I recently noticed some search terms popping up with folks looking for other ways to say LGBT. They probably found my rant on how LGBT is not a synonym for gay. I certainly stand by that. But what is a good synonym for LGBTQ+?
The best I’ve got is gender and sexual minorities or GSM for short. I like this phrase because it’s clear and inclusive. I like that instead of trying to name each specific minority experience–an impossible project that will always leave someone out–it just points out the axes of experience we’re talking about. It’s a logical grouping; gender and sexuality are so intimately related. Gender and sexual minorities are everyone from lesbian, gay, bi and trans people to asexual, nonbinary and queer people, to kinky and poly people, and more.
In casual settings, I frequently use queer as a synonym for LGBTQ+. It’s not a perfect fit. A lot of people, especially LGBTQ+ folks of the older generation, are just not down with the word queer. And a lot of queer people feel that being queer is quite distinct from being, say, plain old gay, because it includes a certain critical, anti-assimilationist attitude. Still, it rolls off the tongue, and people invariably know what I mean.
In theory, GSM is my preferred term, and queer is not. But in practice, I haven’t fully integrated GSM into my vocabulary, and despite its imperfections, I say queer all the time.
What are your favorite alternatives to LGBTQ+?
A reader writes,
It seems like the trans movement is at a watershed moment right now. Where would you like to see the movement go in the next 10 years? What should our goals be, and what pitfalls should we try to avoid?
Thank you for these interesting and important questions! I appreciate the chance to explore the topic. This is an amazing moment for the trans community. We are reaching new levels of mainstream acceptance and visibility, and we are connected, organized, and engaged like never before. I’ll first discuss some benchmarks I’d love to see us reach in the next decade. Then, I’ll examine our priorities–including a few things I hope won’t become priorities.
It’s difficult to answer this question concisely, because trans equality is intimately connected to justice for all people. Trans people are of every race, religion, gender, nationality, ability, class, sexual orientation, etc. We will never be really free while there are violence and oppression in the world. However, I will focus this post on a few issues specific to the trans communities I know and inhabit.
Before I dive in, a caveat. This is just my take as one trans dude/blogger/small-time activist. My thoughts reflect my position as a middle class, light-skinned, Jewish transsexual man in the US. I would love to hear different ideas and different perspectives on this. I’d like to invite others to offer their own answers to the questions above.
The Trans Movement in 2025
How will things change for the trans movement over the next 10 years? I don’t know, but here are four things I’d love to see.
In 10 years, I would like it to be safe to walk down the street as a transgender person. Being visibly trans or gender-nonconforming should not put a person at risk of discrimination, harassment or violence. As a transsexual man who hasn’t been misgendered in years, I am quite safe. Many trans people do not have this basic freedom, and it’s no coincidence that trans women, people of color and poor folks are all at greater risk.
I am nauseated to admit I do not think we will get there in 10 years. But safety is, of course, an essential goal. I recognize there are many places and situations where people aren’t safe, period, regardless of gender identity, expression or history. Still, I feel I have to put this at the top of the list. This is what I would most like to see: that we can move through our own communities without fear.
How we’ll know we’re there. The TDOR list will stop getting longer.
2. Healthcare & Transition
Many people are not able to access medically necessary, life-saving care because they happen to be transgender. In 10 years, I would like to see the disappearance of healthcare discrimination and much expanded access to transition.
It is unspeakably horrible that people are denied emergency attention or cancer treatment just because they are trans. In terms of transition, if we in the US still have our horrible health care system, I would at a minimum like to see transition care covered by insurance.
I would like to see policy changes that give trans people reasonable avenues to update their legal sex (some encouraging recent developments on this; when I changed my sex on my Social Security record just 4 years ago, I had to prove I’d had surgery, and that’s not the case now). I would love to see some kind of option for genderqueer people (and others who are neither male nor female) to reflect their gender on their records, if that is something nonbinary people want.
How we’ll know we’re there. People won’t die waiting for care that will never come just because they are transgender. People won’t have to get hormones on the street or forgo needed surgery because it’s too expensive. We won’t be walking around with mismatched identity documents (unless we want to be!).
3. Awareness & Acceptance
Transphobia and cissexism aren’t disappearing anytime soon. But I’d love to see us make huge gains in public opinion, and I think that’s possible.
