How to unscramble the alphabet soup–LGBTQIA+

Alphabet soup with brightly colored letters

[Ed. Note: This is another guest post from Katie Christensen.]

Utah is known as a conservative state—one whose cultural leaders fought against the legalization of gay marriage both here and in other states (remember Prop 8 in California?). However, earlier this year, Salt Lake City was ranked 7th in terms of LGBT population among 50 U.S. metropolitan areas. That study found that 4.7 percent of Salt Lake City residents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender, which is a great sign that our capital city is becoming a more diverse space. Unfortunately, Salt Lake was also recently home to a conference held by the World Congress of Families, an anti-LGBT organization. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the World Congress of Families as a hate group. I don’t know about you, but because of this mashup of two completely opposing viewpoints within SLC I’ve found myself having to explain some acronyms and terminology to my more conservative friends and family members.

All of those letters–what do they mean?

“LGBTQIA+” (often shortened to “LGBT” or “GLBT”) is a coalitional term—a term used to link people with different identities together to fight for their rights. There is no way for me to explain every sexual or gender identity in one article but these are the ones I encounter most often and I’ve found it useful to have these simple definitions ready to whip out whenever someone expresses confusion or starts spreading misinformation. It’s important to remember, though, that these are self-chosen identities. Someone fitting one of these definitions doesn’t mean they necessarily identify as the term.

Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to other women.

Gay: A man who is attracted to other men (though sometimes used as an umbrella term that also includes anyone who is attracted to members of their own gender).

Bisexual: A person who is attracted to both men and women and/or a person who is attracted to all genders.

Trans*: An umbrella term that encompasses a lot of different identities, including transgender, genderqueer, non-binary, and more. Some define it as an individual who doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Others use it to describe a complex relationship with sex and gender.

Queer: This is also an umbrella term that includes anyone who feels outside the norm when it comes to gender or sexuality. Historically people used it as a slur against anyone who wasn’t cisgender and/or straight. However, the younger generation has embraced it as an identity and reclaimed it as their own (similar to the way young women have embraced the word “bitch.”).

Intersex: A term used to describe biological variation that falls outside of the binary of “man” and “woman.” For example, a person may be born with a vagina and uterus and XY chromosomes. Intersex people are generally considered rare, but statistically speaking a person is about as likely to be intersex as they are to have red hair. The previously used term was “hermaphrodite,” but that term is now viewed as derogatory.

Asexual: Someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction to anyone.

Plus (+): There are so many identity terms not included in common acronyms that still need representation. Here’s a list of basic definitions for terms that don’t come up as often but are just as important.

Learning to undo binary thinking

I often hear about gender and sexual identities reduced down to gay or straight with no room in between. If a girl likes girls she’s gay. If a girl likes boys she’s straight. End of story. This is an example of a false binary. My favorite definition of “binary” in Gender Studies comes from the book Gendered Worlds by Judy Root Aulette and Judith Wittner (2015): “The idea that factors such as sex, sexuality, or gender can be categorized into two exclusive opposites” (p. 522). Upon closer look, we know that those categories aren’t binaries (i.e. intersex folks).

It’s difficult to shrug these notions of exclusive opposites because we’ve been taught to organize our thoughts into separate, distinct, opposing categories, which makes processing new information easier. But the categories we have were created by our culture and its limited understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender (making them unreliable). Even the most well-intentioned people rely on false binaries to organize thoughts, which is why it’s so important to constantly check ourselves. Every once in a while I find myself looking at a stranger and wondering if they’re a man or a woman before remembering that a) there are more than those two possibilities and b) it really shouldn’t matter to me. Fighting false binaries is a constant battle.

The World Congress of Families conference is over, but it’s only a matter of time until a public figure in Utah says something misinformed and negative about the LGBTQIA+ community, and when that happens, family dinners across the state are bound to get heated. It’s important to remember that a lot of the people you’re talking to about these issues haven’t ever questioned false binaries or been in a position to learn about different gender and sexual identities that exist (hopefully this post helps!). So be prepared to answer a lot of questions after events like the World Congress of Families, and remember that education requires patience.

Are there other terms you have questions about? Tell us in the comments!

You Are Not Counterfeit. You Are Nothing Like Them.

