In the non-straight community (I know it’s not a conventional term, but bear with me) we seem to have an obsession with labels.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersex, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, queer, dyke, takataapui, bear, twink, queen, genderqueer, bicurious, Friend of Dorothy…
And then there are the, well, more perjorative (and sometimes downright obscure) labels.
Poof, faggot, fruit, arse bandit, shirt lifter, fairy, pansy, fudge packer, clay digger, pillow biter…
(On the subject of faggots, I was in England on holiday a few years ago, and in a takeaway bar in Plymouth the menu read “Faggots 20p”. I looked at this and thought that either I’d stumbled upon a really cheap gay brothel, or faggot didn’t quite mean the same thing as it did at home. I recently asked my brother-in-law about it, and he explained that the faggots the takeaway would have been selling were a type of spicy meatball. Hmmm… I can see this term making a comeback. After all, spicy meatballs!)
Not intending to offend anyone, but I’m sure there are labels that I’ve missed.
Usually this seems to turn into something of an alphabet soup, depending on which group you think is more important. GLBT, GLBTI, LGBTIQ, GLBTTFFI…
I think there’s an easy answer to the soup: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRTUVWXYZ. Everyone in alphabetical order except for S, because that’s what we’re not.
Some of our labels have interesting histories. While I’m not Maori, I like the the genteel elegance and inclusiveness of the term takataapui. The historical translation from Maori is “an intimate friend of the same gender”, and the term was originally used in this way in the story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. In the original Maori version, Tutanekai sent his takataapui to the lakeside to fill the calabashes with water, whereas in the English translation his takataapui became his slave. Thanks to those depraved Victorians, what I want to know is, just what did they think that Tutanekai was up to with those calabashes?
Much like the Friend of Dorothy. With its’ origins in the pre-homosexual law reform United States and the gay icon status of Judy Garland, it was a useful euphemistic term to ask someone if they were a homosexual. You could strike up a conversation and as “by the way, are you a friend of Dorothy?” If they weren’t, well, they weren’t. If they thought they were, it wouldn’t take much more conversation to find out what sort of Dorothy they meant. If we didn’t live in slightly more enlightened times, the modern equivalent might be a Friend of Kylie, or even a Friend of Gaga.
Many of our labels have second meanings. Gay used to be a term for carefree or happy, whereas queer used to have connotations of being abnormal. While the term queer is widely accepted these days, it’s not a label that I’m personally comfortable with. After being brought up with the idea that there was something terrible wrong with me, and spending a long time coming to terms with the idea that there wasn’t, why would I adopt a label that had connotations of being abnormal? I’m quite happy with gay, and as for the carefree and happy bit, well, I can live with that.
And as for the idea of gay becoming a term for something stupid, well, those young breeders just don’t have any respect for their elder fudgepackers.
And as we get older, while some of our labels remain, sometimes as a relic of our generation, some of our labels will change and evolve. After all, as the cubs becomes bearier and the twinks less twinky, sometimes we come to realise that our interests and our place in the community changes and evolves. After all, have you ever been to a bar and wished they’d turn the music down, or caught yourself saying “in my day…”?
And as we evolve and change, our labels evolve and change along with it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.