E. Winter Tashlin

Becoming More Honest With Our Language

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | May 05, 2014 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: erasure, inclusive language, language matters, LGBT, power, privilege

scrabble.jpgThere are two kinds of inclusion: the kind that embraces diversity and empowers everyone, and the kind that makes people with privilege feel good about themselves.

Guess which kind is more useful?

Within the LGBTQ world, we have historically had a lot more of the latter than the former, and nowhere is this more obvious than the frequent misuse of the term "LGBT."

I'll put it right out there that I'm no big fan of "LGBT." I think it reduces us to a set of extremely narrow categories and ignores the reality that sexuality and gender are a vast spectrum instead of a series of boxes. That's a discussion for another day, however.

"LGBT" was coined as a way of fostering inclusion and solidarity within the broad demographic of people whose sexual orientation and gender identity are in the minority within our society. But instead, all too often -- particularly within so-called LGBT media and advocacy organizations -- "LGBT" becomes an inadvertent tool of erasure and oppression.

Gay and lesbian people have come to use "LGBT" rather than "gay and lesbian" when talking or writing, without giving the first thought to whether or not the subject at hand actually relates to bisexual, trans*, or otherwise queer people.

When a headline on a blog says "LGBT" but the content only addresses gay issues, or issues of sexual orientation, we're looking at trans* erasure of perhaps the worst kind. The author can feel good about making an "effort" to be inclusive while actually doing nothing of the sort.

The same is true when the term is used in reference to issues or community dialogue that only address gay- and lesbian-specific topics, while leaving out any mention of the issues or even existence of people who don't fall within the heterosexual/homosexual binary.

Instead of being equal partners in a community and coalition fighting for equality, trans* and bisexual people find themselves relegated to the position of societal paupers, expected to be content with the mere mention of their existence in the form of an acronym by people who give little or no thought to their actual lived experience.

word.jpgAnd that doesn't even get into the needs and inclusion of queer, genderqueer, asexual, intersex, questioning, and other people who experience many of the same forms of disempowerment and oppression as those of us nominally included in the "LGBT" acronym.

So what can be done about it?

It's simple: when talking about issues or conversations only pertinent to one segment of our community, we must reference that part of the community appropriately. I'm not saying that we do away with "LGBT," as there are plenty of instances where the community or movement as a whole is being addressed. But if, for instance, only gay issues are being addressed or only gay people are being mentioned, we must get in the habit of using the term "gay" (or lesbian, bisexual, trans*, etc). To do otherwise is to practice erasure.

That's not going to be comfortable.

If we're honest with our language, we can get a better sense of just how much energy we as a movement -- or us as individuals -- are putting into issues affecting various members of our community. That honest approach won't be as effective at making those of us who carry more or different privileges feel good about ourselves, and that's a good thing.

There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that there are places where we have different needs; a community need not be homogeneous. But when it comes to the struggle for equality, simple lip service or the use of an "inclusive" acronym will never move the conversation forward.

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