If you visited HuffPost Gay Voices on Monday, you no doubt encountered a video discussing the future use of the acronym "LGBT" as a way to describe and label our movement for viable access to rights and citizenry. Though I find problems with the rooting of this conversation within medical discourse, this dialogue is one that certainly merits an immense amount of analysis and discussion for the future trajectory of activism.
In the video, London-based Pink Therapy director Dominic Davies and therapist Pamela Gawler-Wright propose an important and thought-provoking intervention into language itself. This intervention complicates the narrow label and signifier "LGBT" through the proposition of "gender and sexual diversities," or "GDS," as a way to understand all identities and experiences encapsulated by this acronym.
As someone who identifies as "queer" and attempts to avoid the label "LGBT" to the extent linguistically possible, I think there is some extremely important work happening within this conversation. In some ways, the mainstream LGBT movement seems to be attempting to return to the origins of the movement itself -- that is, shifting the focus from single-issue political gains towards the creation of a more equitable society for all individuals marginalized by power and privilege.
As evidenced by this video, activists are considering (and rightfully so) the role that language itself plays within the further development of this movement. Many critics claim that debating language and labels isn't productive, and that our efforts as activists should be channeled elsewhere. However, mentalities such as these merely demonstrate ignorance of the ways that meaning and control are connected to the way that we linguistically talk about and attempt to understand one another.
If we put stock in a psychoanalytic understanding of ourselves, we might conceptualize the unconscious as being structured like a language. Words, as signs and symbols, trigger an entire chain of signification and meaning within our conscious mind. Thus a consciousness of the entire array of experiences, bodies, identities and gender expressions that have come to be associated with "LGBT" is triggered upon hearing this word. It is virtually impossible to put oneself outside language, because language is ultimately what constructs meaning.
In this way, language itself becomes regulatory. In the same way that the sex binary of "male" and "female" regulates bodies that find themselves transcending this dichotomy, "LGBT" creates a strict understanding of "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender." Through these labels we craft cultural intelligibility -- our ability to perceive and talk about these types of bodies and experiences. However, we simultaneously construct and linguistically rely upon an "other" -- types of experiences and identities that fall outside this construction of meaning. The fact that we understand concepts through understanding what they aren't ultimately illustrates the unintended harm of ill-informed inclusivity.
That last bit may have been a tad theoretically dense. However, I think it is necessary in order to understand the function of language and, on a more specific level, the function of acronyms like "LGBT" when they are used to describe a vast array of diverse experiences and people. Narrow labels and definitions are what construct this theoretical "other" and ultimately marginalize individuals who fall outside the language that we have and, therefore, our ability to talk about or conceptualize their experiences. For example, what about understandings of transgender experiences outside male-to-female or female-to-male medical transition? What about people who seek medical intervention for reasons other than "transcending gender" in these specific ways? Who are we to tell individuals in what ways they can or cannot alter their bodies based on linguistic categories we've constructed? What about people who identify as transgender but don't seek medical intervention at all?
And further still, if we are to push our activism beyond merely claims to rights and citizenry based on sexuality and gender identity, where is there room for these individuals who don't fit under the four narrow categories contained within "LGBT"?
The regulatory nature of language itself was (and still is) a significant influence in the development of "queer" as a way of understanding what Davies and Gawler-Wright are suggesting we rebrand as "GSD." While I personally like and employ the use of "queer," it is more the intersectional ideology behind the term itself that I identify with. The proposition of "GDS" is an important opening into the conversation of expanding how we linguistically understand our movement, our experiences and ourselves. However, more than anything, I think we need to begin moving beyond specific and narrow signifiers, particularly acronyms like "LGBT."
Even as I read through articles I compose and attempt to reword passages where I use "LGBT" as an umbrella term, it often feels unfitting and inappropriate. That reality in and of itself should be enough for us to reconsider how and why we allow ourselves to be linguistically boxed and branded. Part of this important cultural shift referenced so frequently as of late needs to be a consideration of the way we unintentionally allow language to shape our bodies, ourselves and the movement we are all engaged in toward the creation of a more equitable society.
Up until this point, "queer," while problematic in some ways, achieves this more completely than any other encapsulating term I've encountered.
In the words of poet and writer Brandon Wint, "Not queer like gay. Queer like escaping definition. Queer like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. Queer like a freedom too strong to be conquered. Queer like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like... and pursue it."