Many things which are foreign and unknown cause fear and distrust, creating a vicious cycle. So I asked a few folks who identify with the QIA+ to talk some about why it’s important to be open to a broader set of letters than just LGBT, what it means to them, and how it has impacted their feelings of belonging within the community. Get to know them a little, and see if you can’t find your way to help make a little more room under the rainbow banner.
Meet Shawn Reilly (they/them/theirs):
I identify as queer, sexually. As far as gender, I identify as genderqueer. I do get pushback from people who claim more historically mainstream LGBT identities.
My mom’s best friends are a gay man and a gay woman. They’re rad, rockstars for their generation. But even they affirm my mother’s worries and doubts that my gender and sexuality is somehow a phase, or something unsettled. And in a way, it is unsettled.
I still feel uncomfortable at times with the finality of choosing a label. That’s why queer and genderqueer are best for me—they’re fluid, and don’t nail me down to any type of behavior, thought patterns, or identities.
I think it’s human nature to put things in boxes. And it’s human nature to fall back on what’s comfortable. Terms that have become more popular recently—genderqueer, gender fluid, bigender—folks, even many in the transgender community, are not familiar with. And if we don’t understand it, we reject it.
But I believe in a deeper human capability to fight these urges to simplify and box up others. I believe, I know, we can be better. Right now we live in a world of labels: Democrat/Republican, documented/undocumented, straight/gay, white/black.
As they say in Broad City, we’re headed to a world where we’re all caramel and queer. People feel comfortable in binaries and specificities, but in reality, we all live in grey spaces.
Who agrees with every single view of one party or the other? Who feels comfortable claiming that they’re straight, have never had any queer thoughts or actions, and will be straight for the rest of their life? And how is that a happy life?
Once we let go of specifies and stop putting each other, and ourselves, into pigeonholes, we all will be freer.
I’m not sure how important it is to identify specifically with a queer or LGBT community, especially because there are such diverse viewpoints and ideas among us. It’s more important to me to identify with a progressive community—folks that, no matter their gender, sexuality, race, religion, want to move toward a more inclusive and intentional community for all historically marginalized peoples.
There are some rad progressives in the LGBT community. But there are also “Gays for Trump” and gay white supremacists. It’s less important for me to identify with LGBT than to identify with the folks that fight against that each day.
What do you say to those gays object to queer as a slur they just will not allow to become normalized?
Times change. Black used to be a slur. It has been reclaimed by the young, and those who don't feel comfortable being pushed into specificities of "gay" or "lesbian" or even "bisexual." There has been much hurt through the word queer, this is true. But I believe it is the most powerful act to claim something that has been used against you. Like the pink triangle from the Act Up movement (it was used during the holocaust to identify queer people in camps), it is important we reclaim things that have been used against us.
How do you identify and have you always identified that way or was it kind of an evolution?
I identify as agender. I haven't always identified as such. Just a year ago I identified as genderfluid. My gender identity has been in a bit of flux as I learn more about about these terms and explore which ones feel most right. If you had asked me 3 years ago, I would have said cisgender.
How would you identify in terms of sexuality?
I'm bisexual, with a bit of asexuality. That's complicated-sounding. I used to be mostly asexual. Sexuality is a fluid thing, so it makes sense that mine would develop into bisexuality. But my former asexuality still hangs around a good 20% of the time. It's weird but comfortable.
Your identity, and your developing understanding of it, is complex. Do you get pushback from people who claim more traditional LGBT identities?
I do. I've come to expect that, in a sense. Because it's my identity, I certainly don't expect anyone else to understand it as well as I do. I'm often told to just simplify things and call myself a traditional term, but that wouldn't account for a lot of nuance.
The nuance represents important differences in identification. When one identifies as a man and says so, people get specific ideas of what that means. Same thing with calling oneself a woman. These gender handles have certain associations. For me to call myself one or the other instead of agender would be to take on those social expectations, as well as certain personal expectations. To let go of the nuance in this way would be to lie.
I think many people see it the other way around; if one identifies outside of the gender binary, that seems like a lie. People like having social frames and boxes, and when people like me break those constructs, it must feel to them like a frivolous rebellion. They might be uncomfortable with my identity, but they're uncomfortable because they don't want to rethink what they've been taught.
Why do you think some people in more sexual traditional orientations or gender roles are so invested in pigeonholing people rather than welcoming a diversity of identities?
I've often heard the concern that too many sexualities under the umbrella will make lines blur past the point of distinction, that a plethora of sexualities could end up including any and all
sorts of people, thereby making the whole point of the community useless. There's a strong fear that our protective community boundaries will erode.
How do you feel about that? Have the responses you've gotten made you feel less welcome in the community in term of gender and sexuality?
Responses like that have definitely made me feel less free to express my full identity at times in the community. Some of my own friends who are also LGBT don't even know that I'm agender. Especially recently, I've learned that people can still judge "degrees of queerness." I don't fully trust my own community to not show aggression.
That being said, I connect with other agender and gender nonconforming people as much as possible and enjoy spending time with people of other identities. Even if I can't identify fully with most of the community, there's so much to learn and experience. The community is evolving every day, there's always someone new to welcome, and it's really the place I feel most safe.
Meet Isaias Vasco:
Hi, my name is Isaias, and I identify as a gay gender fluid person. Why? Because being just gay and male does not cover it all, but an umbrella term as "gender fluid" or even "gender queer" does.
I have to be honest. Many of these terms are very new to me, but they make a lot of sense. Even the fact that I came out about two years ago is at times new to me. Even so, I have come to know myself better within these last two years than I have in the previous twenty-two.
Coming out for me was among the best things that ever happened to me. It freed me from the notion that I was bound to love women in a sexual way. So now I feel free to love guys because I am past that stigma.
Part of coming out also opened the door to a new world to me. It can be very overwhelming and extremely confusing if you are not patient with yourself. This world is known to many as the LGBT community, or as I prefer to call it the LGBTQIA+ community.
Why then do I feel the need to add more letters after the "T"? Because I have learned that there is so much more than those 4 letters. The "Q" is a great one because it is very inclusive. The "+" sign also includes more identities not commonly known or talked out about, but it does not mean they are not as equally important as the other ones.
The "G" term does not cover it for me when it comes to my gender identity, although it does for my sexual orientation. Such is the case for many of us out there. I have recently learned that sexual orientation is not the same as sexual identity. This was a tough one for me to comprehend, but I am glad I was able to understand it with time.
But how did I come to such conclusions? Well, I watch and follow a lot of documentaries, TV-shows, YouTube mini-series, social media posts, etc., by which I was inspired and learned a lot about my sexual identity.
Gender fluidity makes more sense to me. I do not want to solely identify as male because I highly identify as female too—sometimes as both, sometimes as female, but never as male alone. It really depends on the occasions or even the people. It may seem silly, but it's perfectly fine with me.
I strongly believe that diversity is what really makes us interesting. I know there are a lot of ways to identify, and yes, it gets confusing. The way to overcome the confusion is to get educated and have a student's mind. That is how I learn about new things in life.