What did I get into? I wondered as I planned today’s column, a continuation of my discussion of the phrase “LGBT-QCI” being used now by some people in gender advocacy organizations.
Ready to review, and to sing out the alphabet soup?
“L” is for lesbian, “G” is for gay, “B” is for bisexual, and “T” is for transgender (or transsexual). “Q” is for queer, and “I” is for intersex. And in another formulation of the phrase “LGBT-QIA,” there’s an “A,” which is for asexual.
I held you in suspense when I said I was going to save “Q” and “C” for today’s column. I will deliver, of course, but this is really turning out to be more complicated than I had anticipated.
Before going into the remaining letters, let me say again that this phrase has evolved over the last 30 years or so, representing efforts to recognize a wide spectrum of sexualities.
Some of the terms, “LG” and “B,” refer to sexual orientation (who am I attracted to?), while “T” refers to gender identity (how do I see myself, in relation to my biological body?).
The never-ending additions to the phrase only reflect how, after 180,000 years on earth, human beings are still discovering themselves in terms of sexualities.
People my age, and older, sometimes comment, in exasperation, “Life was simpler before. We didn’t have transgenders, or queers, or whatever.”
Actually, we did, but often, because such conditions seemed strange, people did not talk about them. Humans tend to want simple binary categories: black and white, male and female. It’s hard for us to accept gray areas, and when we do encounter the nebulous and mysterious (or what we think is mysterious), we think it’s “abnormal”, “diseased”, “sinful”.
The LGBT-QCI or QIA movements come out of people who are finally saying, “Hey, I was born this way, so please accept me.”
So, behind LGBT-QCIA is still another abbreviation, “SOGIE,” which means sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. That simply means recognizing a person’s right to be himself or herself, and the “him” and “her” may not correspond to the biological body.
Originally, the terms referred to the minority groups, obviously because they were suffering the brunt of discrimination. But now we have a new letter, “C,” which seems to be an attempt to accommodate a large group, maybe even the majority.
The “cis/trans” distinction comes from chemistry and genetics, and I decided I’m not going to try to explain the technical details in my column. Suffice it to say that “trans” means coming from the opposite end, while “cis” is coming from the same side.
Applied to gender, it works out this way: A transgender person is someone who moves between being male and female because s/he feels a mismatch between the body s/he was born in, and the gender s/he believes s/he should be.
Now if you’re content with the biological sex you were born into, you would be “fixed” there and so your identity would be—music, please—cisgender.
I do find it awkward, maybe because the chemistry jargon is not well-known. Imagine yourself answering, when someone asks how you self-identify, “I’m cis, dahling.”
But I hope you get the point, whether you’re gay or bi, trans or cis, you have the right to be yourself and not to be discriminated against.
Even more importantly, one’s rights are acknowledged in relation to other group’s rights as well, and these are, if I might borrow again from chemistry, constantly being titrated. For example there are the constant debates about the use of toilet facilities. There are transwomen (male biological body, but gender identity is that of a woman) who prefer to use the women’s toilet because when they enter men’s rooms, the guys jump out of their pants. The problem, though, is that women might feel they are being invaded as well when transwomen enter their toilet.
One solution is to have men’s, women’s and transwomen’s toilets. (It is easier for transmen to use either the men’s or women’s toilet.) Or have, as in the University of the Philippines’ Center for Women’s Studies, a kind of pansexual toilet with facilities for all genders in one large room, but with cubicles.
Another example of the complications around gender identities are colleges in the United States which by tradition are limited to women. In recent years, these colleges have started to take students who are women by birth but who now say they want to transition into being men. Their appearance will be very male, including beards and muscular bodies, but many may not have gone through gender reassignment surgery.
The problem now is that some of them run for office in student councils. And this is where other women students have begun to protest, saying that the women’s colleges were established precisely to allow women their own spaces. Having a man becoming an official, even if a transman, violates those spaces.
The debates continue even as companies and governments adjust. Australia no longer requires people to indicate their gender in official applications—for example, for passports.
In some countries, Facebook has “customized gender,” allowing you choices from some 50 (!) categories including cisgender male, cisgender female, transgender male, transgender female, bigender, agender, gender variant, gender fluid, and many more. (I haven’t checked for the Philippines; I don’t even have a Facebook account, so that saves me gender angst.)
Facebook then is even more advanced than the LGBT movement, which has a “Q” category, or people who argue that all these letters refer to artificially constructed categories. In the end, queers ask, should we care about whether someone’s gay or lesbian or bisexual, or trans or cis? To be queer is to defy being boxed into a category. It includes gender nonconformists, people who are happy being born male, for example, but would like to be able to wear pink pants, and sport nail polish, and tell another male, “Pare, chika tayo” (“Let’s have a heart to heart talk”).
Take your pick, maybe from Facebook’s 50 categories. Or throw them all out and say I think Q’s fine. The world would be so much more boring without variations in sexual orientation and genders, and in the way people express themselves.
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