Why LGBTQ or GLBT? Why Trans* or Trans? A Look at Queering the Acronym

We communicate, therefore we abbreviate.

Social media may be viral, but without the words we say and the language we speak, it would have no foundation from which to travel and spread ideas.

Culturally, words are important to LGBTQIA folks. Not only for communicating concepts, but for fighting for our rights, for inclusivity, for assisting in diversity training, and of course, for us to find and to connect with each other among many other helpful purposes.

For instance, writing the word trans* with an asterisk at the end has its own special meaning. In short, the addition of the asterisk is more inclusive. Please click here to learn more about that in a full context.

Also, there are many people who find the word “transman” or “transwoman” to be dehumanizing or offensive, and who feel you should insert a space between each word for that reason.

But then of course, language is complex and contradictory. For example, the organization Black Transmen articulates the experience of trans* men by writing “transmen” as one word in their official parlance.

This brings to mind similar linguistic differences reminiscent of calling oneself “gay” versus calling oneself “same gender loving” or SGL. (“SGL” was a term created in generally African American circles, initiated to take one’s focus away from sex and place it on relationships, but SGL automatically excludes many trans* persons).

Or, there’s articulating queer culture as being “gay” rather than the more inclusive “LGBT” “GLBT,” that’s another example. Too, people can be attached to the order of the letters, favoring starting with “G” or “L.”). Next, there is “LGBTQ.” However, writing or saying “queer” can be an issue to some, as if there is something so-called “wrong” with being gay or having another sexual or gender orientation, rather than the intended meaning of reclaiming the insult as a word of empowerment (“We’re here, we’re queer. Get used to it.”).

Also, many acronyms and terms exist to behoove inclusivity-focused communication (e.g. LGBTQIAU for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, intersex persons, allies and undeclared), and the lists go on and on.

Here are a few others:

SOFFA – Significant Other, Friends, Families and Allies – Generally used in trans* culture.

GAY – (This word didn’t begin as an acronym, but it has become one. Aside from literally meaning “homosexual,” “happy” or as shorthand for “LGBTQ”) – Gifted and Young, Good As You, Gay. Are You?

IMRU – I’m Queer/Gay. Are You?

LGBTQ / TBLG / LGBTQQIAAS / GLB / LGBTQIAP Any combination or order of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, straight, pansexual and so forth. When letters are excluded, this might have to do with, for instance, trans* activists who are exploring ideas of inclusivity when it comes to trans* culture. They might say, “We deserve to have a voice at this convention where the majority of the speakers are LGB-only.”

LGBTIH Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed and “hijira” (third gender).

TS Two-Spirit.

FABGLITTER Shorthand for Fetish and BDSM community, Allies or Polyamorous.

QUILTBAG Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer.

Social critics and in-community critics tend to think of all of these acronyms as “over-corrected political correctness,” too focused on sexuality, not separating sexual and gender expression properly, or too exclusive in nature.

Generally, living in queer culture involves many elements of culture, lifestyle, privilege, preference, sexual expression, race, class, gender identity, social and hierarchical challenges, religious and moral backgrounds, geographical diversity, preferences not to be labeled, and so much more that is exceedingly difficult to encapsulate or summarize.

If anything, the acronyms can become a code, a way of transacting in the world, a way to find and befriend allies, a way to encourage others to think differently or more broadly, or a way to regain respect and grounding among others in our environment who would seek to derail or exclude others.

As a communicator and mediator myself, this can make communication, sharing information and reportage seem somewhat challenging, but not impossibly so. Prosaically, I do tend to use many different terms interchangeably as well as alternating them—so it’s likely that will offend some or many without having an intention to do so.

Personally, I tend to go by the M.O. of: “I’ll address you respectfully and earnestly in the way you prefer to be addressed. I’ll do my best to honor y/our culture going on what I know, today, and using the breadth of terminology that’s available to us, so that we can all connect.”

Which acronym, term or shorthand do you prefer? (“None” counts, too.)

5 thoughts on “Why LGBTQ or GLBT? Why Trans* or Trans? A Look at Queering the Acronym

  • September 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm
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    Overall, a good article. But I’m disappointed to see the “A” defined as “Allied” more often than “Asexual,” an actual stigmatized minority. As valuable as straight/cis supporters are in the cause of ending oppression, their identities are not targets of violence and discrimination and they are not a minority. Why are they included in acronyms referring to people fighting for their rights?

    • September 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm
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      Same here. Allies should *not* be included under the queer umbrella. The focus should be on those whose sexuality falls outside the hetero norm and giving a pass to allies is not doing us any favours, especially if it that means silencing the asexual community who IS largely misunderstood and unrepresented.

  • September 29, 2013 at 3:07 pm
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    I personally prefer GSM/GSRM (gender and sexual/romantic minorities) but then straight folks wanted in because they think having a fetish grants them access to our spaces since ‘technically’ fetishes could be considered minorities.

    And ssexuals come before allies, come on, man!
    Aces should take priority over straight folks in a community designed specifically who people who… y’know, aren’t straight.

  • October 4, 2013 at 1:44 am
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    I hear “y’alls” points. Many activists over time have said (formally and informally) it’s nearly impossible to include all acronyms at all times. Our community is ever-expansive. I’m queer in word and indeed 😉 however I don’t think it’s necessary or wise to exclude allies from the conversation, or acronyms. Case in point: unfortunately now in Russia, allies (and/or questioning allies who may or may not be queer) can be prosecuted just as harshly as out queer people (or, God help us all, even closeted queer people). I don’t know why this wasn’t acknolwedged in the comments at all, however, the word “asexual” is also mentioned in this piece several times. In the next few days, months, years, we’ll keep creating new terms and means of visibility in-community, which I think is important. However, no one on this planet, no matter how many “cards we carry,” is ever going to get it totally right, because we’re all constantly changing how we define ourselves and include ourselves in the conversation. Too, it’s important in my thinking to distinguish allies from those who are not allies. Thanks for your comments–keep ’em comin’.

  • October 4, 2013 at 1:48 am
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    I hear “y’alls” points. This acronyms stuff, it’s tricky business. 🙂 Many activists over time have said (formally and informally) it’s nearly impossible to include all acronyms at all times, no matter how earnest our intentions.

    GSM/GSRM – yup–that’s more inclusive. But then I’ve heard folks say they think the word “minority” is dehumanizing and exclusionary.

    Our community is ever-expansive. I’m queer in word and indeed 😉 however I don’t think it’s necessary or wise to exclude allies from the conversation, or acronyms.

    Case in point: unfortunately now in Russia, allies (and/or questioning allies who may or may not be queer) can be prosecuted just as harshly as out queer people (or, God help us all, even closeted queer people).

    @ Rowan , getting hung up on the order of letters, words can be a bit tricky too. I understand your point–people who claim to be “allies” are often anything but…

    The word “asexual” is also mentioned in this piece several times. are y’all upset about the order, Rowan? That’s understandable.

    In the next few days, months, years, we’ll keep creating new terms and means of visibility in-community, which I think is important. However, no one on this planet, no matter how many “cards we carry,” is ever going to get it totally right, because we’re all constantly changing how we define ourselves and include ourselves in the conversation.

    Too, it’s important in my thinking to distinguish allies from those who are not allies. Thanks for your comments–keep ’em comin’.

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