LGBTQI .... CAN'T REMEMBER
BY ROSS HUNTER
Most liberally minded people – that is, liberals who truly encompass the egalitarian ethic of liberalism that all individuals are of equal worth and should have the greatest possible say over their own lives – would agree that the encompassing nature of the gay rights movement is a good thing. As the years have gone by the LGBT+ movement has added letters to its acronym as proudly as a cub scout would sport new badges on his lapel. Each letter represents the inclusion of a community into a movement that values their identity and attempts to make it easier for them to exist in society without discrimination or discomfort. This is clearly something that people who believe in personal liberty and freedom of expression will be supportive of, right?
Funnily enough the inclusion of various gender identities and sexualities into a movement that attempts to free people from harm is irritating those on both sides of the political spectrum. While it is unsurprising that figures like Piers Morgan view people who identify as non-binary ‘a contagion’, it is a somewhat strange occurrence that even those heavily involved in LGBT+ activism, such as Peter Tatchell, are often found to condemn the ever-escalating acronym as ‘ridiculous’. Evidently, these are different issues; Morgan’s spite comes from a place of intolerance whereas Tatchell merely dislikes the term used to describe the group of which he is part. However, these issues are, I think, related.
Recently Pink News published an article that stated anyone who found the LGBTQI acronym troublesome was being purposefully illiberal. The writer, Josh Jackman, stated that it was facetious to suggest people found it difficult to remember the acronym when they were able to remember plenty of other things, like the names of over ten countries or colours. There is, however, an element of insincerity to this statement. While it is true that the human capacity for memory means we are able to learn and remember various new things every day, Jackman seems to misunderstand the very purpose of an acronym. The issue is not that people are unwilling to learn about different gender and sexual identities – although some, like Morgan, clearly are – but rather that the inaccessibility of the acronym (and its complete uselessness as a “short hand” term) makes them disinclined to learn about them in the first place.
During the May of 2010 technology tycoon Elon Musk sent an e-mail to his employees at SpaceX – his space exploration company – entitled ‘Acronyms Seriously Suck’. In the e-mail he discouraged his employees from using unnecessary acronyms that complicated communication instead of simplifying it. The employees of SpaceX were, at that point, utilizing acronyms so much that soon enough an entire glossary of all the different terms would need to be handed to new employees. Musk put a stop to this because in many instances the acronyms only served to confuse people: ‘No one can actually remember all these acronyms and people don’t want to seem dumb in a meeting so they just sit there in ignorance’. In many instances at SpaceX the acronym took more time to understand than if the writer had simply given it its proper name. He made it clear to the SpaceX community that the use of pointless acronyms was, from that point onwards, entirely prohibited. Of course, some acronyms were necessary; but, as he so astutely wrote, the key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication.
And so surely the test for the LGBTQ and so forth acronym is to ask whether it is aiding communication to the wider populace or, in fact, hindering it. Consistently adding new letters to our nomenclature ensures that people think we continually add new identities to the canon, even though every letter in the acronym stands for an identity that has feasibly been around forever. Add to this the fact that the LGBT community is inconsistent about what acronym is the accepted one and you’re left with an unwieldy term that intimidates more people than it educates.
The issue is not, as some commentators have suggested, that the justice movements of those of different sexualities and gender identities need to be separated. It is perfectly possible for diverse communities to work together towards common goals that benefit everyone, not just LGBT+ people. Ultimately, the attempt to include all of these people into one coherent movement that celebrates difference is far more important than what that movement calls itself. But still, discouraging people from learning by having an intimidating acronym doesn’t serve the cause. It merely opens up an already vulnerable group to more unwarranted ridicule. Not to mention the fact that most LGBT people wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what each letter (or number) stands for. If even we can’t remember what to call ourselves what chance does anyone else have?
All minorities tend to struggle with what to call themselves before settling on a name that everyone is happy with. Indians in North America became Native Americans before finally settling on First Nations people – which, even then, not all FN people use. In time I believe that a suitable name will be proffered by some linguistic genius and this entire argument can be put, metaphorically, to bed. A catchier rearrangement of the present acronym, Quiltbag, has been suggested, although I doubt it will have much traction due to the fact it brings to mind haberdashery and not equal rights. Still, mutations like this are encouraging. Perhaps we’re getting closer to a name that will immediately compel people to understand us, not feel intimidated by our diversity.
In the mean time, however, I wouldn’t judge people who find trouble in our evidently cumbersome acronym – even those whose identities are lovingly encased within it. Whether or not someone can remember a ten letter acronym shouldn’t be used as a barometer to measure how liberal they are or not. As the wonderful diversity of LGBT+ identities prove, life is complicated. We don’t need lengthy acronyms to make it more so.