Is inclusiveness becoming the new closet?

A friend working in college recruiting told me the other day that she’s getting a lot of letters from students saying they’re “LGBTQIA.”

And she’s confused.

She says she was just getting used to the abbreviation LGBT (meaning, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender”) — though she still doesn’t quite get how those four letters go together — when she was confronted with the addition of QIA, which she googled, and still doesn’t understand.

For the record, Q can mean both “queer” and “questioning.” I means “intersex.” And A means “asexual,” and sometimes “androgynous” too.

Support you? I can't even spell you.  (From KeepCalm-o-matic.)

Support you? I can’t even spell you.
(From KeepCalm-o-matic.)

My friend’s confusion reinforced a point I’ve raised before about the ever-changing, every-lengthening, terminology used to describe and define what was once the “gay community.” We seem to be making things awfully confusing, and inconvenient. (Are allies on TV actually going to say “LGBTQIA”? Doubtful.) But even worse, will the audience have a clue what we’re even talking about?

Take, for example, this page (below) from the University of North Dakota Web site. It uses three different abbreviations for the same community: LGBTQ, GLBT, and in the URL, LGBTQUIA. So even allies who embrace the latest terminology can’t decide what to use.

(I googled LGBTQUIA, and the U appears to be associated with the Q (i.e., it’s QU) for “queer and questioning.” In other words, Q, which many “gays” still don’t yet use, is already outdated.)


I’m hard-pressed to find another community that so perennially can’t figure out what to call itself.

A bigger concern than confusion and inconvenience is the question of whether we’re now “inning” ourselves as a community.

The new breed of abbreviations ensure that no one ever need mention any of our names (gay, trans, bi, etc.) again. I’ve seen corporate press releases about gay issues that don’t even use the word “gay” anywhere. We’ve unwittingly created an all-inclusive verbal closet.

And considering how powerful coming out has been over the decades, I worry that “coming in” might not be the wisest strategy moving forward.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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44 Responses to “Is inclusiveness becoming the new closet?”

  1. FriendofPoopyhead says:

    Look, I’m not a gay person. I don’t get why the integrity of your movement has to be compromised by these greedy little freeloaders. Being intersexed or asexual has nothing to do per se with being gay. And so what if you’re ‘questioning’? That’s your personal business. Why is it now some official status? Why does an entire high-functioning movement have to rebrand itself just because you’re having to make your own decisions about whom you want to sleep with? If I’m trying to figure out whether I wanna sleep with a person of my own gender, why the heck does that have to be an official stance I take in academia?

    This is the problem when academics and college kids take over your movement. All this inclusivity bullshit is turning your movement into a caricature of political correctness run amok. The problem is now you’re going to be accused by a lot of hipster college kids of basically being hateful and cruel Nazis for not wanting to have your own giant tent where everyone’s welcome. You guys are sadly going to have to withstand their rage. Be advised though that most of their rage will show up on Twitter and Tumblr. After they graduate and go looking for jobs and have to talk to some dubious Sharon from HR type who raises her eyebrows at their pompous posturing, they’ll shed a lot of this nonsense.

    But yeah, until that happens, brace yourselves for the angry ‘feminist’ Women’s Studies professors (god, they’re the worst of the lot) encouraging all the genderqueers to ‘speak out’ or whatever. Also you can bet some anthropology profs will also take up cudgels. Basically any dumbass liberal arts prof who is perennially outraged and wants to get more funding by barking a lot will attack you guys and accuse you of doing the same things as your patriarchal oppressors and what not. But just hold on and let them blow.

    You need a real strong coalition of eldergays to beat back the raging hordes of the Women’s Studies profs though. You guys are the only ones who don’t cow down in the face of threats and intimidation from so-called feminists. And you guys are the only ones willing and able to call them on their bullshit.

    I say ‘so-called’ because the feminist movement in this country does exactly zilch to help and assist everyday women. But if you’re a pansexual genderqueer, you have a whole army of professors and social justice warriors on Twitter and Tumblr treating you like you’re Martin Luther King Jr.

