January 26, 2016

LGBT, Etc.

We used to talk about gays. Then it was gays and lesbians. At some point, we switched to using abbreviations. For a long time, the most common term one encountered in print was the abbreviation LGBT—the letters were sometimes permuted—which adds bisexual and transgender people to the grouping. Not long ago, I began seeing LGBTQ. Some people claim that the Q stands for queer—I’m still not sure what that is—but others say it stands for questioning. The other day, I encountered LGBTQI. The I stands for intersex. It’s surprising that it took so long for that letter I to show up, since intersex people are the easiest variant of humanity to identify with total objectivity. But I digress.

Am I the only one who thinks this is getting ridiculous? We’re running out of letters, people.

I understand that (1) people are looking for a substantive that is concise, and (2) they don’t want to leave anybody who isn’t “normal” out. No doubt, there are people ready to add yet another letter to the standard abbreviation while arguing that they belong to a forgotten and persecuted group.

Isn’t it time to adopt a term that is once-and-for-all general and not simply an enumeration of every conceivable human variant? I suggest that we begin referring to sexual minorities. No one argues that the referents of LGBTQI constitute a majority of the population. Saying that one is part of a minority is not pejorative, it is merely descriptive. One can quibble about physical versus mental classifications—distinctions between sex and gender, perhaps—but sexual seems sufficiently generic, and sexual/gender minorities seems unnecessarily technical and verbally cumbersome. It is not, of course, as cumbersome as LGBTQI, an abbreviation with insufficient vowels to be transformed into a usable acronym.

I think that the term sexual minorities may come with political benefits. As the commonly used string of letters gets longer and longer, people who have a hard time getting past the male-female dichotomy become confused and increasingly skeptical of the implied claims. On the other hand, the U.S. has a history of expending rights to more and more groups. For many people, the idea of empowering minorities, whatever those minorities are, seems very American and just. (Admittedly, this is not true of everyone.)

The term sexual minorities thus seems euphonic, inclusive, and rhetorically powerful.

Any thoughts on the subject?

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