same thing. I am talking about gender identity and sexual orientation. For the most part, LGBTQ+ terms cover sexual orientation, or how one individual functions on the romantic level.
There is one letter, though, that deals with something quite different: T. The term “transgender” deals with gender identity. And this is something altogether different than sexual/romantic attraction.
Transgender is actually a large umbrella term that covers a wide range of more specific terms that describe how people identify within the scope of gender.
For the most part, we have always understood that humans are born either male or female. And while the majority of humans never even question their maleness or femaleness, there is a whole group of people who have. It is nothing new, either.
Take a look at some of the following articles to see just how far back transgender and gender-fluid people were not only documented but also recognized and openly revered in some cultures:
- First Nations/Native American Two-Spirit
- Gender fluidity in Hawaiian culture
- The Gendered Sea: Iconography, Gender, and Mediterranean Prehistory
- Hijra of India
What’s beyond the binary?
As our world expands, we learn new things. That’s the nature of life. Even in the world of gender, we are still learning new things.
The main “other” category besides “binary” would be “non-binary” and that holds a whole lot of different identifiers for those who just don’t fit into the traditional definition of male and female.
Non-binary people can take on some, all, or none of the characteristics of male and female identities. What you need to know about these people is that, above all else, they are human beings who have just as much of a right to self-expression as the rest of the population.
So let’s break things down with a list of general non-binary terms to help sort through the sea of identifiers that seems to be crashing in waves on the population’s psyche.
- Non-binary – Someone who does not identify as belonging to the traditional “binary” or male/female gender system
- Enby – Short for Non-Binary –> N.B. –> Enby
- Transmasculine/Transfeminine – Someone who does not fit into the traditional binary, but does take on more qualities of either the masculine or feminine nature
- Genderqueer – A term that a large number of non-binary people choose as it covers a lot of ideas/traits of not fitting into the “norm”
- Gender-Fluid – People who are gender fluid can identify differently at different times. Some may identify as masculine one day, and feminine the next. Others spend years identifying one way, and then something changes for them and they begin to identify another. It is all very personal, and no two Gender Fluid people should be thought of as having the same experience.
- Gender Neutral – People who may fall more into the “middle” of the binary, where it would seem there are few male or female identifiers in their personality or expression of gender.
- Polygender – Some feel they are a mixture of all, or many, of the genders
- Agender/Genderless – Some don’t subscribe to belonging to a gender at all
- Bigender – Some feel more comfortable identifying as bigender as it tells enough to let others know that they have more than one gender trait, but it is not so specific that it tells you which genders are being represented.
The list most definitely continues on from here, and by no means are these definitions exhaustive.
I personally identify as “non-binary, transmasculine.” What does that mean for me? I know that I do not fit into the typical male/female categories, but I definitely trend towards more masculine expression. I wear men’s clothes, I have facial hair and a men’s haircut. I also have children that call me Mom. I use they/them pronouns, but also don’t mind he/him. I tolerate she/her, but I do not prefer it.
LGBTQ names and pronouns
Name and pronoun usage is one of the most sensitive yet misunderstood topics for us.
A “chosen name” is the name someone chooses to be called. When the name a person was given at birth is no longer valid to them, it is known as a “dead name.” Quite simply, that name is dead to them. Please don’t use it. Don’t tell others what their dead name is, either. It’s not your story to tell.
Just as you switch out a person’s maiden/last name when they marry and take on their partner’s last name, you learn to call them by their chosen name, just like learning to use different pronouns — he/him, she/her, they/them, he/they, she/they, ze/zir or zim, just to list a few. There are many more terms that have arisen in the last few decades, and just like everything else we have covered, it is important to honor someone by respecting their identity in all aspects.
The most important thing for binary people to know about transgender people
If there is one lesson I can leave you with this Pride Month, this is it:
When you meet someone for the first time and they are under the Trans umbrella in any way, it is not up to you to “figure out” what genitals they were born with. It is up to you to honor that person for who they are and how they identify.
If you know someone who has begun a transition to express themselves differently than how they originally presented themselves, it is not up to you to misgender them by using the gender they no longer openly identify with.
The moment someone puts their trust in you with how they identify is when you change how you identify them to others. Period. Most trans people are more than gracious when people slip up and correct themselves. But for the repeat offenders, it can be one of the most demoralizing (and potentially dangerous) acts to a person. If you have difficulty doing this, take a moment and ask yourself why you are struggling.
Many people have discovered that the reason they end up reverting to the old term (misgendering, dead-naming) is because they don’t actually believe that the person is who they say they are. Begin to see the person through the lens of who they truly are. Trust that a person knows themself better than you know them.
All in all, your world will only continue to grow and expand if you let it. The people in your life who identify differently than you have just as much value as a human being, and if you let them, they may just help you to open your heart and mind to a new world of discovery and beautiful relationships.
Happy Pride, everyone.
Proud member of the LGBTQ community
Parent, partner, child, friend
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