What comes After the T
By Mel Cordner
My conservative family didn’t get dial-up until high school, so I thought I invented queerness for a while. It changed my life when the internet gave me WORDS for what I was—I realized I wasn’t alone or ‘broken’ and gained the vocabulary necessary to find myself and my community. The acronym has lengthened and rearranged several times since then. If you’re questioning whether these changes are important or necessary, you’re not alone—but you’re also not remembering what it was like to not have any words for your experiences and identity.
GLBT was a starter Pokémon; our name evolves as our community gains experience. New words for the type and intensity of attraction we feel, the rigidity or fluidity of our gender identity, and even the specific commitment inherent in some platonic relationships are emerging all the time. These words allow us to better define and describe ourselves and to better relate to one another; they are about connection and clarification, not limitation.
That said, language serves the person using it; if none of these words do anything for you, that’s fine! Whether you identify as gay or as a pansexual demiromantic nonbinary genderqueer, your identity is yours alone to name. You might use newer acronym evolutions like LGBTQIAP+ or LGBTQQIP2SAA, lean on the much-easier-to-say SAGA (Sexuality And Gender Awareness), or default to something cutesy like ‘alphabet soup’ or overarching like queer; the bottom line is, we’re in this together!
Here’s a breakdown of some of the acronym letters you’re most likely to see:
(Q) Queer simply means “not cishet” (short for cisgender (not transgender) heterosexual). Queer intentionally creates space for variation; it embraces fluidity and diversity, and often implies a progressive mindset. The word does have a history of bigotry, so it also serves as an example of a marginalized group ‘taking back power’ by reclaiming and repurposing a word that has been used to harm them. Queer can refer to a person as well as the overall community.
(Q) Questioning our identity is a vital step for many of us, and it’s a process that some people stay engaged in for months, years, or even life. We include space for this experience in our acronym just like we include space for people who are questioning in our community.
(I) Intersex bodies have sex characteristics that do not neatly fall into a typical male-female binary. This is MUCH more common than we’re led to believe, but natural variations in human anatomy are often hidden or even forcibly “corrected” by medical providers, sometimes without the consent or even awareness of the intersex person. Having an intersex body does not dictate a person’s identity; anyone could be intersex, and sharing that information is a personal choice. The experiences and identities of intersex people are incredibly diverse.
(A) Asexual refers to a wide spectrum of experiences regarding the intensity or existence of one’s sexual attraction. People on this spectrum might be sex-indifferent (willing to have sex but not seeking it), sex-repulsed, or even sex-favorable. Identities like demisexual—experiencing a sexual attraction only after an emotional connection is established—are usually considered to fall on this spectrum. Some asexual people still experience romantic attraction; likewise, some aromantic people still experience sexual attraction.
(A) Androgynous typically refers to the appearance of being both masculine and feminine simultaneously. It can be used to describe an aesthetic or an identity.
(P) Pansexual is related to, but generally considered separate from, bisexual. Some people use pansexual to mean they have the capacity to be attracted to a person of any gender. Other people use it to mean an attraction REGARDLESS of gender, describing their attraction to “hearts not parts.”
(2S) Two-Spirit is a specifically Native American concept that predates many words we use to understand gender. The word refers to a person having both a feminine and masculine spirit within them. The title includes specific religious and cultural significance and responsibility that non-Native people cannot fulfill, which is why they shouldn’t use this term. There are MANY gender and orientation words that are specific to a culture, but that’s another article!
Here are a few commonly used words that don’t often make it into the acronyms:
Nonbinary simply means ‘outside the gender binary,’ and is often used as an umbrella term to encompass gender identities other than man and woman. It can be used as a standalone identity as well, which makes it function in a similar way to the word queer.
Genderqueer creates an intentional “other” space beyond the gender binary, and implies an intentional avoidance of, or challenge to, standard gender roles and expectations. Like queer, the word is often seen to have a progressive connotation.
Genderfluid acknowledges that gender is fluid and flexible. A genderfluid person might identify or express as more feminine on some days and more masculine on other days.
Gendervague is a word used by neurodivergent people who experience their gender identity as related to and inseparable from the way their brain is ‘wired’ to process information and experiences. This term is especially popular among autistic people.
Queerplatonic refers to a committed life partnership that is not a typical romantic or sexual relationship. Words like “squish” and “zucchini” can be used to describe one’s queerplatonic partners. Think of this as someone who is “more than” a best friend, but not a lover. This is one of many ways the queer community has developed to describe our chosen families.
Whatever words you come across, it’s important to remember two things: first, that there are always more words, and second, that every one of them can mean slightly different things to different people. Every person’s identity is unique, so even the most specific of these identity labels won’t mean the same thing to all of us! Whenever possible, get to know the person behind the label—a simple “what does that mean to you?” is all it takes to open a conversation.