Queer 101: Alphabet Soup
Hello, hello, hello, queer humans and allies of Kenyon College! To those who are returning to us, welcome back, and to all you freshmen out there, welcome! This is ♦ Queer 101 ♦, The Thrill’s main source for all things LGBTQIA+! Since a bunch of new people have just arrived on campus from many, many different places, this week’s post is going to be a big overview of the different ways people might identify within the queer community, where you can go to learn about identities you’ve never heard of before, and how you can respect a person’s sexual orientation/gender even though you might not know too much about what it is. So let’s all sit down, grab a blanket, and dig in to some nice, warm alphabet soup (of the queer persuasion, of course). Side note: you might want to go where there’s air conditioning for this one. I personally don’t really like drinking scalding soup in eighty plus degree weather. Also, the following lists are in no particular order.
What Is Alphabet Soup?
Besides being a delicious meal that comes in cylindrical tin cans, “alphabet soup” is a phrase used to refer to all the different ways members of the LGBTQIA+ community can identify (see all those letters? Yep, there are a lot of them– hence the term “alphabet soup”). Sometimes it’s used in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, to point out the ridiculousness of having five million identifiers for those who would rather not pin themselves down to a single orientation/gender (which is chill, by the way! To each their own. Always respect how people choose to identify). However, for the majority of the queer community, learning about the different letters in LGBTQIA+ alphabet soup can help members find an identity and/or a group that shares similar experiences to their own. It’s important to note that some identifiers make certain people feel uncomfortable because of the negative history behind those identifiers. Therefore, please be respectful when discussing peoples’ identities and remember that another person’s sexuality is none of your business unless they want it to be.
A Quick Disclaimer
Before we begin, I’d like to talk a little bit about my own identity. I usually wouldn’t do this because it’s mostly irrelevant to Queer 101 as a whole, but since this is a segment where I’m discussing many different sexual orientations and gender identities, I feel like it might be beneficial to admit that I don’t have firsthand experience with All Things Queer™. I identify for the most part as a woman, and I refer to myself as gay. I’m a part of the queer community, but there are many identities and orientations that I personally will not be able to speak to. If anything is ever amiss in any Queer 101 article, or if there’s information you as a reader would like to add, I highly encourage you to put it in the ‘Comments’ section below, contact The Thrill, and/or submit your own article.
LGBTQIA+ vs. Queer
Before getting into specific identifiers within the queer/LGBTQIA+ community, it’s very important to know how the community refers to itself. Despite the fact that they’re often used interchangeably, the terms “queer” and “LGBTQIA+” are quite different (and it’s not just because one is thirty seconds longer than the other). The term “LGBTQIA+” or “LGBTQ+” is much safer to use when talking about your queer compatriots, especially if you’re not a member of our community. The letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, intersex, and asexual, and the “plus” stands for all other identities not covered by those seven umbrella terms. Remember that it’s important to include the “plus” when saying “LGBTQ+” or “LGBTQIA+” because it acknowledges the existence of other identities that are just as valid and as important as the seven listed above. LGBTQ+/LGBTQIA+ is a more neutral term because it was developed by and for the queer community to show a sense of unity in times of adversity. “Queer” on the other hand has been used in the past as a derogatory slur. As you can see, the queer community has recently reclaimed this term, especially since it’s a monosyllabic, non-specific way to refer to all aspects of being LGBTQIA+ without having to pin someone down to a specific identity or orientation. However, we still need to be careful when using this phrase. Not everyone is comfortable with being referred to as queer (especially older generations of LGBTQ+ community members). As you can see, this segment is called “Queer 101,” so a lot of us enjoy the flexibility that comes with the term (particularly those who aren’t attracted to or affiliated with a specific gender). Whatever your personal preference, it’s still important to think about where “queer” came from so we can understand why some people don’t want to use it. My advice is to avoid referring to someone as “queer” (especially if you’re not a member of the queer community), unless they have previously done so themselves.
All righty. Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to explore some specific sexual orientations. The following words are all used to refer to someone’s sexuality, a.k.a who they are attracted to. Does this have to do with gender? Yes. Is it the same as gender? No. These are two different concepts that interact in various complicated ways. Neither are indicative of the other and both are equally important. Anyway, without further ado, let’s learn about some sexual identities!
Disclaimer: this is not a comprehensive list, nor is it complete. Most of these words are umbrella terms which have several subcategories that are often slightly different from the umbrella term itself.
