Gay Lingo 101 – Part 1

This is my friend Greg.  Greg is awesome.  There are lots of reasons why Greg is awesome, but one of them is that he is SUPER supportive of everything I am up to with this blog and related events.  Greg laughs at my jokes, loves my husband’s appletinis, is remarkably genuine and sincere, super easy to talk to, and deep as all get out.  And Greg is gay.  Greg and I don’t always agree on spirituality, theology, politics, etc. but we love each other all the same.  He’s great like that.  Another reason that Greg is awesome is because he was willing to write all of us who are not “in the know” a really cool, very informative, super helpful “Gay Lingo for Dummies” type of an article.  It’s really interesting!  I know, because I read it already.  I even learned some new things through it.  I think this information is important, because I know a lot of you have questions about the LGBT community and/or culture.  I also know what it feels like to be very worried about saying the wrong thing and suddenly (and unintentionally) causing offense.  So, for those of you who have ever asked, “What does that mean?” or “Is that offensive?”  or “Why do they do that?” but have been too afraid to ask, read on.  I’m posting it in two parts, because it’s massive, and I don’t want you to bite off more than you can chew.  If you have any questions as you are reading through this, feel free to ask via the comments section.  I’m sure Greg would love to respond and so would I.  Lastly, leave him some love people!  He has spent a lot of time putting this together for our benefit!  Enjoy!
LGBTQQI Is Not a Federal Agency
By Greg Cassatt

When I was asked to write a guest blog for LOVEboldy, my initial reaction was sheer excitement coupled with nostalgic whims of my younger banters in the literary world.  However, my enthusiasm would quickly turn into a mild shutdown of artistic brain function as I pondered what topic would be a worthy contribution to the challenge of LOVEboldy.  Luckily for me, Heidi’s request also had the foresight to combat this issue.  And shortly thereafter, I received a list of words and phrases with a simple request:  explain what these mean.  So after expanding the list a bit, I will be helping all of you wonderful readers to navigate the vocabulary, the do’s-and-don’ts, and all the twists and turns of the gay lexicon from a member of its very own community.  By the end of this list, you’ll have the insight and confidence to engage the LGBT community without bouts of terror and panic at the thought of inadvertently offending anybody.

1.    ABSOLUTE CODE/THE CODE – First coined in the 1950’s, the absolute code is that one does not expose another person’s homosexuality to their straight friends, boss and coworkers, or to the press.  This is considered to be a huge taboo in gay culture since involuntarily outing someone can be detrimental and/or dangerous to that person’s physical and psychological well-being.

2.    “ADAM AND EVE, NOT ADAM AND STEVE” – Surfacing on anti-homosexual protest signs in the late 1970’s, this slogan is intended to imply that gay relationships are inherently unnatural because they do not correspond to the Biblical account of creation’s first human beings.  This statement is generally dismissed by the gay community because its logic is arguably faulty; however it continues to be a point of contention due to the intent behind its use.

3.    ALLY/STRAIGHT ALLY – Any ally is any heterosexual person who supports LGBT individuals or causes.  One major group that champions the ally movement is PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).  A common symbol among straight allies is an inverted pink triangle surrounded by a green circle.  This symbol is used to designate a space or location as being safe from homophobia or discrimination.

4.    BISEXUAL – Bisexual is a term used to describe any person with a defined sexual interest in both genders.  Many homosexuals identify as bisexual early on in the coming out process as a “buffer” orientation of sorts, either to mask their sexual experimentation or until they are comfortable enough to make the leap to identifying as gay or lesbian.  This trend, however, has brought mass amounts of hostility upon bisexuals from both sides of the fence.  Certain heterosexual groups condemn them for dabbling in homosexuality, and certain homosexual groups accuse them of falsely identifying as bisexual as a way to avoid the persecutions and hardships experienced during the coming out process.

5.    CHOICE/ORIENTATION/PREFERENCE – These three words have been the source for many formidable debates and fierce hostilities when used incorrectly, so remember these if nothing else.  First and foremost, avoid stating or implying that homosexuality is a choice.  This is a false idea that has managed to linger around despite the volumes of research demonstrating otherwise.  It is no easier for me to say when I “chose” to be homosexual, as it would be for Heidi to say when she “chose” to be heterosexual.  Yes, there are those few people who actually make a conscious decision to have homosexual experiences – this is sexual experimentation and should not be used to create a halo effect on the rest of the community.  Secondly, the terms sexual orientation and sexual preference are not interchangeable because they mean two entirely different things.  Sexual orientation is a person’s predisposed level of sexual attraction to the same or opposite sex; this term is fully inclusive of heterosexuals as well.  Orientation is the most correct terminology when referencing an individual’s “type” of homosexuality.  Sexual preference on the other hand is referring to a person’s sexual interests or attractions.  For example, Jane Doe’s sexual orientation is lesbian and her sexual preference is for blondes.

6.    CIVIL UNIONS/GAY MARRIAGE – Civil unions were first created as an attempt by Vermont to establish protections for gay and lesbian couples, because gay marriage was not an option at the time.  More recently, the term has been offered up as an alternative to gay marriage by several politicians and special interest groups.  There are, however, some major differences between the two that may clear up why there is such resistance to civil unions by the gay community.  In 1997, the General Accounting Office released a list of 1,049 benefits and protections extended to heterosexual marriages that were not afforded to homosexual civil unions, such as interstate recognition, the ability to file joint federal tax returns, and hospital visitation rights.  An addendum to this list was released by the GAO in 2004, expanding it to a total of 1,138 benefits and protections ranging from estate taxes, immigration policies, and property taxes to social security, medical decisions, and domestic violence protections.  The push for gay marriages has been to extend these rights to gay and lesbian couples under the federal definitions of the law.  It has never been the intent or desire of the LGBT community to defile anyone’s religious beliefs, but rather to equate the two relationships in the eyes of the government.  When you hear the term “gay marriage” in the LGBT community, it is not typically being used to refer to a religious ceremony; it is referring, instead, to a federally recognized status of citizenship and tax coding.

