Matthew Parsons (they/them; Manager, Education and Strategic Development, Rainbow Health Victoria): Language is very powerful. Language tends to be filled with value, with communication of not only what are we describing, but what value are we ascribing to it. It can be really smart for us to pause and think a bit bigger about language in general, about the language that we choose to use to describe especially people and their experiences of the world.
So both LGBTIQ and disability movements have spent time working on the language that gets used by those communities themselves as well as other people describing those communities in the LGBTIQ space. You know, we have this acronym that sort of gets lumped together to describe a whole bunch of different experiences and often if you don’t have a lot of LGBTIQ people in your lives, you may not understand what the differences are within that acronym.
The most common one that’s used in Australia is LGBTIQ, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or gender diverse, intersex and queer. Lesbian and gay we’re more familiar with. They’ve been around for longer. They’re identities of people who are attracted to the same gender. Bisexuality; look, it’s still on a journey, communities’ understandings of bisexuality. Bisexual people often face erasure. If they’re in a relationship with someone of a different gender, we assume they’re now straight. So especially in identities like that where we know there’s still progress to be made, the rule of thumb is use the language that someone uses to describe themselves when talking about that person.
So those are the kind of sexuality ones. Then we move on to trans and gender diverse identities. Trans is this Latin prefix for ‘away from’ and so it means someone whose gender identity is away from the assumptions that are made when we are assigned a sex at birth. So trans and gender diverse people’s experience of their gender doesn’t align with those expectations. A trans or gender diverse person at some point in their life understands who they are in their head, in their heart and what feels right for them interacting in a society that’s very gendered.
So gender affirmation is often thought about in a little bit of a backwards way where we might say some clunky language, like, ‘That person used to be a man and now they’re a woman.’ Well actually, most trans and gender diverse experiences, people tell us, ‘I always knew who I was. It’s just everybody else that didn’t know.’ And so it’s actually more accurate to say, well we are transitioning around that person. The way that we’re using language like pronouns or the words that describe that person, we shift to more closely align with who they really are. There’s more than just men and women in the world. There’s gender diverse people as well. There’s agender. There’s gender-queer. There’s lots of different non-binary experiences. Just by looking at a person, you can’t always know what language they feel most comfortable with or is right for them.
So myself, I identify as gender-queer and I don’t just prefer the term ‘they’ when describing me. It’s actually what’s correct for me. So for you to accurately describe me when you’re watching these videos later, you would say, ‘What they said really stuck with me. What they said made sense to me.’
You ask. You say, ‘What are your pronouns? What pronouns would you like me to use?’ These are really great things that you can do inside all communities, actually, to show that you understand a picture of the world where trans and gender diverse people and their experience of the world is of equal value and they have the same right to feel safe and be described in ways that doesn’t make them a less-than.
So we’ve now talked about the L, the G, the B and the T, and then we get to the I. So intersex is one of those that’s often poorly understood by most of the community and the LGBTIQ communities as well. Intersex people is much more about the body. People with intersex variations have things about their experience of their body and the way that the medical profession or science looks at that body and tries to classify us according to a sex, and people with an intersex variation have variations in their sex characteristics that mean just defining bodies as male or female creates problems for them. People misunderstand that intersex is something to do with gender identity or we use the acronym incorrectly when we’re actually talking about, say, the right to marry someone of the right gender, and we say, ‘That’s for LGBTIQ people,’ and we’re actually talking about relationship diversities, and that’s not what intersex is about.
If you want to fully understand what intersex is and the core issues that intersex people face, you visit Intersex Human Rights Australia so that you can hear directly from intersex people themselves what their experience is, why sometimes we are using the I in the acronym and why sometimes we’re not using the I in the acronym.
Q is for queer. It’s a word that used to be used very commonly as a pejorative, as an insult for people who are diverse in their sexuality or their gender. Then, as marginalised communities often do, in around about the eighties, LGBT communities reclaimed this word and went, ‘You try to use it against us. We’re going to adopt it and make it a word of pride.’ Queer is just my identity and my experience of my sexuality and my gender. I’m not actually going to define in this box. I’m going to, by using the word ‘queer’, show that the way I see the world is that all of this diversity is amazing and beautiful and that my experiences might change and I see all of this as an amazing plethora of options that are all of equal value.