I remember a time when we used to refer to the LGBTQ+ community as simply, the gay community.
Later, we began using the term ‘LGBT’ at large, and then LGBTQ, or even LGBTQIA. Today, this list has grown tremendously and is now more inclusive than ever. To some, it’s liberating. To others, it’s just plain confusing. Even when I asked a pool of friends consisting of both straight and non-straight people, no one could name every gender and sexual identity in the LGBTQ+ community. I wasn’t surprised. There were so many after all.
So, how many labels exactly are there and what do they all mean? I Googled to find out exactly how long the ‘+’ in the acronym LGBTQ+ ran. The most popular acronym I came across is LGBTTQQIAAP.
So. Many. Letters.
Confused? I was too. To help you out, I dug a little bit more to find out what each alphabet stands for and what it means to identify yourself as one of them. Let’s start with the basics.
L is for Lesbian
A lesbian, as we all know by now, is a female who is attracted to another female.
G is for Gay
The word ‘gay’ has been used to refer to the community in general over the years. But more accurately, a gay is a male who is attracted to other males.
B is for Bisexual
A bisexual is someone who’s attracted to both men and women.
T is for Transgender
Not to be confused with transsexual, a transgender is someone who identifies as the opposite gender.
One thing to note: Unlike the three labels above, the term transgender is used to describe someone’s gender identity, not to be confused with their sexual orientation/identity. Many tend to confuse the two and use them interchangeably.
Your sexual orientation describes who you’re romantically attracted to (who you wake up with), while your gender identity is how you identify yourself (who you wake up as) – male, female, a combination of male and female or none. For example, if someone identifies as transgender, that’s their gender identity, but when someone identifies as gay, that’s his sexual identity.
T is for Transsexual
A transsexual, unlike a transgender, is someone who has physically altered themselves to match the gender they identify as.
Q is for Queer
Through the years, ‘queer’ has been considered to be offensive and a derogatory term to some people in the community. In the 1950s, the word was used as a slur in reference to the LGBTQ+ community.
Today, it is largely used and also the most inclusive word on this list. The acronym LGBTQ is still the most commonly used acronym when talking about the community as it argues that queer is an all-inclusive term for the lesser-known labels that follow after ‘LGBT’.
Q is for Questioning
Questioning refers to a person who is still confused about their sexual or gender identity.
I is for Intersex
If someone identifies as an intersex, they are someone who is born with both male and female biological characteristics. An intersex person could have been born with chromosomes different from XX (male) and XY (female). S/he could, for example, have been born with the chromosome of XXY.
An intersex could also be someone who’s born with genitals that are totally male or female, but their internal organs don’t match (such as having a vagina but no uterus).
A is for Asexual
Asexual refers to someone who has no sexual feelings or desires for anyone.
A is for Ally
An ally is a person who identifies as heterosexual but supports and fights for the LGBTQ+ community.
P is for Pansexual
Often confused with bisexual, a pansexual is someone who can be attracted to someone regardless of their gender or sexual identity. Unlike a bisexual, they can also be attracted to a transgender, transsexual, intersex, and more.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LABELS
Following the age-old debates surrounding LGBT messages, there are two types of people with regards to having so many labels.
There are those who believe these labels are important in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and there are others who feel that the ‘never-ending’ list of labels is just becoming plain ridiculous. In the new wave of terminology, we’re also hearing words like polyamorous, demisexual, genderqueer, two-spirit and a whole lot more. If you’re wondering if it’ll ever end, I’d say probably not.
I wanted to go beyond learning the definition of these terms, which for all you know, I could’ve gotten from Wiktionary. To get a better understanding on the importance of these labels, I spoke to some people from the LGBTQ+ community and asked how they felt about having so many labels.
Of the five queer people I spoke to, four believed that labels are crucial to the community and society as a whole.
According to Lorraine*, who identifies as pansexual, the various labels help those who are trying to figure themselves out in the early stage of finding their sexuality. She admits that the labels can be quite confusing, but having them allow individuals to find themselves. And if these individuals wish to label themselves, they can.
Sean, a gay man and the founder of Dear Straight People, says that labels are not only important to give the community a means of identity and belonging, but in helping the general public make sense of the LGBTQ+ community. But he also adds that he doesn’t want people to see him just for his sexual identity.
NECESSARY OR JUST GETTING TOO MUCH?
While these labels fight for inclusivity, they have also become a subject for mockery in society. These labels can seem like a bit ‘too much’, not just for straight people, but for some queer people as well. They believe these labels make it difficult to normalise LGBTQ+.
Tim*, a gay Singaporean, feels that in a society that already judges them for being who they are, these labels give people an opportunity to criticise them further. His experience with trying to explain the terminologies to his friends often results in looks of confusion, which made his straight friends less interested and more reluctant to learn about it. It didn’t help that he would hear people passing comments like “wah you all damn extra.”
I also spoke to a few straight people to hear what they thought of these labels – do the labels help them understand queers better?
Andy*, a straight male, feels that labels are difficult to understand for someone not in the LGBTQ+ community. Not only because there are so many labels, but also because he prefers to be acquainted with someone for who they are and not because of a label that he may not understand completely. Even if he does understand, it’s hard to remember so many labels.
As a straight female myself, I disagree. For me, these labels make it simpler to understand a person. It not only informs me about their sexual identity, I’m more aware of their struggles. It also helps me differentiate a transgender from a transsexual, for example.
The fact that these labels are made fun of or are a target for mockery only tells me that there’s still a long battle to be fought for the LGBTQ+ community. These labels might not be as crucial to someone like me. But for the vast majority of the queer community, these labels give a powerful sense of acceptance and belonging.
Just like any other labels we use to identify ourself with – male, female, millennial, Chinese, Malay, Indian – we have to remember that they are there for a reason. We cannot deny that they give recognition to a group that has been marginalised since its inception. If these labels exist to help a group of individuals find self-acceptance in a complex world, perhaps we should respect that.
So what do you think? Are labels are an important part of the LGBTQ+ society?
(Header Image Credit: Chek Yong – Travel Photography via Pink Dot 2017)