The ABC’s of Our Identities

There can be a vast amount of perplexity when it comes to the meaning behind LGBTQ. Those who are unaware of the definition may fear being perceived as ignorant; they never quite muster up the strength to ask what makes up our community’s acronym list. There’s no shame in asking or researching because chances are, you’ll come across someone who identifies with at least one of the letters above. According to Gary Gates of UCLA’s Williams Institute, he theorizes that there are approximately nine million members of the LGBTQ community in America. That’s larger than the population of 40 American states.


Georgia Voice is here to hold your hand and guide you through the rainforest downpours, through the barren sun that hangs low in the bone-dry desert, and to walk you over the brisk arctic ice caps to comprehending the meaning of LGBTQ.


The acronym has evolved. First, it was homosexual; then it was gay. In the mid-to-late 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic, LGB – which stood for lesbian, gay and bisexual – began being used. In the 1990s, T was added to define transgender members of the community. In 2016, GLAAD officially recommended adding the “Q” to the growing acronym to identify Queer members of the community. The past two years have garnered several other identifiers hence the plus sign you might see used by different individuals; it includes identities like pansexual, asexual and intersex.


The acronym LGBTQ addresses the forefront of gender identities and sexual orientations, and pinpoints intricate identifications as well. It’s a summarization of the togetherness kept within the community, letting its unification shine through in an ever-evolving acronym.


Lesbian is the term used for a female who’s sexually and emotionally attracted exclusively to women. Many women prefer to be identified as a lesbian rather than gay, which is commonly used as a term to identify males with same-sex attraction. The term lesbian originated in ancient Greece from the poet Sappho of Lesbos. She was known for writing erotic love poems to other women. Before the word lesbian, women who loved other women were often called “sapphic,” and their love defined as “sapphistry.”


Gay defines when a man is sexually and emotionally attracted exclusively to men. Not all gay men identify as strictly gay or gay at all. This term can be used to recognize someone who is a lesbian, or bisexual but again, they may identify as something else. The term ‘gay’ dates back to 12th century England meaning “joyful” or “carefree.” Fast forward to the 17th century, the Oxford dictionary definition at the time meant “addicted to pleasures and dissipations.” In the 1920s and 30s, the term started to refer to men who had sex with other men. “Gey cat” was also used to identify a homosexual boy. By the mid-1950s, the word gay had officially acquired a new definition meaning homosexual males. Gay men themselves were invigorated with the new definitions as they felt “homosexual” sounded more like a disorder than an identity.


Bisexual is when a person, male or female, is attracted sexually and emotionally to both genders. The American Psychological Association states that “sexual orientation falls along a continuum…someone does not have to be exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but can feel varying degrees of both.” The first English-language use of the word “bisexual” referring to the attraction to both women and men, was by American neurologist Charles Gilbert Chaddock in 1892. After the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, some gays and lesbians became less accepting of bisexual and transgender individuals; the said those individuals were too afraid to come out as gay or lesbian. But in the late 80s, gays and lesbians practiced more inclusivity, allowing bisexual into the LGBT acronym. It’s now officially an equal part of the LGBTQ community.


Transgender is a term described by people whose gender identity differs to their assigned sex at birth; often described as birth gender. These gender expressions are inner feelings expressed by the individual. If a man was born a boy at birth, but inside he feels as if he’s a woman, he’s considered transgender. Some who identify as transgender will alter their appearance through clothing or hair changes; others alter their bodies through gender-affirming surgeries to match their biological gender with their gender identity. The term transgender was first used by Virginia Prince who used “Transgenderal” in 1969 during a play on the term “Transsexual.” The two differ in several ways. According to a 2014 article by Susan Scutti, “transsexuals are people who transition from one sex to another. A person born as a male can become recognizably female through the use of hormones and/or surgical procedures; a person born as a female can become recognizably male.”


Queer is more applicable in today’s society, addressing fluidity amongst sexual orientation, and identification that is not heterosexual. It is a term that can narrow one identity or cover the entire umbrella of different identities. People who identify as queer, refuse to identify with mainstream labels. The term originated in Scotland in the late 1800s as a derogatory reference for gay men. Decades later, the term made its way to America into news publications including the Los Angeles Times. Throughout the mid-20th century, the term incited violence against gay men even after the 1969 Stonewall riots. In 1990 during New York City Pride, an organization called Queer Nation distributed flyers titled, “QUEERS READ THIS.” The bold move looked to destroy negative connotations of the word and garner in a new understanding of what queer; it’s an umbrella term for inclusivity minus defined labels.


Questioning is a term that can be interchanged with Queer depending on the person using the identifier. The label concerns those who are questioning their biological gender, sexuality, and/or gender identity. Its rise into the acronym list happened in the early 2000s, but the term has often been interchanged with Queer when referring to the Q in LGBTQ.


After the Q, there are several other identities that have come to call the LGBTQ acronym home. Different organizations and media sources including the Georgia Voice use LGBTQ, but some include other identifies using the plus symbol. We’ll discuss some of those (+) identifiers:


Intersex is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes or genitals at birth that doesn’t distinctly identify a person as male or female. Being born intersex is relatively common, about one in 2000 births according to the Intersex Society of North America. There are different variations of intersex including the most commonly known, Klinefelter Syndrome. Statistics show the number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance is about one or two in 1,000 births.


Asexual is when someone feels no sexual desire or attraction, or low or absent interest in sexual activity. It is not the same as celibacy. It may be considered the lack of sexual orientation.


Pansexual also known as omnisexuality is when someone is attracted to anyone, regardless of what gender he or she may identify with, or what his or her sex is. Pansexuals refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are insignificant in determining their sexual attraction.


Polysexual is when someone is attracted to multiple genders, but this doesn’t include all of them.


Cisgender is when someone identifies with his or her assigned gender, also known as a metrosexual.


While there are more identifiers included in the (+) depending on whom you speak to, it’s essential to know all are part of the bigger picture. Love is love; it’s a universal feeling felt regardless of your sexual orientation or gender. Although these identities and orientations aren’t what define love, it’s important to understand how sensitive these identifications can be to the LGBTQ+ community around the world.