In 10 years, I’d like “transgender” to be a concept that more or less all adults understand. I’d like the mainstream to have a basic sense of compassion and respect for trans people. There will undoubtedly be hold-outs who despise us. I hope they will, indeed, be hold-outs, left behind while the public learns to live alongside us. There are signs this is beginning to happen, but we have a really long way to go. This visibility ought to include nonbinary people as well as transsexual women and men, of course.
How we’ll know we’re there. There will be trans characters in popular books, movies and shows (this is starting to happen). Most people will have met at least one openly trans person (like the situation of gays & lesbians in the US now). There will be openly trans people in various occupations and roles. In many jurisdictions, it will be both illegal and unpopular to discriminate against us.
4. Mental Health
Being trans shouldn’t be a near-guarantee of depression and suicidal ideation. I would like to see greatly improved mental health within our community. If we’re safe, if we’re largely accepted, if we can access transition–that will go a long, long way towards alleviating our collective misery. I would also like to see mental health professionals improve and update their understanding of trans issues, so we can easily find professionals who know how to work with us (and, hopefully, actually afford mental health services–see number 2!).
How we’ll know we’re there. Suicide & suicide attempt rates for trans people will be close to the rates of the general population. Family members will by and large support transgender loved ones.
What about goals and potential pitfalls? I really see just one issue here. Our priority should always be improving conditions for our whole community. We should let the most dire issues and the needs of the most vulnerable among us set the agenda. I hope that in 10 years, the trans movement will continue to be a vibrant, diverse coalition. I hope we will continue to address urgent causes, to question systems of oppression, to offer intersectional interpretations of power. I hope we will not take on an assimilationist focus that mainly serves trans people who are already privileged by race, class, etc. That is the pitfall that worries me–that instead of conditions improving for trans people in general, there will be widening inequality within the trans community.
What do you think? Where would you like to see the trans community in 2025?
UPDATE (7/10/14, 5:00pm): Several readers have let me know that I over-stepped by wading into this debate as a binary trans person. Thanks for giving me this feedback and for doing it so politely. I apologize and I can see how I distracted from a necessary in-group conversation. If I could do it over, I’d address the topic in a very different way, sticking to my own experiences and making it more clear that it’s up to nonbinary folks to decide this one. My bad. Thanks to everyone who’s shared their thoughts so far.
Topherbigelow makes the case for adding N for nonbinary to the LGBTQ+ acronym:
If the LGBT community would like to stand strong in its support of all sexual and gender “minorities,” we should add an “N” to accommodate our nonbinary members. The constant pissing contests of who’s more trans needs to stop and if there is an entirely separate letter and a new vocabulary, maybe it will.
If you don’t identify with your sex assigned at birth, you are a nonconformer. If you identify with another binary gender, you’re trans. If you don’t, you’re nonbinary. It’s really not hard. Stop fighting each other and start fighting for what we all need.
First, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment in that last sentence. “Trans enough” policing is a damaging waste of time. Instead, we should work together to improve conditions for all of us.
I’ve never heard this proposal before, and it really got me thinking. Thanks to topherbigelow for raising this interesting question. I want to make clear that I am not trying to refute anything he said, just to explain my own current thinking on the matter.
At this time, I am not in favor of adding N for nonbinary to the acronym. I am not dead-set against it; as a transsexual man, I will defer to my nonbinary comrades if a consensus emerges in favor of the N. Nonbinary readers are encouraged to weigh-in in the comments. For now, I’d like to share a preliminary assessment of the idea. I lay out my concerns with making the acronym any longer, and then discuss some reasons I think nonbinary folks belong within the trans umbrella.
First, an argument from parsimony. The LGBTQ+ acronym has already been elaborated to the point that very few people are going to use or understand its longer incarnations. For example, topherbigelow uses the acronym LGBTQQIAAHP (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies, HIV infected/affected, poly/pansexual). Wow! I admire the inclusiveness of this acronym. I also worry it’s too much of a mouthful to be of much use, especially offline. I have been an activist for gender and sexual minorities for over a decade, I read LGBTQ+ blogs every day, and I had never heard this version. Off the top of my head, the longest version I know is LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual)–already too long for many situations.
