[…] If the gay-rights movement today seems to revolve around same-sex marriage, this generation is seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female. The core question isn’t whom they love, but who they are — that is, identity as distinct from sexual orientation.
But what to call this movement? Whereas “gay and lesbian” was once used to lump together various sexual minorities — and more recently “L.G.B.T.” to include bisexual and transgender — the new vanguard wants a broader, more inclusive abbreviation. “Youth today do not define themselves on the spectrum of L.G.B.T.,” said Shane Windmeyer, a founder of Campus Pride, a national student advocacy group based in Charlotte, N.C.
Part of the solution has been to add more letters, and in recent years the post-post-post-gay-rights banner has gotten significantly longer, some might say unwieldy. The emerging rubric is “L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.,” which stands for different things, depending on whom you ask.
“Q” can mean “questioning” or “queer,” an umbrella term itself, formerly derogatory before it was appropriated by gay activists in the 1990s. “I” is for “intersex,” someone whose anatomy is not exclusively male or female. And “A” stands for “ally” (a friend of the cause) or “asexual,” characterized by the absence of sexual attraction.
It may be a mouthful, but it’s catching on, especially on liberal-arts campuses.
The term is also gaining traction on social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr, where posts tagged with “lgbtqia” suggest a younger, more progressive outlook than posts that are merely labeled “lgbt.”
“There’s a very different generation of people coming of age, with completely different conceptions of gender and sexuality,” said Jack Halberstam (formerly Judith), a transgender professor at the University of Southern California and the author, most recently, of “Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal.”
“When you see terms like L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.,” Professor Halberstam added, “it’s because people are seeing all the things that fall out of the binary, and demanding that a name come into being.”
And with a plethora of ever-expanding categories like “genderqueer” and “androgyne” to choose from, each with an online subculture, piecing together a gender identity can be as D.I.Y. as making a Pinterest board.
BUT sometimes L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. is not enough. At the University of Pennsylvania last fall, eight freshmen united in the frustration that no campus group represented them.
Britt Gilbert explained that being bi-gender is like manifesting both masculine and feminine personas, almost as if one had a “detachable penis.” “Some days I wake up and think, ‘Why am I in this body?’ ” she said. “Most days I wake up and think, ‘What was I thinking yesterday?’ ”
Several members of Penn Non-Cis had been complaining among themselves about a writing seminar they were taking called “Beyond ‘Will & Grace,’ ” which examined gay characters on shows like “Ellen,” “Glee” and “Modern Family.” The professor, Gail Shister, who is a lesbian, had criticized several students for using “L.G.B.T.Q.” in their essays, saying it was clunky, and proposed using “queer” instead. Some students found the suggestion offensive, including Britt Gilbert, who described Ms. Shister as “unaccepting of things that she doesn’t understand.”
Ms. Shister, reached by phone, said the criticism was strictly grammatical. “I am all about economy of expression,” she said. “L.G.B.T.Q. doesn’t exactly flow off the tongue. So I tell the students, ‘Don’t put in an acronym with five or six letters.’ ”
Santiago, a curly-haired freshman from Colombia, stood before the crowd. He and a friend had been pondering the limits of what he calls “L.G.B.T.Q. plus.”
“Why do only certain letters get to be in the full acronym?” he asked.
Then he rattled off a list of gender identities, many culled from Wikipedia. “We have our lesbians, our gays,” he said, before adding, “bisexual, transsexual, queer, homosexual, asexual.” He took a breath and continued. “Pansexual. Omnisexual. Trisexual. Agender. Bi-gender. Third gender. Transgender. Transvestite. Intersexual. Two-spirit. Hijra. Polyamorous.”
By now, the list had turned into free verse. He ended: “Undecided. Questioning. Other. Human.”
The room burst into applause.