The Limits of Labels

I’m going to take a break from writing about the nervous breakdown of the GOP to mention something that caught my eye the other day. Like most of the planet I belong to Facebook, and like most conservatives the majority of my Facebook friends are not. One, who happens to be a real friend going back nearly (gasp) 30 years, shared a picture (see below.)

LGBTQ from Facebook

I grew up with gays. I’ve been friends with some gays for decades now. Gays simply don’t freak me out the way they do some conservatives. But I’m beginning to realize that I have been using the label “conservative” to define myself on and off over the past 10 years when in fact I am not a 100% conservative. At least, I’m not a social conservative. Small government, less regulation, balanced budgets, controlled immigration, strong defense – I agree with the rest of the conservative agenda but when it comes to social issues like gay rights I can’t figure out why conservatives want Big Government out of people’s lives everywhere EXCEPT the bedroom. It’s the opposite problem I have with liberals. They’ll take away your parental rights and feed your kid what they think is right when she’s four, but when she’s thirteen she can run off, get pregnant and have an abortion without your consent – let alone your knowledge.

Perhaps the label “libertarian” suits me better, because I’m liberal on some social issues and conservative on most financial issues. The problem with it is that contemporary libertarianism has a strong streak of isolationism built into it (my bad, “non-interventionism” being the favored label applied by the libertarian kool-aid drinkers), and isolationism simply won’t cut it in a world where it doesn’t take 3 months to cross the ocean to come here. Whatever I’m called I have no issue with gays and gay marriage as demonized by social conservatives. In fact I’d like to peel away a large chunk of the “gay vote” from Democrats because I think there is enough political diversity within the gay community for some gays to join a Right wing that is not afraid they will turn our sons into sassy hairdressers and our daughters into truck drivers. As Ron Paul said in one of his more lucid moments, social conservatism is ultimately a losing position for the GOP, and the sooner we realize it the better.

That said, the LGBT label made me realize something: it’s ridiculous. LGBT is “jargon,” a word that only makes sense to a particular group of people often used to help separate it from the larger group. Now granted, the original image targeted a particular in group of people, those connected to the LGBT movement in some way, but its message is actually intended for a wider audience, anyone sympathetic to the cause, not just those already familiar with it, in which case the acronym should not be used because those outside won’t understand it. Plus there’s too much duplicate info in that acronym.

Let’s break the acronym down. First, the “L”: Is it possible to be a lesbian and not be gay? If not why are gay women counted twice in both the “L” and “G”? Because gay women are twice as gay as gay men? “G”ay. Makes sense. All encompassing. Binary: you either are or you aren’t. I know that some elderly people miss the original meaning of the word, but language is living and it’s pointless to fight linguistic change. “B”isexuals. Well those guys are different enough to warrant their own letter, I suppose. “T”ransgender. Things are complicated enough with these folks to warrant their own letter too. Transgender can include transvestites, but technically transvestites can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or even straight. They may even have no interest in the “trans” part of “transgender” and might be happy with the plumbing as-is.

The acronym LGBT has been around for a few years, and I’ve even used it with others, but it’s terrible and getting worse. Now Q? For Queer? How is that not covered in LGBT? Are people being paid by the letter to coin acronyms? I realize I’m getting cranky in my old age but it seems like every time I turn around the acronym describing people who are not exclusively heterosexual gets longer and longer, as if some new group has just been discovered in some dark closet in Scranton. “Great! New guys! Let’s add them to the acronym. Bigger acronyms make us more politically powerful.”

No they don’t. LGBTQ points out an interesting dilemma faced by those comfortable with such acronyms. They are attempting to define a group by naming all its elements almost like a molecular compound, as if quantifying each element better defines the whole. In the process they atomize people based on their sexuality, naming new ill-defined groups and adding them to the list. The reason is to further differentiate the group represented by the acronym to the larger, heterosexual group they are opposing.

But people aren’t atoms and the more they are divided the weaker the movement as a whole becomes. Lesbians have played an active role in the fight against AIDS even though they as a group were one of the least affected by it. But many gay men and women have looked down on bisexuals as a group for supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice. The needs of transgendered vary to the point where it is difficult (for me at least) to determine how their needs differ from the other groups, other than the demand that costly sex change surgery be paid for by insurance companies (in the US) or by taxpayers (in some European countries). Beyond having an exclusively non-heterosexual sexuality, what binds these people together?

Perhaps it’s just as well that the supposed movement labeling itself as LGBT and now Q dissolves into alphabet soup. Basing a political movement on human sexuality has its limits because people are multidimensional and define themselves in different ways. For example I am male, middle-aged, straight, married, a parent, college educated, agnostic, of ethnic Bohemian and Irish heritage, middle class, own land, drive Japanese cars, own guns, am well-read and well-traveled. Some of those labels define me better than others, but some do not define me at all. I may be male but it doesn’t mean I value women less. I am married yet I believe the State should get out of the marriage business and leave it up to religions. I am agnostic yet I am strong supporter of Israel, Buddhist Tibet and Burma, and respectful of other religions that respect my beliefs. More importantly these and the other labels that define me change in importance in my daily life, and in some cases flip completely to their opposites (switching parties from Democrat to Republican in 2001 for example.)

One could argue that for LGBT members their sexual identity defines them more than race, social status or profession. This may have been true for many in the 1960s and 1970s and for some today, but as society address the more blatant acts of discrimination against them sexual identity-based politics inevitably fade. When this happens other, more practical issues come to the fore such as lower taxes, better schools, a vibrant economy. In this sense the label LGBT becomes a transitory label as bisexuals support policies that lower their taxes or lesbians vote for candidates that promise more efficient taxation and government services. Politicians and ideologies that benefited in the past from the unqualified support of gays find themselves trying to come up with the next big “Stonewall Moment” to galvanize the community into moving in one particular direction instead of pursuing issues and agendas that compete with one another.

As someone who doesn’t belong to the LGTB community yet sympathizes with it, it is not for me to say that it’s time for it to move on, especially when the political party I am a card carrying member of panders to its base many of whom believe that these people are damned to hell, will corrupt the morals of their children or can be cured by prayer. But the LGBT and now Q label is clearly reaching the end of its lifespan. As University of Tennessee professor Glenn Reynolds has said many times, his dream of the Republican Party’s future includes happily married gays with closets full of assault rifles. As a supporter of the party and someone with guns in my closet, it’s a vision I hope to see come to fruition sometime soon for the health of my chosen political party, but also for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and even queers to be able to share in the freedom and personal liberty it embodies.

St. Louis Sept 29, 1984 Copyright 1984 Scott Kirwin
Reagan-Bush Protesters Sept 29, 1984 – St. Louis Missouri
Everyone with everything unite!

20 Comments

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