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  4. ARP says:

    I agree. When you use the alphabet soup of names, you play right in to the frustration that all of us have with snowflake-ism in our lives. If we don’t get a handle on this, we might as well add non-celiac, gluten free, wiccans, who are opposed to sports because it’s too competitive to the roster because that’s the same level of disdain we’ll get.

    BTW- I never understood the difference between gay and queer, since I thought queer was derogatory for gay.

  5. rmthunter says:

    I confess, I had vaguely heard of Suey Park, but I had to google her to get a good take; wound up reading some excerpts of an interview she did with Salon. She’s exactly what I was talking about: buzz words, catch phrases, slogans, no content.

  6. BeccaM says:

    But of course! It’s why I had to drop the ‘Re-‘ in front of my name. Because LGRT looks silly. ;-)

  7. And ironically, progress in many ways was made by the very people who tend to get most villified by the Suey Park wing of the movement. I tend to chuckle when today’s kids ask me, contemptuously, “what have you ever done for the movement?” You kinda just want to say, oh honey….

  8. Isn’t the B in LGBT for Becca? ;-)

  9. White&Blue says:

    This acronym-chaos reminds me of this old Simpsons episode:,_Seniors,_Childless_Couples_and_Teens,_and_Gays

  10. rmthunter says:

    You’re describing what happened in the ’80s, during the heyday of the “New Left,” which had a tendency toward co-opting focused and effective movements for the “greater cause.” There were a lot of impassioned speeches, and no results.

  11. rmthunter says:

    I think what we’ve seen over the past couple of decades, and especially in the past few years, is that the progress is being made by those who don’t bother so much with the rhetoric and focus on specifics: we’re in the realm of the courts now, which is where civil rights movements tend to wind up, and the courts deal with specific cases, not “communities.” If you look carefully, you don’t see the alphabet soup being bandied about by those who are actually making the progress — that particular brand of rhetoric is for the poseurs, who have no political clout (because they’ve demonstrated that they have no political savvy) and relatively little influence. They’re like the Camille Paglias of the gay movement.

  12. rmthunter says:

    Way back when, like in the ’70s, it was just “gay.” That included all of us. And then, I guess, the thought police decided it wasn’t inclusive enough. Please don’t ask me to explain that — I haven’t a clue as to how “all” wasn’t inclusive enough. I suspect it’s as Becca pointed out above: I want on the bus, but I want my own seat with my own sign.

  13. Houndentenor says:

    Many it’s time to just think of us all as humans and leave the labels for personal ads and their phone app equivalents. If you aren’t interested in sleeping with me, it doesn’t really matter what my sexuality/gender preference is. Once we treat everyone with equal rights (which I realize we don’t yet…at least not everywhere) the rest with just be like eye color or which hand you use to write.

  14. Mike_in_the_Tundra says:

    I live in an area with a high population of First Americans, and 2S should be included more often.

  15. TampaZeke says:

    I’ve also seen “2S” included in the list, for two-spirit.

  16. BeccaM says:

    I don’t know the answer, but I do think we need to get a handle on this nomenclature, and this proliferation of “Let me in the party, but I want my own special, separate of it because I and people like me are special snowflakes” letters.

    I’m fine with ‘Gay’ most of the time. I’ve also toyed with the term “Non-conformist” when necessary.

    I don’t need a letter in an acronym to know who I am or what I like.

  17. Drew2u says:

    I’ve always been a fan of the “equality” movement. It’s simple, it – by definition – includes everyone, and includes them on an even ground.
    Start going down the alphabet-soup route and I’m just going to add: IDGAF.

