By: Allan Wallace
What has been called the Gay Alphabet Soup, LGBTQ plus any other letters that are sometimes added, is the effort of an historically marginalized minority to be inclusive within its own ranks. Those five letters have become an umbrella term that developed around the belief that including and organizing as many sexual minorities as possible will make things a little better for all. So likewise, each letter represents an umbrella term for several subcultures.
Most people go through life thinking of sex, gender, and sexuality as binary, that is, one set of genitalia or the other; masculine or feminine; heterosexual or homosexual. The physical sex of a person is more than 99% binary, male or female and then there is that fraction of 1% who were born with that exceedingly rare blend of sex known as hermaphroditism, having the genitalia and/or internal organs of both sexes.
Gender is a combination of sex, sexuality, and mental processes that speak to how one relates to other people. Gender not only includes the feeling and appearance of being masculine or feminine but also includes being androgynous (or without gender). And when considering gender, one must factor in the variable surges and delicate balances that hormones play in the human body, and there are inescapable cognitive and perceptual components as well.
Sexuality is a measure of sexual attraction and is the exact opposite of binary. It is a spectrum as explained by the famous sex researchers Alfred Kinsey and Clara McMillen in their mid-twentieth century publications (1948 and 1953) known together as The Kinsey Reports, in which they introduced The Kinsey Scale. This is a graphic illustration of the scale:
More than half of all humans are close enough to the heterosexual end of the Kinsey Scale to remain blissfully unaware of the range of sexuality above the zero end of the scale. The scale goes from zero (100% heterosexual), to six (100% homosexual), with three being 50-50 bisexual. About 3 or 4% of any population are 100% homosexual (or close enough to 100% not to matter). Those who are almost entirely gay are a Kinsey 4 to 5 making up an additional 6 or 7% of the population (very close to the famed “10%” claimed by many in decades past). And there is evidence to suggest that this is an historical constant.
L&G – Lesbian and Gay
Those who are lesbian or gay, are females and males at or very near a Kinsey 6, at or near 100% homosexual and includes all those above a Kinsey 4. The largest group of humans are clustered at or near the other end of the scale, at or near 100% heterosexual, lower than a Kinsey 2. A Kinsey 5 (as well as a Kinsey 1) is so close to the end of the scale that they may have only thought about sex with an opposite sex partner (or a same sex partner), or had a same-sex (or opposite-sex) experience for a limited time or perhaps only once, usually in their teens or 20s.
B – Bisexual
The largest group in the Alphabet Soup and the second largest group of humans are Bisexuals, and they could stand on their own if they wished to do so. Bisexuals experience an equal, or near equal, attraction to both sexes, and can fall in love with either. Bisexuals from straight-leaning to gay-leaning, 2 to 4 on the Kinsey Scale, account for 30% to 40% of the population, with true bisexuals being 3 on that scale. It is important to note that bisexuals throughout history have often denied their homosexual side, married and raised a family. But, they almost as often have found another similarly situated companion with which to explore or satisfy their other needs, at least once in their adult life. And, there are other possibilities, like polyamory, which I will not go into here.
T – Transgendered
Transgendered people are the most diverse group in the Alphabet Soup, they also represent most of the letters sometimes added after the first five. The most prevalent sub-group is those who believe the sex of their personality and of their physical body is different from each other. Some have had sex reassignment surgery, partially or completely, and includes those in the long process of preparing for that surgery. And this letter also includes those who for differing reasons do not want the surgery or simply love to cross-dress. Actually, more straight people cross-dress than do gays.
In the 1960s, success in cross-dressing was almost entirely measured in terms of how well one could “pass” as a member of the opposite sex. But later, hippies, college age war and draft protesters, and other counter-culture types joined by LGB&T people started protesting oppressive politicians and the police forces they controlled. This taught LGB&T people that they could protest the way they were treated and even fight back as they did at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in Greenwich Village in NYC in the summer of 1969 where the police regularly harassed and arrested GLBT people who were minding their own business. This became known as the Stonewall Riots. After that, the emphasis changed from “passing” to being as flamboyant as possible as a protest. This and the comedy routines of certain entertainers are what propelled the cross-dresser into popular culture and resulted in what is referred to as a “Drag Queen,” a male performer who entertains “in drag.”
Q – Queer
The direct meaning of the word, queer, is “strange or odd” but for many decades it was one of the aspersions (along with “faggot” “dike” and many others) used by some straights to denigrate homosexuals. It was often paired with an expletive, such as “damned queer,” which was one of the milder combinations.
In the late70s, the “gay community” attempted to adopt the word, “queer” much in the same way that police adopted the word, “pig” in the early 70s after many years of that being used as an aspersion against them in the counter-culture struggles of the 60s. It failed because far too many of homosexual (especially gay men) far too recently felt the sting of that word being used against them, for them to embrace the word.
But in the late 90s, high school and college age young people who considered themselves to be outside what others considered “normal” (socially, sexually, or otherwise) adopted the word, “queer”. They accomplished what no one else had been able to do, bringing the word back closer to its original meaning while wearing the word proudly.
With recent Supreme Court decisions ensuring equal justice under the law with respect to marriage and employment, it becomes more important to understand the social history and facts behind the creation of “LGBTQ+.” This is only the surface of all that the “Alphabet Soup” represents, but it is my hope that it explains its usage enough for most to understand.