Boyd Packer, left, and L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wait for the start of the first session of the 185th Annual General Conference. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

Boyd Packer, left, and L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wait for the start of the first session of the 185th Annual General Conference. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

It was the LDS General Conference this past weekend. The bi-annual gathering of the Mormon faithful where they listen intently as their church leaders (whom congregants believe are living prophets of God) issue edicts, and official doctrine. As a non-member of the organization, but a Utahn, I wait with baited-cringing-breath every session to hear the sexist, racist, homophobic drivel that spews from the pulpit. This conference was no exception.

L. Tom Perry, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles gave a talk about LGBTQ issues where he said, “We want our voice to be heard against all of the counterfeit and alternative lifestyles that try to replace the family organization that God Himself established.” Naturally, folks who do not represent the “traditional” nuclear family of the Mormon ideology, particularly LGBTQ folks and their allies, took offense to the word counterfeit. And who could blame them? It was a horrendous jab aimed at them and their families. Offense is a natural response to being told that your love, and your families are a, “a fraudulent imitation of something else.”

I acknowledge your feelings dear friends and family, but I say this to you: Find solace in the fact that it is not you who is counterfeit, because you are nothing like them.

I’ve never met an LGBTQ family that would dare deride and condemn other loving families. I have never met proud gay parents who would question the love and tenderness of straight couples toward their children. None of my gay friends, family members, and former lovers would ever say the vile things the Mormon Church continually says about thousands of people (including, might I add, children).

You are not a counterfeit, because you do not pretend to be loving, caring, and open-minded like the Mormon Church. You do not claim to be an institution that puts the family at the center of your teachings, but perpetuates doctrine that causes parents to abandon their children. You do not tell adults that the most holy thing they can do is enter into eternal marriage, but encourage homosexual men and women to condemn themselves to lives of anguish in opposite-sex companionships.

You do none of those things, because, by and large, you are good people. You are not a counterfeit, and your love is not an imitation, because if it was an imitation of the hatred spewed with a veneer of positivity that the Mormon Church spreads,  you wouldn’t be the good people you are today.

50 Shades of Gay: Could You Quantify Your Sexuality?

[Ed Note, this is a guest post from Kyl Myers. Kyl is a sociology PhD student and a sex educator in Salt Lake City. She’s a connoisseur of 90s R&B, loves lipstick, and makes a mean batch of guacamole.]

If I asked you, on a scale of 0% to 100%, how gay are you? Could you answer? And if you could decide on a number that seemed to fit your sexuality, would it be one of the two categories “we” expect people to fall into? Straight or Gay, are you or aren’t you?

A friend of mine recommended I watch a recent TED talk given by photographer/artist iO Tillett Wright called, “Fifty Shades of Gay.” I found the video and then proceeded to have my mind rocked for about 18 minutes, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Wright discusses a spectrum where straight is over here, and gay is over there, and the reality is, that while some people will consider themselves straight and 0% gay or 100% gay without a drop of straight, most people fall somewhere in between. Luxuries and privileges are provided to “straights” while they are withheld from “gays” – but what makes one gay and unworthy of human rights? Is it being partnered with someone of the same-sex and 100% out, or is it having had one or two homosexual experiences? Does having a fantasy about someone of the same-sex merit eviction? If so, there would be millions of empty apartments in this nation. Wright’s talk has had me questioning a lot.

I am bisexual, pansexual if we get to the real talk. But I am also a cisgendered female who is in a relationship with a cisgendered male. My sexuality is invisible in my day-to-day life because on the surface I fit in to what is “appropriate.” I am not constantly pushing gender boundaries –sexuality boundaries – but it troubles me that I am perceived to be something I am not. That said, when I was in a relationship with a gender-queer female I was aware of the eyes on us every day and that was uncomfortable because I also felt I was being perceived as something I’m not; perceived as deviant, perceived as a problem. Who I am does not drastically change according to who I am attracted to or dating – but it sure feels like people think it does. While I was in a same-sex relationship, I felt comfortable serving on an LGBT panel for my university. Now I don’t. But no one disinvited me – my discomfort is a product of my self-policing. My invisible bisexuality troubles me because people expect you to be “this” or “that.” If I married my boyfriend, I would not feel any less bisexual – yet privileges would be bestowed upon me that I could never receive had I chose a woman as my life partner. I could bask in the comfort of being perceived as “normal,” as “straight,” as “deserving;” but that would be irresponsible of me – and a giant cop-out. I am part of this struggle. I must abandon false comforts to contribute to the fight where I don’t have to think about being 68% straight – I want to focus on being 100% me.