  18. emjayay says:

    True, but not entirely to me at the time. “Gay” to me called up the image of guys. And of course the typically political lesbians wanted to assert their existence. Also just as women, they had been ignored historically. You used to be able to use the masculine and assume it included everyone. (Then “he or she” etc. Now to me it’s OK to just say “they”. Better than repeating “he or she” and now adding “or it or ne or ze or ve or….”) So it was also a part of modern feminism. You know, herstory. (Arrrrggghhhh)

    So it became Gay and Lesbian. Then one more letter after another. Now more.
    But years ago when Ellen’s character came out on her sitcom saying “I’m gay!” I think the all inclusive “gay” started to be reclaimed.

    “LGBT” (it rolls off the tongue well and yes I do understand the T objection, but there it is) in official stuff, and “gay” commonly, OK?

    This has all been discussed, quite interestingly and at length, here – I believe twice before.

  19. nicho says:

    The ironic thing in all this is that adding letter after letter for each group that decides to tag along is really not inclusive. It’s exclusive. It’s like saying to someone “Gee, we’d like to ride on your bus, but we want our own section.” Every time you add a letter to the acronym., you really dilute the cause. It becomes too fragmented. We lose focus — and that plays right into the hands of our enemies.

    David Belasco, playwright and producer, said “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” Asking someone what “LGBTQIA” means would take a 22-page manifesto — with footnotes.

    Gay men started this movement — and “gay” worked. I’m with dcinsider. Stick with “gay.” If other groups want to align with us, fine. We welcome you. Glad to have you work with us. But don’t expect us to change our name every time another group joins. If polygamists want to join up, great. But we’re not going to add a “P.” If S&M folks want to come along, great, but we’re not going to add S&M to already ridiculously long acronym.

    If you don’t want to be lumped under “gay,” for whatever reason, that’s fine too. Form your own group and call yourself anything you want.

    Flame away!

  20. nicho says:

    How about the symbol that Prince adopted and then abandoned. If he’s not using it, we should be able to.

  21. dcinsider says:

    I think this nails it. If I am being honest — and why not be honest — I did not seek out the many other initials that have anchored themselves to the cause of gay rights. It is not that I believe they should not be treated with both dignity and equality under the law, far from it. It is because gay men and lesbians did all the hard work to build a movement. We paid with lost jobs, lost families, lost friends. We put in the blood, the sweat and the many tears. We survived a plague and continue to fight for those who did not, so their deaths will not be in vain.

    Our better angels tend to make us sympathetic to every downtrodden minority, regardless of their initials. As a result, we tend toward inclusivity, even when that hurts our own cause. We simply are not comfortable telling people that they need to build their own movement, and that their issues, while similar, are not our issues. It sort of goes against our inherent beliefs to leave others behind. And so we roll out the welcome mat to every comer.

    The problem, of course, is that every comer does not share our issues, so we are expected to place our issues to the side, and to make their issues the priority, because they, too, are the “community.” This demand increases resentment among those of us who have spent the better part of our adult lives fighting for gays and lesbians. And that resentment tends to breed contempt. And therein lies the divisions of which John speaks.

    I believe the gay community needs to reclaim that which is ours, and let the other communities build their own movement, which we can support without abandoning our identity, or placing our issues on the back burner. It is time to let the young birds leave the nest, and learn to fly on their own. They have many challenges ahead, as we did (and do), and we can be there to help, but they need to accomplish this on their own.

    Gays and lesbians are a generous group by nature. However, sometimes the most generous thing you can do is give people their freedom to do what they need to do. So, tot he initials that have slapped their anchor to our boat, it is time for you to find your own way. We will be here to help, but we will not be dictated to by your agenda.

    I wish you all well.

  22. Indigo says:

    I heard both back in the day but, you know what, “the day” is over. We’re here now. Gay works perfectly well as the generic expression for whatever it is we are.

  23. rmthunter says:

    There’s always been a strong separatist element among lesbians, who couldn’t deal with the umbrella term “gay” because it didn’t recognize them. I tend to use the term “gay people,” since I’m much more interested in commonalities than differences, and let the chips fall where they may.

