Lyla Cicero breaks down all those letters in the gender, sexual orientation, and sexuality spectrum, and even proposes adding a couple more letters to the already-lengthy acronym.
People often ask me “what do all those letters stand for, anyway?” I’m not quite sure why they ask me, since most don’t know I belong in that alphabet soup somewhere. But they ask, and I’m glad, because I think they should know. However, there is a part of me that’s annoyed by the question, and thinks, “come on, people, keep up, it’s not rocket science.” Of course, there are those who don’t know “what all those letters stand for” because they don’t want to, due to ignorance or hatred. But there are also well-meaning allies who are having a hard time keeping up. Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who fit within that list of letters, or a longer one we haven’t come up with yet, who don’t even know it. It is confusing. It should be. That list of letters keeps growing and growing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite. We probably need the whole alphabet to cover them.
I have this fantasy that one day when there are more of us who fit under the “queer” umbrella than don’t, it will finally be clear that we are all “sexual minorities.”
This is not at all to diminish the experience of people who have to live, openly or not, as sexual minorities in our culture right now. But perhaps the reason they are in the “minority” is because of how many others are still closeted in various ways. How many people must be out there who have never spent much time considering their sexual orientations or gender identities due to compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender-normativity, and/or compulsory sexual vanilla-ism in our culture? And how many simply don’t fit labels our culture has yet produced?
I mean, honestly, how many of us have “normal,” monogamous sex, one man, one woman, in missionary position, nothing “dirty,” no bondage-discipline-dominance-submission-sado-masochism-kinky stuff, no outside partners, no shared partners, only clean, run-of-the-mill fantasies, barely any foreplay necessary, easy “normal” orgasms, vaginal for the women, no clitoral stimulation needed, male gets hard easily, cums at just the right moment, no props, no toys, no porn, male in the dominant-but-not-too-aggressive role, woman in the submissive or seductive-but-still-respectable role, only “normal” masturbation in between, like our televisions tell us to?
And how many of us fit neatly and comfortably into one of two biological sexes, as well as the gender identity and gender role identity that our culture would dictate?
One of the main reasons the acronym that formed around sexual orientations (LGB) has become murky is that the categories those letters cover keeps expanding. When the gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender movements merged, a gender identity category was added to a list of sexual orientations. I believe this was a pivotal point at which our society began to wrestle with how gender variance can interplay and overlap with sexual orientation. This also opened the door for new identities such as “genderqueer” to emerge. The term “queer” also became the label of choice for those who sought a more inclusive category, in some cases to avoid having to choose either a sexual orientation or gender identity label. Queer has also been utilized by many who gravitate toward labels that haven’t gained status in the official acronym yet, like genderqueer and pansexual. Finally, queer can be a political stance for allies or others who don’t necessarily ascribe to specific “queer” identities, but take on a “queer” stance or perspective.
Transgender calls into question the assumed match between biological sex and gender identity. Intersex, also typically one of the commonly accepted “sexual minorities,” represents the 2% of the population who don’t fit neatly into existing biological categories of male and female according to Arlene Lev, author of Transgender Emergence. If genderqueer and androgynous became part of the sexual minority acronym, it would represent yet another identity category, this time for those whose gender identities do not fit neatly into male/female gender categories. Transgender, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex are all identities which call into question the gender binary.
For me, pansexual is a label that defies labels. It pulls the rug out from under the gender binary as well as earlier concepts of sexual orientation, by separating sexual/affectional orientation from binary notions of gender. It is essentially a refusal to define sexual orientation based on gender. For some, it even calls into question the boundaries between sex/love relationships and non-romantic relationships. To me, it is an identity category that expands, rather than narrows who can be and how. As someone seeking to choose partners and set up my relationships and lifestyle based on criteria other than gender, I wasn’t sure how I fit into the queer spectrum until I discovered pansexuality. I think I always identified with being queer, but I never felt entitled to identify as queer until I heard this term. I am only identified as queer now because our culture was creative enough to produce such a concept. How many other queer folks are out there for whom we don’t yet have labels?
Asexual, an identity which is often included within the sexual minority acronym, represents yet another identity type, this time regarding one’s level of interest in sex or identification as a sexual being.
“Questioning” doesn’t necessarily imply what one is questioning, further muddying the waters, but potentially drawing in more folks who are either unsure how they fit under the queer umbrella, or again, may ascribe to identities not yet defined.
Other potential categories relate to those sexual minorities who do not structure relationships around monogamy. Polyamorists are candidates for inclusion in our acronym, in addition to those who are “sexual minorities” by virtue of the less common sexual practices and/or sexual roles they take on, particularly those within the kink community. “K” would cover those who practice bondage and discipline, dominance-submission and/or sado-masochism, as well as those with an incredibly diverse set of fetishes and preferences. According to survey data, around 15% of adults engage in some form of consensual sexual activity along the “kink” spectrum. This is a higher percentage than those who identify as gay or lesbian.
This is my official petition to add the letters “P” and “K” to the more widely accepted LGBTQIA acronym, and to emphasize other “A” and “G” identities. This would make room not only for myself, but for all those who already identify as genderqueer, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and those who are part of the kink community. Perhaps seeing those additional letters will help some of the folks out there who haven’t been exposed to these identities understand themselves a bit better and feel they too have a place in the queer community.
LGGBTQQIAAPPK? The categories of human sex and gender expression and identities they could represent is likely infinite. If that acronym looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated “sexual minorities” while the rest of the human race is “normal” and fairly similar. The truth is the level of diversity in our sexual lives as human beings means we are all sexual minorities. As accepted and culturally understood identity categories continue to arise, this will become more and more apparent. Perhaps the “queer” community is, in fact, becoming more accurately described as the community of people who acknowledge the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and seek to be open to exploring that diversity within themselves and the culture at large.
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.