Empowering Voices – For People, Two Categories Are Not Enough

Who are we, the LGBT community? Some of us are, of course, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. Yet we are even more diverse than the abbreviation suggests. We include everyone who identifies as a gender, sexual, and/or romantic minority (GSRM). But we make some members feel excluded from our community when we follow society’s habit of thinking and speaking in binaries.

We often consider people to be male or female and straight or gay. But when we think of people as being either a he or she, we forget those who are gender non-conforming or genderqueer. For example, we exclude people who are agender (having a gender that is not male or female or the lack of gender) and bigender (having two genders). When we talk about people as being straight or gay, we obviously forget bisexuals, but we also forget other people — asexuals (people who experience no sexual attraction), pansexuals (people who are sexually attracted to individuals regardless of their gender identity), and many others.

Finally, we usually think of sexual orientation and romantic orientation as being the same thing, because for many of us the gender(s) we are romantically attracted to and the gender(s) we are sexually attracted to are the same. But it’s entirely possible to be a homoromantic asexual, meaning you’re interested in romantic but not sexual relationships with people of the same gender, or to be a panromantic lesbian, meaning that you’re interested in sexual relationships with women and romantic relationships with people of any gender identity. There are just as many romantic orientations as there are sexual orientations.

If this is sounding a bit complicated, that’s because it is. Our binaries are simply incapable of representing human diversity in these areas.

Society’s stringent adherence to binaries has real-life consequences for those who identify as a GSRM, but do not specifically identify as LGB or T. Gender non-conforming individuals have to decide whether to and how to address others using the incorrect gender pronouns for them, which continually denies their identity. Aromantic individuals have to field questions about how they can truly be happy without a romantic partner. Every day, GSRM-identifying individuals experience ignorance, judgment, and even harassment from others who do not respect their identities.

And just as they can feel marginalized in a cis-normative and heteronormative society, they can sometimes feel re-marginalized by the LGBT community. Unless the LGBT community actively demonstrates respect for all GSRMs, these individuals might not view the community as a safe place where they can truly be themselves.

The isolation and erasure of these underrepresented communities can make individuals not only more vulnerable to experience violence, but also less likely to receive help afterward.

Let’s go back to the example of the heteroromantic asexual, and now add that the person is in a monogamous relationship with a homoromantic lesbian. The lesbian partner may not understand or respect asexuality and may pressure the asexual partner into having sex. Now the asexual individual wants services to help process this traumatic experience. This person has had their identity denied repeatedly by their intimate partner, acquaintances, and society. They might doubt that anyone could understand them and thus feel uncomfortable or unsafe in attempting to seek services. If they do access services, they might avoid outing themselves as asexual out of fear and thus be unable to fully heal from the sexual assault.

So what can we do to be a more welcoming community to GSRM-identifying individuals? Education is always a good first step. There is plenty of information, including personal accounts by GSRM-identifying individuals, online, accessible to anyone wanting to learn more. Are you in an LGBT organization? Suggest that your group reach out and encourage involvement and ideas from GSRM-identifying individuals. Most important, listen to individuals’ stories and personal experiences! This is a great opportunity to learn and to show your support.

Finally, new words for identities are being created all the time, so it is OK if you don’t know every single one. If you’re open and accepting, that’s what really matters!

Susie McClannahan is an intern at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. KCAVP’s vision is to end all types of violence in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. If you or someone you know needs support or services, please call KCAVP at 816-561-0550.

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