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Friday, January 25, 2013

What Every Parent of a Gay Child Needs to Know: 2. What Is This LGBT(QIA) Thing?

If you are new to the world of the gay community, you will soon be introduced to a variety of terms and acronyms that are in general use, most of which are self-explanatory, but not all.  The most all encompassing is LGBT: An acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender which refers to these individuals collectively. It is sometimes stated as GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender). Occasionally, the acronym is stated as LGBTA to include allies – straight and supportive individuals. The acronym sometimes includes Q for queer or questioning. (All definitions come from the PFLAG website and documents.)

Let's break these down.

Lesbian: A woman whose enduring emotional, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction is to other women. Avoid identifying lesbians as homosexuals, which is often seen as a derogatory term. 

Gay: The adjective used to describe people whose enduring emotional, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attractions are to people of the same sex (e.g., gay man, gay people). In contemporary contexts, lesbian is often a preferred term for women. 

Bisexual: An individual who is emotionally, romantically, physically, and/or spiritually attracted to men and women. Bisexuals do not need to have had equal sexual experience with both men and women; in fact, they need not have had any sexual experience at all to identify as bisexual. Sometimes stated as bi.

Transgender: A term describing the state of a person’s gender identity which does not necessarily match his/her assigned sex at birth. Other words commonly used are female to male (FTM), male to female (MTF), and genderqueer. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically to match their gender identity.

Queer: Traditionally a negative or pejorative term for gay, queer currently is used by some LGBTs  — particularly among younger people —  to describe themselves and/or their community. Some value the term for its defiance, some like it because it can be inclusive of the entire community, and others  find it to be an appropriate term to describe their more fluid identities. Many within the LGBT  community continue to dislike the term and find it offensive. This word should be avoided unless quoting someone who self-identifies that way.

Intersexual: Having both male and female anatomical characteristics, including in varying degrees reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics, as a result of an abnormality of the sex chromosomes or a hormonal imbalance during embryogenesis. (This definition from the Free Online Dictionary)  These were once know by the term Hermaphrodite. 

Ally: Any non-LGBTQ who supports the efforts for gay rights and equality.

If you don't recognize your child here, we will broaden the possibilities in a future post.  You might ask him or her to give you their take on the ins and outs of this acronym as a way for each of you to understand yourselves better. There are quite a few more terms and acronyms that you will encounter, but this list is the most used and will get you going.  

What's most important to know is that LGBTQs will be very patient with you if they sense that your intentions are to relate, not to judge.  Any crossing of that line will be noted immediately and may harm what could be fruitful dialog and possibly a healthy relationship.  

One other thing: The gay community is not monolithic. There is some disagreement as to the usefulness and meanings of this acronym.   So it's best not to assume you share the same frame of reference.  Be a good listener.  In the following video (about 4 minutes), Jeffrey gives a good representation of the issue and offers a way out.

TOMORROW: Your child is just fine.

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