How straight can identity communication be?

September 1, 2016 12:22 pm

Identity terminology. itspronouncedmetrosexual. list of LGBTQ vocabulary definitions

Fascinating identity terminology can be found anywhere, whenever you meet someone with an interesting job title or with a double nationality. On the internet, especially on forums where societal minorities meet, and especially during the Pride month (each July), the rainbow / LGBT community shows its unique and diverse identities. The diversity within this minority group is mainly related to gender identity and/or sexual or romantic orientation. This community is in a societal minority and still looking for recognition and respect from the societal majority and the legal system (marriage). The linguistic strategy for this purpose, however, has changed since, roughly, the sixties.


From insulting to empowering terms

The rainbow community has struggled for decennia for visibility and recognition for their body, gender and for their valuable and serious relationships. At first, the minority was ridiculed and called ´queer´, which was an offensive term for them: a slur, which can be seen as an imposed identity. The following coping strategy of the ´queer´ minority is still applied by other societal minorities: one takes over the depreciating term that was invented by the majority and makes it one´s own in order to reduce its negative impact by using it to describe themselves. When this term with (originally) negative connotations is used by the insulted party (a societal minority) this term is called ´geuzennaam´ in Dutch[1] or ´Geusenwort´ in German[2]. The terms ´reappropriation´ (English) and ´réappropriation´ (French) describe the action of an insulted person using the slur to describe themselves. Examples of reappropriated slurs are ´dyke´, ´nigga´ and ´nerd´. These are words that once were negative, but when the minority itself uses it, they reappropriate it into a more neutral or positive identity description. Through this strategy the slur sometimes slowly loses its negative impact, and it becomes a ´Geusenwort´ and normal or safe to use for everybody. It is highly subjective what term is preferred and what term is offensive. This American website that published a glossary states that ‘dyke’, for example, is an offensive term.[3]

Nowadays, in case of the LGBT community, the coping strategy with slurs seems to be reversed. While ´Geusenwörter´ are still in use and reappropriation is too, the societal minority is now inventing their personal identity terminology, based on their own experiences and subjective preferences. This way, it no longer is an imposed identity that one linguistically accepts, but an achieved identity that other people have to accept. It seems that the pride and confidence of this minority has grown bigger with each new term that can pinpoint a unique identity more precisely than before.


Some identity terms used by specialists of the self

When talking about sexual or romantic orientations, the categories used to identify oneself have slowly become more specific since the sixties. From `queer´ and ´gay´ to ´Homoromantic Asexual´, ´Aromantic Pansexual´ or a ftm trans guy who is a genderfluid[4], Panromantic asexual, or a cisgender heterosexual greyromantic. One can see that more effort is put into terminology of one´s own gender/sexual/romantic identity than before.

Identity terminology by specialists of the self

Identity terminology by specialists of the self

Hashtags on the internet such as #refusetobeinvisible seem to reinforce the terminological assumption that once a term is introduced, learned and applied, the concept becomes visible and recognizable more easily. In other words: as soon as a broad immaterial concept or a rather specific material object has gotten a term to refer to, this concept becomes easier to grasp and discuss among peers.

Specialists recognize many specific situations or objects partly because the terms they know in their domain help them to identify complex concepts. In this community, the specialists are the individuals who label their subjective experience(s) and sexual orientation(s) according to the already existing terms invented by previous specialists of the self.




Glossaries exist, but ambiguity remains

When terminology is mainly based on subjective experiences and preferences, and when the specialists involved in discussing the terminology of their domain are actually mainly specialists of the self, it is clear that it is not easy to construct a common glossary with terms referring to phenomenological topics such as gender or sexual orientation. There are several glossaries accesible on websites related to advice and information about sexuality and mental health.[5] Most of these glossaries note that ´language is continuously changing´, the terms are ´intended as flexible, working definitions´[6], terms may mean ´different things to different people´[7] and ´1) definitions vary across communities; not all of your LGBT patients will agree with all of these definitions; 2) There are many terms not included on this list; we tried to keep the list as concise and relevant to health care providers as possible; 3) Terms and definitions change frequently; we will try to update this list to keep up with changing language.´[8]

During face-to-face communication there is no glossary at hand to quickly consult the meaning of a new term. Preferably one has so inform oneself beforehand. It is not fair to expect the majority of people that is not interested in language, to remember and learn a new, seldomly used identity term by heart. A more realistic situation would be asking what concept the speaker is referring to when introducing him/herself*. This, on the other hand, might not be something the speaker wants to explain every time the topic comes up.

Ideally it would be practical for a minority if the terms to describe their identity would be widespread and well-known. This to avoid time-consuming and sometimes confusing explanations or further questions about private issues. Unfortunately, the identity terminology of this societal minority is not widespread and well-known, but this is often the case in the domains of specialists.

Identity terminology is mainly used by and for ´specialists of the self´. In case of the rainbow community, these specialists mainly consist of individuals who feel they do not belong to the cisgender and/or heterosexual majority and of people working for health institutions. For outsiders (non-specialists) these glossaries might remind them more of a vocabulary list to reluctantly learn by heart – just for passing a complicated language test at high school perhaps.

Is the LGBTQQIAAP2S[9] or LGBPTTQQIIAA+[10] community becoming too complex?

Identity terminology

It seems that the downside of the terminology used by individuals who feel they do not belong to the cisgender heterosexual majority, is that the terms that one uses in a conversation to describe one´s personal achieved identity are still highly ambiguous. Glossaries cannot provide fully validated terms. Still, discussions on internet forums among rainbow community members show that specific terms are highly valued and appreciated for the sake of visibility, awareness and understanding of the diversity within this societal minority. The same discussions usually show at the same time a lack of knowledge of terms, which leads to emotional conversations about word choice and concepts ( about a combination of feelings of attraction to a certain type of categorized person). Questions with a structure of “if I feel sexually attracted to X and romantically attracted to Y, but only in particular circumstances, can I call myself a Z?” are rather common.

These kinds of conversations and questions show that the more complex the (un)official glossary, created by the societal minority itself (consisting of specialists of the self), the less efficient the communication is. With highly specific and lexically rich terms, explaining one´s achieved identity becomes time consuming. This specialist talk might even result in loss of patience, understanding or even respect, when a complex term is ´queersplained´ to someone who has no specific interest in such a detailed and nuanced explanation of an identity.
*His/her and everything in between



Written by Eveline van Dijk
Study visitor at TermCoord

[1] Van Dale Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal, 13th edition 1999.
[2] (consulted 30.08.2016)
[3] (Charleston, USA, rather official glossary)
[4] (unofficial glossary) and Facebook comment on 06.06.2016:
[5] See ´Further reading´
[6] (Rather official glossary, sources: adapted with permission from JAC Stringer of The Trans and Queer Wellness Initiative (2013))
[7] (University of California, rather official glossary)
[8] (Rather official glossary, sources: definitions for this glossary were developed and reviewed by the National LGBT Health Education Center and other experts in the field of LGBT health, as well as adapted from glossaries published by the Safe Zone Project and the UCLA LGBT Resource Center)
[9] ´Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, Pansexual, Two-Spirit´
[10] ´Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Intergender, Asexual, Ally´


Further sources and reading:

Explanation of ´reappropriate´: (University of California, rather official glossary) (rather official glossary) (Charleston, USA, rather official glossary) (rather official glossary) (unofficial glossary) (unofficial glossary) (unofficial glossary)

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