Friday 7 September 2012

Quite Unusually Interesting Literary Taxonomy, Bestiary And Glossary, or, what's in a name

kaberettPosted by kaberett

Names have power (warning: TVTropes). So do categories.

And that, boys and girls and everyone else, summarises what I want to talk with you about today.

Let's start with a little personal background: I use my chosen names in all walks of life. Online and on stage I'm kaberett; elsewhere, neither my forename nor my surname are the ones I was given. These are my choices and in them lie power - but not all of it is mine: among the ways family, and family friends, can assert their power over me is to continue using my given name.

Here's another thing: I'm queer. That's queer as in fuck you I don't want your assumptions about the gender binary; I don't want your assumptions about my attractions; I don't want your assumptions about what my relationships look like; and I don't want your assumptions about what I do with my body. I am tired of having to explain myself in closely-argued essays in order to be taken seriously. Sod the essays and the justifications and the "but it's just so haaaaaard to understand": I am done with that crap.

For today, anyway. Gentle reader, I apologise: you find me rather less forgiving than my usual.

... so. Labels, categories and names: they're important. Imposed on us, they box us in; chosen, they're perhaps more like a flower-pot, if you'll excuse the over-extended metaphor: good to begin with, but sooner or later we'll find we've grown and our roots are getting cramped, and either we beg people to give us more space or we break out ourselves, to find victory in terracotta shards.

And I feel that that's more or less what we, as a community, are constantly doing. There's been a shift, over the years, from "lesbian and gay" to "LGB" to "LGBT" (and for most of that time, it seems "gay" has been considered an acceptable shorthand for the umbrella - but let's leave that for another day...), and increasingly toward terms such as LGBTQ, LGBT+, QUILTBAG, GSM and so on.

Closest to home, Lashings has reflected that in our name as a collective. Sebastienne talks about our history in one of the early postings on this blog, What is Burlesque? In it, she says:
So I ranted, to anyone who would listen, about the things that Enid Blyton had left in my psyche; and, at some point in one of these rants, I happened to trip over the the phrase "Lashings of Ginger Beer". (Purists would wish me to point out at this juncture that Blyton herself never used this phrase; it was in fact invented by a group of alternative comics in the 1980s.) I noticed that it carries a few unintended connotations - the 'Lashings' referring to BDSM, 'Ginger Beer' being cockney rhyming slang for 'Queer', and the initials spelling 'LGB'. It seemed the perfect name for something - still unformed and nebulous at this stage - which I would use to fight back against the cultural orthodoxies which damage us.
That's how we started out.  And here's my understanding of how we developed: as soon as the group noticed the acronym, it was obvious that the T was missing. Accidental acronyms are acronyms nonetheless: and so is accidental erasure. So the shows became "Lashings of Ginger Beer Time", while the act remained Lashings of Ginger Beer - spot the blog URL and the twitter handle - and it's only relatively recently that we've begun calling ourselves Lashings of Ginger Beer Time. But here's a sad thing: while it's obvious where the confusion has come from, it's still very common for people to shorten our name to "Lashings of Ginger Beer" - and as I note above, unintentional erasure is nonetheless erasure.

Which leads me to a request: if you're going to shorten our name, please please please shorten it to "Lashings" or "LoGBT" instead.

The T gets left out (I'm looking at you, Stonewall) or marginalised enough already: think LGBTea, LGBTories, and so on. In my shoutier moments, I feel like this is indicative and damning of a mainstream that thinks of trans* people as an afterthought, to be pushed to the edge of the umbrella or replaced whenever possible, and that pisses me off. I do not exist so you can feel inclusive while you cutesify me out of existence. You can get back to me on this when you've set up TLBGames nights.

(Do not even get me started on the psychiatrist who described me as having a "well-rehearsed narrative, with nomenclature apparently provided by the TGL (Transsexual, Gay, Lesbian) community".)

That doesn't fix the whole of the problem, though: I've already talked about our need to expand our umbrella, to make it more inclusive. I've mentioned QUILTBAG twice: once in passing, and once in the title. It's an extension of the acronym, which is typically expanded "queer/questioning, undecided, intersex, lesbian, trans, bisexual, asexual, gay".

