Originally published on advocate.com
It used to be so simple. Before there was LGBTQ, there was gay and straight: gay man, gay woman, and straight man and straight woman. Some women preferred lesbian and protested the gay badge, but gay worked for most.
Gay was kind of a casserole made from anyone who wasn’t straight, a covered dish of most anything not white bread, mayonnaise, and 2.5 children. It was the late ’60s and plain ‘ol gay covered a lot of turf. Sure, it was scattershot, but it made sense in a black-and-white world. Gays were proud to be gay and not merely homosexual.
Homosexuality sounded like a whispered, unpleasant and shame-addled disorder, and well, actually, it was. But when it became clear that no amount of high-voltage electroshock conversion therapy was going the zap the homo out of the homosexual, the psychiatric community threw in the towel.
Nothing to cure here, folks — move on.
So let’s be gay! Gay was more buoyant and accessible and so much less clinical, a Promethean leap, light-years beyond the love which can’t be spoken.
But gay ain’t new.
The 1637 Oxford English Dictionary defined “gay” as being addicted to physical and social pleasures. During the 1800s it was a term for female prostitutes, and “gay it” was slang for copulation. In 1935 a “geycat” was a homosexual boy, and the mid-1960s saw the final shame-free incarnation of the word. Gay has an enormous, parade-float heritage. Personally, I rather like the 1637 Oxford dictionary perspective. That must have truly annoyed the Puritans.
But it was suggested and then argued that not all bisexuals were closeted gay people. There was a big swath of sexually ambidextrous folk who swung both ways and actually enjoyed it. They deserved their own “B” independent of the “G.” From the primordial linguistic soup of straight or gay, “Bi” sprang forth as an autonomous being: Homo Erectus Bi. The alphabet settled down, briefly, until another revelation emerged.
It’s “T” time.
Much to the surprise of many, transsexuals and transgender people aren’t always homosexual. This confused a lot of people, but our people rallied and brought the “T” to the GLB. We were evolving and it was good. The march of the antonyms came to a halt and GLBT shone forth, briefly.
Sexual politics also evolved. In the span of a century, women’s liberation progressed from simple decency, like allowing all people to vote and have a voice, to the embarrassingly late realization that perhaps after all, the sexes truly are equal. Most rational people understand that simple premise, with the caveat that many people simply aren’t rational. Witness the endless debate of women’s reproductive liberty or driving in Saudi Arabia. To the point, most rational folks won’t argue equality. But in this enlightened atmosphere and for some inexplicable reason and out of the blue, suddenly it’s ladies first. GLBT morphed to LGBT. That shift threw a lot of people, not to mention organizations like GLAAD and GLSEN, but we as a tribe are, if nothing else, usually flexible. “Usually” is the operative term, though, because now it gets dicey.
Cue the “Q.”
I struggle with this one. I mean, I get the theory and I understand the intent. Adopting and embracing an insult to defuse its power seems like a good idea. It looks good on paper. However, there is the reality of harsh, road-worn denigrations. Note for example, the n word. People don’t take kindly to that word and for good reason. It’s a bad word, period.
I feel the same way about queer. I just can’t see myself getting all warm and fuzzy if a good ‘ol boy shouts, “Hey, queer!” from his pickup truck as I tool down a country road in my Mazda convertible. No matter how “defused” the word may be in L.A., it isn’t so defused in Louisiana. If someone calls you queer in the South, they’re probably not being hip, ironic, or politically correct.
So in that great linguistic circle of life, what would happen if we resurrected gay? Maybe gay can be what the word queer is for — an all-encompassing, United Nations-of-a-term for the nonstraight. We’ve been around forever, but only recently accepted by Judeo-Christian Western civilization. Well, mostly accepted, but the point is don’t you think it’s time to settle down and figure out what to call ourselves? Change is good and all, but traditions are cool too. I wish we’d establish our own already. Stop messing with the acronyms, so generations to come won’t be scratching their heads and asking, “Is GLBT the same as LGBTQ? I’m confused!”