- Gay: Chances are you’ve probably heard of this one, even if you’re not a member of the queer community. It’s usually used to refer to men who are attracted to other men. However, women often use it as well to indicate that they’re attracted to other women. This is because some women are uncomfortable with the term “lesbian,” which will be explained when we get to that word. Another fun fact about the word “gay” is that it doesn’t necessarily mean “attracted to the same gender.” People who identify as gay can be attracted to genderqueer people! Furthermore, people who identify as bisexual/pansexual, etc. can occasionally refer to themselves as gay. This is kind of tricky because it can be to protect themselves from judgment or discrimination. It can also be used in passing to refer to their attraction to people of the same gender as themselves. However, and here’s the clincher, you need to be very careful about the term “gay” with people who are bi/pan, etc. because YOU DO NOT WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN BISEXUAL ERASURE. People who are attracted to multiple genders have faced and continue to face identity erasure and discrimination both within and outside the queer community. Your first duty as a friend and/or ally is to respect everyone no matter how they identify, so as a general rule just avoid calling bi/pan/etc. people “gay,” unless they’ve explicitly and truthfully told you they’re okay with it.
- Lesbian: For the most part, this term is explicitly used for women who are only attracted to women. Some people are uncomfortable with this term since it’s very gendered and feels a little old school. It’s also a complicated term for transwomen who are attracted to women. Transwomen can be lesbians (obviously), but again, since the term is so gendered it might feel a bit weird for some people. Just be careful and respectful, and stick to the terms people use to describe themselves.
- Bisexual: People who are attracted to one’s own gender and another gender/other genders. That’s right, everyone. It can be more than two! It’s not quite the same as being pansexual, even though the two are very similar. The difference has a lot to do with gender, but even more to do with how people prefer to identify.
- Pansexual: Gender never or rarely factors into attraction, and/or being attracted to all genders/lack thereof.
- Questioning: People who are unsure of their sexual orientation, or are just beginning to explore it in new ways. Yes, people are very welcome in queer spaces if they’re questioning! They’re valid members of the queer community no matter how they choose to identify, even if they don’t choose to affiliate with a specific orientation at all.
- Asexual: Those who are on the asexual or ace spectrum experience little to no attraction to others in many different ways. “Ace” is an umbrella term, which means those who identify as aromantic (those who experience little or no emotional/romantic feelings in relationships), asexual (someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others), are in queerplatonic relationships (where you have a companion that isn’t necessarily a romantic partner, but is a more intense and/or committed relationship than casual friendship, akin to life partnership), and more all fall somewhere on the ace spectrum. It is a spectrum, so identifying as ace means different things for different people. It can signify anything from not wanting to be touched at all to enjoying kissing/cuddling only to going as far as sex, but only in specific situations and with a specific person. Please be aware that even talking about or watching movies with sexual themes can be upsetting to people. Respect what others are comfortable with and notice when someone is feeling uncomfortable. Let’s be mindful of boundaries, people! We don’t want to be disrespecting someone’s sexuality in 2016.
- Polyamory: A consensual, ethical relationship in which there are multiple partners involved and everyone is aware that there are multiple partners involved.
- Skoliosexual: Attracted to anyone who identifies with trans and/or genderqueer gender expressions (so basically, attracted to anyone who isn’t cisgender).
- Demisexual: Sexual attraction doesn’t occur until a strong romantic relationship is formed. Demisexuality appears on the ace spectrum (see number six above).
Say it with me: gender and sexuality are not the same. Now say it again. And again. And again and again and again until it’s stuck forever in your brain. Even though gender and sexuality are different, both are still important parts of the queer community and queer identities. The following list is not a complete list of all possible gender identities/affiliations/presentations. However, it’s a good place to start.
Side note: connected to the conversation about gender is the conversation about pronouns! If you want to take a look at Queer 101’s previous article on pronoun usage, you can find it here.
- Transgender: An umbrella term to define anyone who doesn’t identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.
- Transwoman: Women who were assigned male at birth.
- Transman: Men who were assigned female at birth.
- Genderqueer: A genderqueer person is anyone who categorizes their gender and/or gender presentation as queer.
- Agender: Someone who is does not identify with any gender whatsoever.
- Bigender: Someone who identifies with multiple genders.
- Nonbinary: Someone who identifies with a gender outside the gender binary (man/woman).
- Demigirl: Someone who loosely identifies as a woman, and/or identifies as a woman plus another gender identity.
- Demiboy: Someone who loosely identifies as a man, and/or identifies as a man plus another gender identity.
But Wait, There’s More!
The sexual orientations and genders/lack thereof that I have just described to you are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more ways for members of the queer community to present and identify. If you’re curious about the terms listed above or would like to learn about any terms that aren’t listed above, I suggest that you contact the representatives of Unity House, Qdubs, QMS, or Kenyon’s Gender Group. If there’s something you’d like Queer 101 to explore, you can either contact The Thrill or submit your own Queer 101! Fun fact: you can submit to the thrill anonymously, which means your name won’t be published because we won’t even know who you are!
Anyway, hope all of you are having a wonderful first couple of weeks, and good luck to all the freshmen out there! I hope all of you have a wonderful first year.