Recently, a large US health survey reported lesbians, gays and bisexuals have excess health problems.
It wasn’t very surprising – it makes sense that marginalized groups are negatively affected in other ways like health. But it made me realize we seriously need to broaden the labels used by the mainstream to define us.
Clearly, by the fact that pretty much only L, G and B were referenced, the mainstream labeling of our community is limited, exclusive and completely out of date. Since when can a community like ours be categorized into three neat boxes?
The very nature of a survey makes me feel uncomfortable as it is the definition of putting someone in a box. When you’re not including the right questions or excluding a large part of the community, what’s the point?
I use the term LGBTQIA+ because there are more than four colors in our rainbow.
It bugs me that such a massive research project like the one conducted by National Health Interview Survey excludes half of the community. What about transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people? What about people who are pansexual and omnisexual? What about gender and sexual fluidity and non-conformity?
I don’t really like any types of labels. Imposing them can be harmful and limit sexual and gender expression. Without them though, we don’t have the vocabulary we need to discuss oppression and we’re unable to give a fair representation of the community.
If a survey is going to release a broad sweeping statement, like the fact that bisexuals are at the most risk, it should really make sure it understands that sexuality and gender orientation are not easily compartmentalized into a multiple choice answer.
Forcing some of the respondents to put themselves into a category they don’t identify with is hardly going to be beneficial to their well-being!
We’re not one-dimensional beings, categorized by a single letter. We’re so many identities rolled into one. I’m really interested in the intersection of minorities – did the survey think about the crossroads where minorities meet, like QPOC (queer people of color)?
Ok, I know, we could end up adding a never-ending stream of letters to LGBTQIA+. But identifying, exploring and claiming these broader labels, is an educates the mainstream to understand we’re not so easily ‘boxed’. It challenges the assumption that gender and sexuality can be categorized and judged in a binary manner.
I’m learning to love my chosen label, which I like to refer to as a non-label –queer. I use this word as a short ‘umbrella’ term for everyone within the LGBTQIA+ acronym.
It’s a reclaimed word and I understand it doesn’t work for everyone, but it gives me freedom as it implies that sexuality and gender is fluid and can change over time.
I also think it helps to communicate to those used to a very binary and monosexual way of thinking that some people are attracted to people regardless of sex, gender expression or labels.
It’s been amazing to observe over the past couple of years transgender, queer, intersex and asexual labels being used more within our community and at times in the mainstream. But there’s still a lack of understanding in the general heteronormative communities as to what these terms mean:
Is an omnisexual someone who is basically up for it all the time? Aren’t bisexuals just confused or plain greedy?
And I’ve actually had someone ask me if I seek out relationships with women because I don’t trust men!
What I’d love to see the media move away from the binary heterocentric stance which excludes and erases a massive section of our community.
We need to demand that T, Q, I, A and + are also used when writing, reporting and talking about us, because we want the world to know that transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and more are an integral part of this community too.
It’s really up to us, the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies, to ensure the labeling system – if we must have one – is being kept up to date.
It’s not just in our interests. It’s just like feminism. Men can be harmed by sexism as well as women. Stereotypes like ‘be a man’ – what does that even mean? Equally LGBTQIA+ discrimination affects more than those just within the community.
Let’s help our allies – our friends, colleagues and even strangers – to get up to date and spread the word.
When asked about our sexuality don’t just conform to the four letter mainstream labeling system just because it’s easier. Yes, it may take longer to really explain and you may run the risk of a slightly uncomfortable conversation, but it might not necessarily.
I believe society genuinely wants to be kept in the loop. The alternative is like still calling it ‘The Facebook’. No one wants to be that person.
A friend of mine with quite a ‘feminine’ appearance was asked by the owner of her local shop that age-old ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ question. Usually, she thinks ‘ergh, can I be bothered?’ and decides it’s quicker and easier to just say ‘no’ and rush off to carry on with her day.
This time she dared to say ‘no – I’m into girls’. What happened next was a wholeheartedly positive conversation, which was educational for him and certainly shone a light on the assumptions he was subject to.
We need labels to drive forward the community and recognize those that are ignored. Let’s make sure they are the labels we’ve chosen. Let’s show those who express an interest that things aren’t cut and dry. Let’s use it as an opportunity to start a conversation and dialogue and show the world that we’re just as colorful as our rainbow motif.
So now, when people ask me if I’m gay, my responses are as playful as the question. Ask me a question like that? Expect a question back.
Anna Martine is a rising cult queer actress, a favorite with the LGBTI film and theater scene and star of the upcoming transgender play Rotterdam. Rotterdam is at Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End from 26 July throughout August. Tickets start from £15 and are available here.
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