A Choice Between Being Honest or Being Safe
By Jen Campion
LGBTQIA+ represents, not a delicious and very large sandwich (although I’d love to try that), but the spectrum of human sexuality. This is such a huge topic that it’s not surprising it gets bogged down in acronyms. The important thing to remember is that we love who we love and we can’t help it; it’s written in our genes.
As a teenager in rural Devon during the early 00s, I thought everyone felt the same way I did about Avril Lavigne, and that the butterflies I felt upon walking into GCSE Chemistry reflected my burning passion for the subject (spoiler alert: it was more to do with Miss Smith, who had long black hair and an American accent). It was staring me in the face and I couldn’t get my head around it. I didn’t know anyone who was gay and there was very little LGBT representation in popular culture. At this time it was common to describe anything uncool as being “gay” e.g “those shoes are so gay.” It may seem small, but this kind of language reinforces the idea that gay = bad. It’s the bottom rung of a ladder that builds up to painful and dangerous discrimination.
What Does LGBT Stand For?
L – Lesbian. A woman who is attracted to other women.
G – Gay. Usually applied to men, it can also describe women who are attracted to the same sex.
B – Bisexual. Someone who is attracted to men and women.
T – Transgender – this is covered in Chapter 6!
Q – Queer – Queer was a pejorative term until LGBT groups in the 1990s reclaimed it. This form of empowerment removes the negative associations with the word. It has since become more common for members of the LGBT community to identify as queer. Q can also stand for Questioning, representing those who are exploring their sexuality.
I – Intersex. This term describes people who are born with anatomy that doesn’t clearly fit the definition of male or female.
A – Asexual (sometimes called Ace). Someone who doesn’t prioritise sex in a relationship. They may not enjoy sex with anyone, or they might as part of a committed relationship. An ace person can still have romantic feelings, fall in love, and enjoy other physical affection such as holding hands.
+ – The plus sign, which represents identities, for example pansexual (attraction regardless of sex/gender). Using the plus sign is a good way to ensure you include everyone.
Why All The Labels?
It might seem like new labels are being added all the time. And some people aren’t fans – including members of the LGBT community. However, for many people it is helpful to have a word to describe themselves and this forms an important part of personal identity. At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt anyone, but it helps lots of people.
But What Do I Call You?
Saying “the LGBT community” is a pretty good catch-all term, although I know it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. In terms of individuals, it’s best to follow their lead. So long as you’re respectful and listen, you can’t go wrong.
Sexuality is Not a Choice or a Disease
It is not possible to socialise a person into being LGBT, because sexuality is not a choice. We know this because the numbers of LGBT identifying people are pretty consistent across tolerant and less tolerant societies. If it was a social thing, you would expect higher numbers in more tolerant countries. After all, why would so many people choose to have fewer rights?
Being LGBT is not a sickness that can be cured, which is why so-called “conversion therapy” does not work and has been denounced by the NHS and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, among others. Maybe it seems like there are more of us around these days, but that’s because we’re not hiding.
Although we have made a lot of progress, heterosexuality is still seen as the norm and so coming out is a process that the majority of LGBT people have to go through. Coming out to your loved ones is scary and emotional. It can be positive and life affirming, however unfortunately not everyone is accepted by their families and some young people are even forced to leave home.
Coming out doesn’t happen just once: it happens over and over again, every time you meet someone new. The taxi driver, making small talk, who asks where your husband works, or the hotel receptionist booking you into a double room. Sometimes you have to choose between being honest or being safe.
Even today, it’s not always safe to be out. A 2017 Stonewall survey found that 1 in 5 people had experienced a hate crime incident within the last 12 months. Hard-won gains, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, are the result of decades of fighting.
Sexuality is a Spectrum
No identity is a finite box that we have to stay in forever. Sexuality can change throughout life, and everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. Imagine a line with “Gay” at one end and “Heterosexual” on the other: most of us fall somewhere in between those points.
Being straight is normalised only within a society which chooses to normalise it, and LGBT people have been present in all cultures, forever (Ancient Rome, anyone?). The terminology might change, but the inherent truth of our existence does not.
- Float, Pixar – Float is a short film about father who realises his son is different and has to decide whether to hide, or accept him. A good analogy for autism.
Stonewall Toolkits and Resources, Stonewall.
How To Be LGBT Friendly, Warwick University.
LGBT History, Instagram.
This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson.
50 Shades of Gay, a TedxWomen talk by iO Tillett Wright.
A Guide for People Who Question Their Sexual Identity, YourSexualOrientation.
LGBT Helpline, Switchboard.