    This “all-inclusiveness” stems, I think, from the old New Left, who were out to save the world and every group in it, each group carefully labeled, of course. And somehow, each group’s agenda got subsumed into a much broader agenda with no focus and no results. (Urvashi Vaid never did squat to secure our rights; that was done by people like Mary Bonauto: people with specific goals who dug in and did the work.)

    I see the result of the proliferation of initials as division, no matter what the intent: if you keep breaking up a community into smaller and smaller fragments, soon you have no community left, and we were never that cohesive a community to begin with. How does a “G” or a “B” identify with a “Q”? What are the commonalities? Oppression (one of the left’s favorite words)? We’re all oppressed, one way or another.

    I’m not sure that “inning” or “outing” are the concepts that best describe the situation. I think it’s more a matter of labels having gotten out of control, to the point that they no longer describe anything — they just get in the way.

  24. 2karmanot says:

    Dropping polite golf clap for rambunctious gesturing of assent. Couldn’t agree more.

  25. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    Oh, that’s easy.

    (aka, wildcard character)

  26. kurtsteinbach says:

    I understand what you mean. I am “heterosexual” or “straight” and feel that this labeling thing is “stupid” sometimes. Sometimes I want to just scream at the world in general, I’m human and that’s all that matters is we’re all human beings! I am also still unclear about the meaning of queer. I thought it was just another word for gay, lesbian, or homosexual. When I was a kid, growing up, all three of those words basically referred to gay people and were thought to be rude and slurs. I also now understand as an English teacher, just how much labels are inadequate to describe anyone or any one group. As a History teacher, I also realize that the more we try to classify people by a set of traits, the more we are actually talking about the population in general. For example, it is true that many African Americans are good at basketball; enjoy watermelon, and love to eat fried chicken. If possessing one of those qualities makes one African American, then what’s up bro? I’m Jewish and look as white as you can get without being a ghost. Any one of those qualities is just as true of the population in general, as it is of African Americans. Even taking those three traits together, still includes a wide swath of people, especially Americans; many of whom do not identify as Black or African American and would not be classified as such on the census. The human need to classify everything and everyone is sometimes perverse, and is almost always amusing. . . .

  27. I hadn’t heard they were “repulsed,” but rather they felt left out. The problem is that we’ve ended up with a “community” made up of a number of parts that are different from one another, and want to remain different from one another, and in many cases don’t even seem to like one another, yet all insist on being part of the same “commnity”, even though they all want to use different words to describe that community in order to ensure that their quadrant stands out. The larger the community gets, the less it sounds like many of the players want to be there. And that concerns me, politically, strategically, moving forward.

  28. timncguy says:

    it changed from “gay” to “gay men and lesbians” because the “lesbians” didn’t like being grouped together with the men. Supposedly they were repulsed by the stereotypical, hedonistic lifestyle of the men and didn’t want to be associated with it.

  29. timncguy says:

    Gay always ment both men and women until the women wanted to segregate themselves into the lesbian category.

  30. mooresart says:

    Years ago when I was living in San Francisco Art Hoppe, a weekly columnist for the Chronicle, wrote a wonderful column about “sexuals” in his satirical attempt to dissolve the distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals. “We are all just sexuals”, as he put it. Simple. Then gay women became lesbians which created yet another distinction and then we became queer and then bisexuals and transexuals jumped on the bandwagon and now this quia stuff. WTF? I’m getting old and am confused enough. Please make it stop. :)

  31. caphillprof says:

    The qia or quia mean simply that any community has ceased to exist.

  32. I don’t think it’s take or leave it. I think it’s more “the” word people use for us, and it’s never been made entirely clear to me why it’s a bad word. Some suggested that it doesn’t include lesbians. Yes, the monicker we used to always use was “gay men and lesbians,” since, apparently, gay didn’t mean just men. So, in fact, we were saying gay gays and gays. I just wonder whether we on the left are all becoming a bit too Suey Park.

  33. dcinsider says:

    I don’t even feign to understand the acronym anymore. I can’t be bothered. We are a clever people, but cannot come up with a simple term?

