June is LGBT Pride Month in the United States. In honor of this month of appreciation to the achievements and beauty of the queer community, I will be posting (hopefully, but as you can see I’m already behind) every day of the month to commemorate and discuss the important queer issues of the day. As a bisexual trans-masculine genderqueer individual, queerness is one of the most essential and pride-inducing aspects of my identity, and the topics I will be covering are extremely important to me, but I would really love for discussion to ensue. Disclaimer: my experiences and analysis of queer history and theory are born from a very American perspective. I am also white, which undoubtedly informs my perception of queerness, as I am exempt from many intersectionalities of queerness and race; please correct me if I misinterpret these issues.
The alphabet soup is a colloquial term describing the wide variety of minority sexual and gender identities that exist. It is a more inclusive term than any of the “full” acronyms, as every group uses their own. My working acronym is: LGBTQQIAAHP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, HIV-Infected/Affected, and Poly/Pansexual). As you can probably see, this acronym is impossible to work with from a political perspective, and referring to the community by “the alphabet soup” or “LGBT” or “queer” is obviously faster and—usually—allows for no one to be left out.
While the queer community did not really begin taking its current shape until the mid-twentieth century, the behaviors and identities encompassed by the alphabet soup have always, in some form or another, existed. Sexual and gender-nonconforming identities began coalescing into discrete identities rather than mere behaviors in a very public way around the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact, the term “queer” used in the context of sexual and gender minorities was first used during Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality trial.
During the rest of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, most forms of non-heterosexual sex and gender-nonconforming behavior were both punishable by prison and considered pathological mental illnesses. Many credit the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s with wedging open the door for the radical queer liberation movement. This is not technically true. Non-radical, assimilationist, gay organizations began springing up in the United States during the latter half of the nineteen forties, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The heteronormative powers that be were very unhappy about the birth of queer liberation movements. We were subjected to discrimination, violence, incarceration, HIV/AIDS, medicalization, homelessness, and joblessness. We have come a long way.
It is important to remember the history of our collective group, to memorialize those who fought, suffered, and often died so that queer people who came after them would have a better shot at life. I will be writing several pieces on queer history later in the month.
Today, we’ve normalized fair swaths of the queer community. Where being gay or lesbian was once considered to be something incredibly shameful and radical, we see gay and lesbian individuals at all levels of government, media, and business. The alphabet soup has not, however, achieved full equality, as much as the fight for marriage equality would have us believe we have.
It is essential, given how far we’ve come, that we don’t lose sight of where we’ve been. Pride is a wonderful time to remember and strive to continue the work of the brave humans who have come before us fighting for the right to be who we all are. Keep that in mind as we move through this month. We must be proud of who we are. We must be proud of what our forebears have done. We must be proud of what we can do.