And Now for a Few Words About Lesbians at Penn
We’re here! We’re queer! Lesbian! Gay! Bisexual! Transsexual! Intersex! Asexual! Allied! Questioning! Non-Cisgender! Try chanting it!
How many letters does it take to topple an acronym? That question has been very much on my mind since I was quoted by the New York Times last week in a lengthy piece about the millennial generation’s ever-expanding definitions of sexual orientation and gender.
To the Millennials featured in the story — three of whom were my Penn students last semester — LGBT is hopelessly outdated. (As is their professor, sorry to say, but that’s a given.)
In the students’ view, the new shorthand needs to include such categories as non-cisgender. For the gender-studies impaired, “cisgender” describes a person whose gender identity matches his or her biological body. A non-cisgender overturns the traditional male/female binary.
At Penn, arguably the most gay-friendly university in the country, these “post-gay” radicals have formed a new club, Penn Non-Cis. It currently has 10 members, mostly freshmen, and they’re looking to recruit more. (Sign up now and you can win a gender-neutral toaster-oven, I’m told.)
Which brings me back to my original question about acronyms. I can live with “LGBT,” although it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But with the addition of each politically correct letter, the acronym becomes progressively heavier and more unwieldy, defeating its original purpose.
For political activists, the importance of a streamlined acronym cannot be overstated. The easier an acronym conforms to the rhythm of a group chant, the more effective it can be at rallies, or marches, or prison uprisings.
Or, perhaps most important, in everyday conversation.
Call me crazy, but one reference to LGBTQQIAAN during an otherwise civil discourse is more than enough for this sexual outlaw. It sounds like alphabet soup with Tourette’s.
This is not just a pet theory; it’s where I live. As a journalist, I am all about economy of expression. As a teacher of Critical Writing, the same holds true.
In my classes, I encourage students to use acronyms judiciously in their weekly essays.
Even “LGBT,”’ which seems quaintly truncated compared to its more contemporary brethren, makes my eyelids droop when it’s overused. Personally, I’m a big fan of “queer.” Once the sexual equivalent of the N-word, it has been reclaimed by homosexuals as an all-purpose umbrella term.
It’s simple, easy, suitable for rhyming. It takes all those capital letters, each noteworthy in its own right, and distills them to their essence. With apologies to Gordon Gekko, “Queer,” for lack of a better word, is good. “Queer” is right. “Queer”’ works. “Queer” clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
For a monosyllable,”queer” carries a lot of freight, BTW. In my mind, the term encompasses just about anyone outside of conventional heterosexuals. Some Queer Theorists include them, too, if the heterosexuals are supportive of those who are not. Talk about one-size-fits-all.
My allegiance to “queer,” however, does not in any way mitigate my admiration for these out-and-proud Millennials. They are nothing less than inspirational. They may not all be sure of who they are or whom they want to love, but they deserve respect for the boldness of their exploration.
No matter how many letters it has.