What does LGBTQIA+ stand for?
The LGBTQIA+ community is vast and diverse, and this umbrella term brings together experiences relating to both gender and sexuality. First, let’s break down the acronym itself:
+all other sexual and gender diversities
Sexuality refers to sexual and romantic attraction, sexual and romantic behaviours, and identity. People who are lesbian and gay tend to be sexually and romantically attracted to people who have the same gender identity as themselves. People who are bisexual tend to be attracted to both people who have the same gender and a different gender to themselves. These terms are typically based on the gender binary which assumes that there are only two gender identities – man and woman. This is part of the hetreonormative or heterosexism of modern society, where people are assumed to only be attracted to people of the opposite gender identity, and there are only two gender identities. Most modern societies follow this idea that everyone is heterosexual (i.e. attracted to someone of the opposite gender, based on the sex they were assigned at birth).
Gender identity is different to the sex we are assigned at birth. Sex is based on the biological characeristics a person may have, which includes their genetics (chromosomes), hormones, and physical traits. Sex is described as male and female. Gender identity is the experience of gender which is not always the same as biological sex. If a person identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth, we refer to them as cis-gendered. Transgender refers to a gender identity where a person was born and assigned a specific sex at birth (i.e. “assigned female at birth” = AFAB, “assigned male at birth” = AMAB) and has a gender identity that is different to that. For example, a person may be AFAB and identify as a trans man. Having a trans gender identity does not mean that you have to undergo medical transition. People can be trans without any changes to their physical or biological traits. Being trans is also not limited to the gender binary. For example, a person may be AMAB, and identify as trans non-binary. Gender identity is also different from gender expression. Someone may identify as a woman, and express their gender as a man e.g. wear clothes that men typically wear. Therefore, the gender expression we see (clothing, make-up) may not always match with the person’s internal gender identity.
There are also many other gender identities (e.g. non-binary, gender fluidity, gender queerness) which are not based on the gender binary. These identities also intersect with sexuality. For example, a person may be non-binary and lesbian. For some people, it is difficult to express their gender identity, sexuality, and worldview based on these specific labels. They may choose to use the umbrella term “queer” to refer to their sexual and romantic preferences. Queer used to be a slur for gender and sexually diverse people in the global west in the 16th century, and was seen to be derogatory up until the 1980s. However, the word “queer” was reclaimed by the gay community during the gay pride movement against homophobia in the time of the AIDS epidemic. Since then, the word “queer” has become more popular, especially with an increase in awareness, recognition, and understanding of the wide spectrum of gender and sexual identities and experiences.
Intersex people are born with genetic, hormonal, or physical features which are not fully in line with the sex characteristics we see in individuals AFAB or AMAB. They therefore have a mixture of biological traits which do not fall into the gender binary that society has created based on biological sex characteristics. Intersex is an umbrella term that refers to all people who have this experience of multiple sex characteristics. Historically, Intersex people were medically operated on, without their consent, when they were born or early in life to bring their bodies in line with the gender binary. Intersex is not a gender identity and it is also not a sexual identity. Intersex people experience a diverse range of gender and sexual identities. For example, a person may be intersex, trans non-binary, and asexual.
Asexuality refers to people who do not experience sexual attraction towards others. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy or abstinence. People who are asexual may experience romantic attraction towards others. For example, a person may be asexual and lesbian. There are also people who identify as aromantic – this means that they do not experience romantic attraction towards other people. A person can be aromantic and asexual, which means that they do not experience romantic or sexual attraction. People who are aromantic may also have sexual preferences. For example, a person may be aromantic, gender queer, and gay. It is also possible to feel romantic attraction and sexual attraction towards different people. For example, a person may be sexually attracted to men, and romantically attracted to women.
The + in the LGBTQIA+ acronym stands for all the other gender and sexual diverse experiences that exist. These can include gender non-conforming, gender queer, gender fluid, as well as androsexual, demiromantic, pansexual, skoliosexual etc. All of these diverse gender and sexual identities can intersect with each other, as well as other identity experiences such as race, ethnicity, religion, caste, disability, and class. It is important to understand that gender is a socially constructed phenomenon, and that previous understandings were based on biology, whereas current understandings are based on social and internal experiences. Similarly, sexuality was historically considered only through the heterosexual norms. However, we now understand that there are many forms of sexuality and that it isn’t necessary for everyone to follow heteronormative standards of living. Gender and sexual diversity are not “symptoms of trauma” or “caused by abuse”. These are some of the prevalent myths which invalidate and dehumanise queer people. Being queer is not wrong, just as being straight or cis-gendered is not wrong. We are all uniquely different, and hopefully one day we can live in societies which accept and celebrate our differences as being vital to the richness of our collective experiences.
Author: Dr. Navya Anand, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Therapheal