7.    DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL (DADT) – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a policy passed under the Clinton administration that prevents military officials from actively pursuing an inquiry into a service member’s sexual orientation.  DADT is most often quoted, incorrectly, as the policy banning gays in the military.  The truth is that being homosexual has always been material for discharge since the American Revolution.  DADT does not prevent gays from being in the military; it only prevents them from being openly gay in the military.

8.    DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT (DOMA) – DOMA is probably the most controversial and hated piece of legislature in the gay community.  The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal policy that prohibits the requirement of one state to recognize a homosexual marriage performed in another state.  Furthermore, it provides a standing definition for all federal actions regarding marriage as between one man and one woman, and defines “spouse” as a husband or wife of the opposite sex.  What this means for the gay community:  Say Heidi had met a nice girl named Danielle, they moved to Massachusetts, and received a fully legally-recognized homosexual marriage.  For their honeymoon, they decide to take a trip to Florida to visit me and go to Disney World.  While in Florida, Danielle becomes unusually ill and is rushed to the emergency room, where she’s immediately admitted and remains unconscious.  Here’s where the problems begin.  Because Florida does not have same-sex marriage, they are not required to recognize one from Massachusetts.  Therefore, Heidi is not only banned from making any kind of medical decisions regarding the best interests of her new wife, but she’s not even permitted in to see Danielle since she’s not a “spouse” or blood relative of the patient.  And that’s only the start of it.  If things work out for the best and Danielle survives the incident but needs Heidi or an attendant to stay home and care for her, Heidi would not be able to claim Danielle as a dependent on her taxes, or receive any sort of Social Security, Disability, or military pension on her behalf for her care.  In fact, Heidi and Danielle wouldn’t even be permitted to file taxes jointly, because even though the state in which they reside recognizes their marriage, the federal government does not define them as spouses.  This act is the reason for the 1,138 missing benefits and protections mentioned previously under Civil Unions.

9.    DRAG/TRANSGENDER/TRANSSEXUAL/TRANSVESTITE – These terms are similar to the choice/orientation/preference discussion, in that they are constantly used interchangeably when they should not be.  To start we’ll look at the definitions and history of each one.  Drag performers, simply put, are entertainers specifically impersonating a member of the opposite gender.  Drag performers are always gay.  The art of today’s drag performers originated early on in gay clubs as a way to raise money for the community.  Each performer would collect the tips they received from the audience and then a portion, if not all, was donated to AIDS hospices in the area.  Transgender individuals are those whose gender identity/expression is socially unconventional to the physical gender in which they were born.  Transgender is an umbrella term encompassing drag queens, transsexuals, transvestites, and the like.  A transsexual person is an individual under the transgender umbrella that has taken surgical or hormonal steps to change their physical body to reflect their gender identity.  Transsexuals can be homosexual or heterosexual in orientation.  In fact, a majority of transsexuals engage in what would be defined as heterosexual relationships in regards to their gender identity, and tend not to consider themselves part of the gay community.  Lastly, transvestites are heterosexuals who obtain sexual or emotion pleasure from dressing in clothing typically associated with the opposite gender.  The question I come across most in regards to these groups of individuals is how you refer to them.  People have a tendency to get so caught up in the Pronoun Game of “he/she” that they’d rather just not interact with them at all.  A good rule of etiquette for your next encounter:  the pronoun you use should match the gender of the person’s appearance.  Regardless of whether or not you know it’s your friend Jack standing in front of you, if Jack’s got a wig and dress on, then Jack is a “she” tonight.

10.    DYKE/FAG/QUEER – Each of these terms are derogatory and offensive in origin.  The use of these among bullies and homophobes is comparative to the use of racial slurs against ethnic minorities.  In more recent times, an effort has been made in the LGBT community to devalue the negative connotations behind these words.  For example, Dykes on Bikes, “fag hags,” and various other euphemisms have become common use terms.  Those who identify as queer have even developed separately into their own subculture of the LGBT community.
So now you’re hooked right?  There’s a lot more to come in part two!  Stay posted!  Feel free to post questions below…you can even do it anonymously if you’re too embarrassed to admit you don’t know!  This is a judgement free zone!  Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “Gay Lingo 101 – Part 1

  1. Greg – impressive and well-done.On point 6, I know in my circles the use of the expression "gay marriage" is increasingly becoming offensive."Same-sex marriage" is more descriptive and "marriage equality" I think is generally preferred because it gets to the gist of what we're after — equality before the *law* (i.e., civil equality).Churches have always been and will always be free to make their own rules about who may be married within their jurisdiction. One of the straw man arguments that often gets trotted out is the bogeyman of fear that laws would force churches to have to marry two people of the same gender. It will never happen — the protections around religious conscience built-into our founding documents prohibits it.That said, my home church would also be free to condone and support my husband and I to be married within our faith community — freedom of religious conscience and conviction cuts both ways.I think the paragraph you wrote about gender roles and identity could use a bit more unpacking. Intersexed conditions aren't addressed and I think that the discussion around trans* issues and how to define/describe them is an ongoing, fluid discussion that is challenging to be properly nuanced.But a great start. Thanks!

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