LGBTQIA: A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Alphabet Soup Of Queer Identity


Alright y’all, I’ll admit it. This whole LGBT etc. acronym is getting pretty damn confusing.

Back in the stone ages, "gay" just referred to anyone who was attracted to people of the same sex or who had a non-normative gender presentation or identity, but nowadays things have gotten a little bit ‘cray. It seems like there’s an identity for pretty much everything, and the marvelous global community of same-sex-loving and gender-non-conforming individuals has spiraled into a gloriously confusing rainbow of identities and communities. As a matter of fact, there are probably more identities in the queer community now than there are colors in the rainbow.

So how do you make sense of all this? Well I, Jacob Tobia, am here to help you out as your benevolent, glittery, genderqueer tour guide through the queer alphabet soup. Let’s dive in, shall we?

L is for Lesbian.

If you identify as lesbian, it probably means that you’re a women who is sexually attracted to other women.

G is for Gay.

People who identify as gay are generally men who find themselves attracted to other men. Man + Man + Intimacy + Desire = Gay. It’s a simple equation. Furthermore, because the goal of the gay rights movement is to confuse you and leave you hopelessly disoriented, gay can also refer to women. But only sometimes. And there’s no rule for when it’s appropriate to use it that way or not. Get over it.

B is for Bisexual. 

People who identify as bisexual are attracted to both men and women.

Note: There are some people out there who think that bisexuality doesn’t exist. Simply put, they are dumb. If any of your friends every say this, either correct their idiocy or terminate the friendship immediately, because, seriously, you deserve more intelligent friends.

T* is for Transgender or "Trans."

Let me just start by saying this: Transgender is a complicated word that means a whole bunch of different things to a whole bunch of different people.

If someone tells you that they identify as transgender, they are simply telling you that they have a relationship with gender that is complex and nuanced. For some trans people, this means that their biological sex is different than the gender with which they identify (i.e. "born in the wrong body"). For other trans people, transgender simply suggests some sort of gender fluidity. That’s because the word "transgender" can function as an umbrella term or a specific identity.

Technically, anyone who is breaking gender norms is transgender — a frat boy in a tutu, for example, could be called transgender in some progressive circles. As a matter of fact, you’re probably a little bit transgender too. Condragulations! (If you don’t get the RuPaul reference here, you need to stop reading this article and watch an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race pronto.)

DISCLAIMER: At this point, I think it’s helpful to clarify that, if someone tells you that they identify as transgender, it does NOT give you a license to interrogate their life story, ask them about their genitals, or make them educate you on transgender 101. If you do any of those things, I will promptly slap you through the internet.

(T) is for Transsexual.

Surprise! In the great queer alphabet soup, the letter T can stand for more than one thing — that’s how you can tell that we’re living in the future, folks. The word "transsexual" is not usually included in the standard "LGBT" acronym, but given the confusion about this word and the common usage of it within popular discourse, I thought that I should cover it as part of today’s lesson.

Transsexual people are people who have physically altered their body in order to better match their gender identity. It is a term that refers to biology, not to identity necessarily, and it is indicative of a change in one’s physiology. People generally don’t identify as "transsexual" nowadays, so don’t go around asking people if they are. That’d be like asking your gay best friend if they’re a homosexual or calling a train a locomotive — it’s so passé, y’know?

Q1 is for Queer. 

Queer is a beautiful, mysterious, and subversive word. Think of it as 85% dark chocolate: it’s complex in flavor, and while some people find it bitter, others find it delicious. Back in the 1980s (i.e. when dinosaurs roamed the earth and zebra print was taken seriously), the word queer was used as a derogatory term. In the modern era, queer is more complex. For older folks, the word queer may still sting, but for the younger whippersnappers out there, the word queer has been reclaimed in a few different senses.

In modern lingo, queer functions as both an umbrella term and as a specific identity. Used as an umbrella term, queer is often used as a replacement for the acronym "LGBTQQIA" So instead of saying the "LGBTQQIA community" people simply say the "queer community." It’s basically a way to abbreviate the abbrev, because that’s what cool kids do. ("I heard you like abbreviations, so I abbreviated your abbreviation.")

Used as a specific identity, queer attempts to reject the idea that the labels of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are able to explain any one person’s identity. If someone tells you that they’re queer, all that you know about them is that they aren’t explicitly heterosexual or gender-conforming; also, if someone tells you that they’re queer, you can probably deduce that they’re pretty awesome and that you should be their friend. Just sayin’.

ALRIGHT KIDDOS. That’s enough for today’s lesson, and frankly, I’m linguistically exhausted. You can only slurp so much alphabet soup at a time, y’know?

Watch out for Part 2, where we will explore all of the lovely terms contained in the second half: Q2GQIAASCP(GSM). For now, you should take a nap or go watch TV. If you’ve made it through Part 1, you deserve it.