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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Re-inventing ourselves for a new generation

A recent issue of the national LGBT magazine The Advocate contained an article on how a growing number of the younger generation of gays, lesbians and bisexuals shy away from defining their sexual orientation with labels like gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Instead, they opt to call themselves ... well, they prefer NOT to call themselves anything when it comes to their orientation.

One of the theories postulated in the article is that younger LGBT&Q's (or perhaps as they would prefer it "the younger *s") reject words like gay and lesbian because they carry a connotation of politics. "Some of them are not political," according to Bill Leap, an anthropology professor quoted in the article who holds the annual Lavender Language and Linguistics conference. "They're saying, 'I don't see anything political about sucking dick.'"

It seems times have changed. I remember a post-Stonewall political tract from the mid-'70s titled: "Sucking cock as an act of political revolution."

On the surface, Leap may have a point. There does seem to be an increase in the number of LGBTs in the 20-something generation - oops! make that *s - who describe themselves as non-political. I tested that idea out recently on the web site where members can post profiles that include their choice of politics. The choices range from "way left" to "way right" with additional categories for "avoids politics" and "prefer not to answer." Using's search function, I searched for profiles of members who avoid politics. Nearly half of the members selected this (while a little over 35 percent leaning to the left and the rest leaning to the right). These figures don't include the members who preferred not to answer that section of their online profiles.

While it's far from a scientific conclusion, it does point to a trend among LGBTs (and the *s) to generally avoid political labels. It's little wonder that growing numbers refuse to identify themselves by their politics. Leaning right is associated with the Republicans and the rabidly anti-gay sentiments of a large part of its constituency. To lean left is to be associated with the Democrats, a slightly more gay-friendly bunch, but after watching John Kerry flip-flop on the marriage issue in the 2004 campaign (not to mention Bill Clinton's wooing and then abandoning LGBTs during his presidency) it's little wonder LGBTs and *s feel like the girl brought to the dance by the dashing captain of the football team only to be ditched for a prettier girl. This is especially true for the *s who often lack the historical perspective of their older counterparts and haven't seen the progress made since the Stonewall riots.

That doesn't mean they aren't political ... only that they refuse to label their political beliefs along the Republican-Democratic continuum.

I think that illustrates the reason why growing numbers of *s don't identify with the established L-, G-, B-, or T- words. They are reacting with frustration to the growing sense of the "community" becoming Balkanized worse than Eastern Europe during the 1960s.

Consider this:

After the Stonewall riots that marked the birth of the modern gay movement in 1969, we were all "gay." It was an all-encompassing word to identify what is known today as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

Then, as more and more same-sex-loving women joined the movement, it became "gay and lesbian." The Gay Liberation Front eventually morphed into today's National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It was about inclusion and, since lesbians had a different perspective and different priorities than gay men, "G" became "G and L."

Next came the "B" as bi-sexuals who didn't identify as gay or lesbian, yet weren't considered heterosexual. After that came transgenders and the definition changed from not only what we did with our body parts and who we chose for partners, but to how we perceived our gender identity.

During the 1980s and '90s the term "queer" came into vogue. For some, it was an attempt to find one inclusive word meant to define us as different from the prevailing heterosexual model. But while younger activists latched onto "queer," older members of the community recoiled in horror at a word they'd only known as a slur.

So now we're up to LGBT&Q (which sounds a bit like one of the Monopoly railroads), but we're not done yet. Younger people who were exploring their sexual orientation were known as "questioning." Add another letter to the acronym; but how to write it? Were we now LGBTQ&Q? LGBT&Q/Q? LGBT&Qx2? LGBT&Q-squared?

Regardless of how we arranged all those letters, we couldn't come up with a single pronounceable acronym. In the interest of being inclusive - a worthy goal - we ended up with a mouthful of letters that left one short of breath by the time all of them had been reeled off.

As if the intra-letter dynamics didn't make it hard enough hold all those diverse letters together, we began to see inter-letter divisions as well. If you were an "L," you could be a femme lipstick lesbian or a butch diesel dyke or a baby dyke or a rebel grrrrl. The "G"s were even worse. They divided up along the lines of homebodies and club kids, bears and twinks, jocks and geeks, punks and preppies. Just about any group could be counted on to have its polar opposite among the Gs. If you were a "B," you could be mostly opposite-sex oriented or mostly same-sex oriented or any other permutation you can imagine. And among the "T"s there were lines of demarcation between those born with some degree of both genders physically and those whose gender identity didn't match their physical bodies ... not to mention the differing issues between male-to-female and female-to-males transexuals.

No one was just gay anymore. In the interest of pitching a big tent to be all-inclusive and politically correct, we began the process of hyphenating the community to death. Where once we had "camp," as in campy humor, now we have camps, as in warring camps ready to battle each other at the slightest whim or the whimsiest slight.

It's little wonder that the *s are having none of it. They may not know what they want to call themselves, but they can look at the previous generation and see a path they don't want to follow.