    I’m with John on this. Gay. Take it or leave it.

  34. dcinsider says:

    Please! Anything but the alphabet soup.

  35. AnitaMann says:

    Labels are political and personal. In the past they were more likely to suggest a shared identity of oppression that must be overcome, or a fight against the mainstream. As oppression against (alphabet sexual minorities) decreases – no we’re not there yet but a lot of progress has been made very fast – these names will become less necessary. Now labels are becoming more of a matter of personal choice, hence the granularity and finer distinctions. In the past I felt the need to identify as a gay man, just because the movement needed numbers and visibility and coming out was a political act. Even though I didn’t quite feel comfortable with a label – and it didn’t really fit either and didn’t feel a gay “identity.” Bi was a little more appropriate. But if I told people I was a Kinsey 4-5, they wouldn’t know what I was talking about, and there’s no such thing as a “Kinsey 5 identity.” More and more I don’t tell anyone anything. I don’t go to gay bars, I don’t seek out the social circles of gay men for safety. I always envied “straights” who never had to explain what they were attracted to everywhere they went. And now that I don’t feel the need to be out as a political act – being in a big city where nobody gives a shit helps – it’s kind of absurd to go up to strangers and say, “I’m a sexual being like almost everyone” when “hello” or “I would like to mail this package and buy a book of stamps” is all I really need to say.

  36. Indigo says:

    In the Old South, everyone understood what was meant if a gentleman was recognized to be “musical.” As they used to say, “After a certain age, it starts to show.”

    I don’t think the issue as it’s being presented can be resolved. The reason being, we’re looking for logos and creative dodges. Drop all that and what’s left? Gay! But even then, the occasional wag confronts the commentary with an entirely naive (or do I mean malicious?) “I remember when gay meant happy.”

    The conundrum stands. One thing I’m certain of, I don’t like alphabet soup.

  37. How about “gay.” :-)

  38. That’s a fascinating point about allies.

  39. S1AMER says:

    Just because we’re all different from people who are unequivocally heterosexual doesn’t mean we’re all the same. Grouping everybody into two pigeonholes — “us” or “them” — is a reality-distorting oversimplification.

    Yeah, all us non-straights have that in common. But methinks some times the broth is getting diluted by the addition of too many ingredients.

  40. 2karmanot says:

    That works or for those who prefer theorems: ‘A-Z= A(a-z)/C (C stands for closet )-Z=variable (D-drag), (B/G for bi subset G for gay, ). This doesn’t include T, which is a singular entity outstanding in its field alone or T. The final solution as you postulate is G&L.

  41. 2karmanot says:

    I would add: CBB to the list, otherwise known as ‘Can’t Be Bothered’: GLTBQIACBB, which reads like the name of a character from Superman’s home planet.

  42. 2karmanot says:

    Everything is in ‘transition’. OPPPS,

  43. rerutled says:

    I think the “A” can also stand for “Ally”. And if that’s how the applicant is using it, this poses a problem to the college admissions officer, who typically is interested in the applicant’s educational background and any challenges they might have faced. The challenges to an ally are significantly different from those faced by a transgender applicant. There’s the further problem that an applicant may purposely be obscuring the distinctions, in hopes of gaining an advantage in admissions.

    The use of the full-length alphabet description should, I think, be limited to contexts where drawing attention to the (large, growing) size of the marginalized, but allied, community. Thus, “LGBTQIA” describes a community. But in contexts of self-description, one should not call oneself “LGBTQIA”; it’s utterly meaningless. And I do think it would be appropriate to respond to such a self-definition with the question, “Which?”

  44. Indigo says:

    Maybe it’s time to drop the alphabet logo in favor of . . . . oh, I don’t know . . . non-traditional? post-traditional? alternative sexuality? or . . . just G&L, as in days of yore, and be done with it. Otherwise, we’re headed toward that singularity where “A-Z Curious” is the only option.

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