Leaving aside the issue of the "queer/questioning" collision (I am no more confused than are bisexuals, thank you so kindly), I still think we've got problems here: getting more people out of the rain of piss descending from on kyriarchal high is important, and being inclusive of as many as possible is part of that. (I dare you to try telling your local university's LGBT campaign that.) But... again, with this we are running into sentences and paragraphs of explanations, and we're still, inevitably, excluding people: is it actually an improvement to achieve ever greater lengths in a job we can never be good enough at? Where every time we want to add another letter - welcome more people - we have to have the same, tired arguments about whether they (we) count, whether we should be included, and spend hours and blood and tears convincing people all over again?

The compromise I'm fighting for at my university is a shift toward LGBT+ or LGBT*. It's not perfect: it's somewhat othering, it's tedious to work around in URLs and e-mail addresses - but for me it's got the benefits of being short, recognisable, and of making an awful lot of space out of a single character.

My current favourite, though? GSM, also mentioned above. "Gender and sexuality minorities". It's short. It's to the point. It gives the finger to the idea that it's somehow complicated to understand who we are and what ties us together. And, alas, it suffers acronym clash with a standard governing mobile telephony.

Which brings me around to this: repeatedly renaming Lashings is not really a good solution: ignoring all other considerations, the title of this post is an example of what happens when you let a bunch of sleep-deprived Lashers loose on an acronym. What we can do, though, is ask that people use appropriate short forms of our name, and more importantly? We can keep holding ourselves to account, keep making ourselves visible, keep making space for people who aren't yet with us, and most of all, we can keep listening.

So, please: come in. Sit down. As in Edinburgh, we'll ask you: pronouns? And how do you take your tea? And what's your favourite acronym? And what can we do better?

We'd love to know the answers.


  1. Princess Jetbeard7 September 2012 at 16:42

    Personally, I'm all in favour of 'queer' being used wherever LGBT would traditionally be used. However, as it has been used as oppressive language, it does feel slightly problematic when the terminology is used in certain ways by straight¹ people. I have no problem with straight people saying 'queer community', 'queer liberation', but hearing 'you queers' and other such things from straight people would put me on edge. So I can definitely see why people would prefer a neologism (usually in the form of an acronym).

    I've heard people say that 'GSRM' ('R' for romantic) is more inclusive, though a counter-argument would be that now we're just forming an acronym by adding letters for categories of categories.

    Wonderful post, as always.

    ¹I feel that 'queer' includes trans* people and I use 'straight' to mean precisely the opposite of 'queer'. However, I know there are some transsexuals who positively identify as 'straight' so this usage may confuse issues.

    1. I totally agree that there are massive problems with out-group usage of "queer" as a noun rather than an adjective (same as nouning any other descriptor historically applied to oppressed groups!).

      As a genderqueer person, I'm pretty happy applying "queer" to all parts of my identity, but as you say I'm super-aware that that's not a thing that's comfortable for everyone. Particularly when it comes to including trans* people, one of the things I've been gently pushing within Lashings is using "straight and cis" - I guess as part of making another facet of privilege more obvious to audience members who might not necessarily consider that aspect?

      I hadn't seen GSRM before - thank you for introducing me to it!

      And I'm so glad you enjoyed the post :-)

  2. Interesting post. I had not heard of GSM as an acronym for something other than phones before, and I think I like it. I've also seen QUILTBAG? which splits out the questioning to the question mark. But yes, after a while, the alphabet soup can get a little silly...

    As for tea and pronouns: I prefer female pronouns ("she", "her"), although I'm comfortable with "they" pronouns being used in my direction... and I generally don't prefer tea at all, although I do make the occasional exception.

  3. A friend, fyre@livejournal, was having difficulty commenting and asked me to leave the below on their behalf:

    Why use LGBT*? Why not just *? It's time we (the worldwide community as a whole) started encompassing everyone... Because, really, we've all been there, questioning at some point. Even my homophobic father admitted to what he called "worrisome feelings" when he was a pre-teen/teen.

    I would be very proud, I think, to be a *... It would also lend a sense of much-needed humility to the community, once people started realizing that perhaps _everyone_ is - to some degree - just like them.

  4. Loved this post. Speaks to a lot of my underlying worries about identity and labels and boxes even when applied to myself, let alone to other people. I don't really have much to add, but I wanted to say that that psychiatrist sounds DREADFUL. I don't want to put words in your mouth (or feelings in your mind), but I know if someone said that about me I would feel nothing but white hot rage. A "well-rehearsed narrative"? Patronising, erasing, paternalistic, assumptive, arrogant ... seriously, the list of negative adjectives is never-ending!

    1. I'm in the second round of complaints, and gearing up to sue ;)