Lesbian? Gay? Bisexual? Transsexual? Why all these labels? Do they unite us? Do they divide us? Do they allow us to express ourselves fully? Do they limit us unnecessarily?
When I first joined Queer Youth Overground (as it was back then) I was uncomfortable with the name. Queer was a word used to insult. Could I identify with that word at all? Turns out that over the next few years the more I read and the more I learnt, the less comfortable I would become with the compartmentalised term "LGBT".
There are a few things which helped me shed my reluctance to embrace Queer. One of the main ones was what happened in NUS. I must make it abundantly clear that this was in 2002, a few years ago, and the NUS LGBT campaign has stepped forward. When I was involved however, it was still the NUS LGB Campaign. I was already a believer that it was the LGBT community and so was in favour of changing the campaign to LGBT. The motion was defeated. Part of the reason for that was the argument employed by opponents of becoming LGBT that if we did, "we'd be letting the straights in".
I was seeing a group of of people maligned in similar ways to me. We were all facing similar misunderstanding, similar taunts, similar discriminatory practices. We could all work together to achieve equality and liberation. NUS LGB seemed to be seeing a separate community which shouldn't be touched lest we became unclean. They wanted to deny common cause, wrapping it up with supporting the idea of "A Transsexual Network".
This continued at the next conference where a bisexuality workshop turned to the question of Trans inclusion and how similar it was to battles for Bi inclusion. That lead to an APOLOGY from the NUS Bisexual representatives. An APOLOGY for discussing what the vast majority of the members of the workshop wanted to discuss. An APOLOGY for including Trans.
These events opened my eyes. I never got to see NUS LGB transition into NUS LGBT. I never got to actually table the motion to make my own union LGBT. These have now both happened. But, it leaves me wondering who else we are excluding. It reminds me of A. Square in Edwin Abbott's Flatland who learns about the third dimension and then asks about the fourth dimension only to be scalded for being silly.
But it's not silly. The second major thing which helped me reject LGBT came in a discussion with an online friend about bisexuality. In it he expressed his belief that there were no such thing as bisexuality. "They" were all either gay and refusing to admit it, or "bi" for fashion's sake. Embracing the idea of bisexuality actually allowed for the group to be discriminated against. From with the "LGBT community".
It also lead to me questioning the idea behind self-definition. Our constitution, at the time I was LGB Officer for YUSU, required the LGB Officer and most members of the LGB Committee be self-defining as Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (There was one "open place"). I'm lucky. I consider myself to be completely homosexual which I guess makes me identifiable as "Gay". But where does Bisexuality start? What if I were mostly homosexual but once had a fumble with a woman? Would that make me bi? Or is bisexuality meant to be near enough 50:50? Even Kinsey's scale has more boxes than "Gay", "Bisexual" and "Straight". Regardless of the exact details of Kinsey's scale though, it still led to boxes. Compartments. Prisons. If sexuality is a scale as he suggested, why does it have to be a discreet scale (such as the whole numbers from 1 to 10)? Why not a continuous scale (such as all the numbers between 1 and 10)? What if, moreover, you aren't fixed in any one point on that scale, but find yourself sliding all over.
The final thing that leads me to believe a more open catchment is required is the fate of two of my straight friends. Both of these friends were rather camp. Both suffered homophobic abuse and discrimination. The fact that they were straight didn't stop it being homophobic. The fact that they were straight shouldn't prevent them from joining us in fighting for an end to that discrimination. This possibly gets slightly off topic, and they may be less willing to embrace queerness but it opens up another group who should be included.
I contend it is time to break out of the boxes that LGBT forces us into. What unites us is more than what divides us. Leaving the LGBT boxes in place allows for any differences to be exaggerated and turned into divisions. Keeping the prisons locked allows for isolation and exclusivity. I have now embraced Queer even if I don't do so very openly - it's easier to say "gay" and get it out the way than to try and give the full explanation of what queer means to me every time I meet someone. I don't necessarily care if Queer is the word we use or not, but a single, unifying term is important and necessary if we are to integrate better internally and externally and Queer is the best we have!