I think it’s fair to say that many people, including many who are gender and/or sexual minorities themselves, are not going to understand this terminology. We have to strike a balance between explicitly including different parts of our community and using terms that will be understood by as many as possible. Language is useful only to the extent it allows us to communicate. Since nonbinary people are already included in the term transgender–though it’s true that not enough people realize this–I wonder how much is to be gained by adding yet another letter.
That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, however. I think we should continue to work for greater visibility of nonbinary people within the trans umbrella. Binary and nonbinary trans people do have our differences–but we also have so many similarities. We face stigma and ignorance that is heavily overlapping; the same laws bar (or fail to bar) discrimination as against us; we struggle with shame and misgendered childhoods.
Many of the differences–pronoun preference, medical care needs, legal document changes–exist within as well as between these groups. For example, hormone therapy is associated with trans men and women. I do think it’s probably true that trans men and women are more likely to seek out hormone therapy than nonbinary folks. However, there are some trans men and women who don’t take hormones, and some nonbinary people who do.
The variation within groups goes even deeper. How much do an 18-year-old queer, radical trans woman of color and a 50-year-old straight, white, Republican man of transsexual history really have in common? Just one thing: their sex assignment at birth differs from their real gender. That’s something they both have in common with any nonbinary person, too. Because of the tyrannical sex/gender regime, that one thing turns out to be really damn important.
In my time in our communities, I have learned so much from nonbinary people who have courageously spoken up in person, in print and online. I was often there to hear them precisely because we had connected through the label “transgender.” Though the mainstream conception of trans people is still basically transsexual men and women, I see much potential for further acknowledgement of our nonbinary kin, and I think a lot of good would come from that. I worry that adding an N would cause nonbinary people to get booted out of a community whether they have just started to make a real home.
Again, though, I am aware I say this as a trans man. It may well be that my privilege is hiding the true depth of the rifts among gender-nonconforming people.
What’s your take on all this? Nonbinary folks are especially encouraged to comment.
I enjoyed this recent article on Outward about celibate LGBT Christians. What is the place of celibate people in the LGBT community? And what is the relationship among religion, the choice to partner or be celibate, and LGBT lives?
Although author Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart throws around “LGBT” and “LGBTQ” like free condoms at a Pride parade, the piece is really about celibate gay and lesbian Christians, as far as I can tell. These are not ex-gay culture warriors, but people who accept and openly share their gay/lesbian orientations, who choose a life of celibacy in accordance with their religious convictions. Unfortunately, celibate gay/lesbian Christians face ignorance and hostility both in their conservative Christian communities and in the mainstream LGBT community. This question is a bit different for trans people, as sex and marriage aren’t the be-all, end-all of acceptance issues for us. However, I think there are also some transgender people who embrace their gender identities and choose celibacy based on the teachings of their traditions.
First, I’d like to say I have total respect for all LGBT people who are making meaningful lives that work for them. We’re not all the same, and we don’t have to be. We can respect each other and work together, and live very different lives–indeed, we already do.
One complaint with the article: Vitiello Urquhart sets up a dichotomy between religious, celibate, LGBT Christians on the one hand, and the mainstream, secular LGBT community on the other. These two groups both exist, but they are far from the whole story.
This convenience obscures several important axes of diversity among LGBT people. First, of course, Christianity is not the only religion with LGBT followers. There are many LGBT people within Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Native American religions, etc. Within these religions are many communities, with different views on LGBT issues. And there are also many Christian communities that support sex and marriage for LGBT people.
I imagine this issue in terms of 4 possible perspectives:
Sex & marriage permitted
Sex & marriage permitted
To be complete, the conversation must span the full range of viewpoints in our community. That means including religions beyond Christianity, and viewpoints beyond just 1 and 4. Viewpoint 3 is held by pretty much no one and not all that relevant, so count that out.
But what about viewpoint 2–religious people who support sex and marriage for LGBT people? We make up sizeable contingents of both LGBT people and religious people. What those holding views 1 and 4 may not understand is that we support full inclusion for LGBT people directly because of our religious beliefs.
My own views on LGBT acceptance are grounded in my faith and the teachings of my tradition. This runs so deep, I’m not even sure how to capture it. I can cite verses and traditions that support my views, but really, this isn’t about one teaching–this about the basic orientation of Judaism to human life. Consider this story.
A man wanted to convert to Judaism, on one peculiar condition: that a rabbi could teach him the whole of the Torah while he stood on one foot (i.e., very quickly). Continue reading