The Great LGBT Debate

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Posted: Tue Feb 23 2010

Paul Burston tries to get his head (and tongue) around the great gay naming debate

There's been a lot of talk lately about the term 'LGBT' and what its use (or not) says about us as a community. A recent article in Boyz magazine questioned whether the 'T' should be included at all. This was partly in response to an event at the RVT, where lesbian feminist writer Julie Bindel stood accused of transphobia after being invited to take part in Queer Question Time.

Prior to this, there was a picket at the Stonewall Awards where she was nominated as Journalist of the Year for her work at The Guardian. Protesters carried placards reminding us that 'Stonewall Was A Riot', and voiced their objections to the lobbying group's refusal to add the 'T' to 'LGB'.
But of course it's a far wider argument than that.

We've just had LGBT History Month. Soon it will be the launch of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. At a previous year's launch there were angry calls for the name to be changed to the London Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival (or LLGBTFF). The programmers argued, rightly, that they already featured many films by and about members of the trans community. But that still wasn't enough for some.

At Time Out too we've had questions raised about the title of this section. Is Gay & Lesbian sufficient, or should it be changed to LGBT? The argument given is that LGBT is 'more inclusive'. But for how long? No sooner was it accepted in some circles that LGBT was the politically-correct way to go than people started adding other letters to the acronym. First it was LGBTQ (for 'queer'). Then it was LGBTQQ (for 'questioning'). Then it was LGBTQQI (for 'intersex').

Personally I have doubts about being lumped in with people who describe their sexuality as 'questioning'. Why not include 'men who have sex with men' while we're at it? Or heterosexuals for that matter? Sometimes I feel I have more in common with my straight female friends than I do with certain members of the LGBT 'community'.

There was a time, many years ago, when we were all gay together and just got on with it (even today some lesbians prefer the term 'gay women'). Then we had lesbian separatism and the bisexual movement. In the early '90s the trendy term was 'queer', though often this amounted to little more than gay with knobs and nipple rings on.

And so it continues. Now we have people using words like 'hetero-normative' and 'cis-normative', which only serves to confuse and alienate people. Years ago I was called a sissy. Now I'm 'cis-normative' because I happen to be comfortable with the genitals I was born with. And being in a civil partnership makes me 'hetero-normative', which is a crime against queer humanity, obviously.

I can understand the desire to be recognised. Many transgendered people argue, rightly, that their contribution to the gay rights movement is often overlooked. But as Jean Genet pointed out, many transsexuals simply want to get married and disappear into the suburbs. And being included in name (or acronym) is surely less important than being included in person. At the time of the RVT debate, there were people complaining that the venue was a safe space for a transpeople and should therefore not give a platform to Julie Bindel. The last time I checked the RVT was still a 'gay pub'. It has not been renamed an 'LGBT pub'. But that didn't prevent transpeople from attending.

My other objection to the term 'LGBT' is that sounds like a sandwich. And really, where will it all end? Today LGBTQQI, tomorrow what? Maybe we should just cover all bases and call ourselves Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Not Queer But Happy To Help Out When They're Busy? Or LGBTQQINQBHTHOWTB for short?

Or is that just plain silly?

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