There’s “cis gender man” and the ever popular “cis gender woman,” not to be confused by “cis het.” There’s also “trans man” and “trans woman.” Then there’s “fluid,” “gender queer,” “pan-sexual,” “non binary”… you get the idea. There are even more, but I literally can’t put them all here since it actually would go beyond my word count for this column space.
They’re all labels that members of our community use. The labels make those individuals feel comfortable, so that’s a good thing. You may feel uncomfortable with some of the labels, and some are surprisingly controversial. But what is heard most is that there are too many labels and it gets confusing, or some wonder whether we are splintering our community. And that’s what this column is all about. That fuss about these labels is really unnecessary, that is if you know the history of our community and the oppression labels have caused for thousands of years.
When we as a people were invisible, let’s say back in 1969 and before, polite society had labels for us. They weren’t very nice, and I’m sure you know many of them so I won’t repeat them here. But it just might surprise you that those folks who fought at Stonewall and organized the following three nights of demonstrations had almost to a man or women one word that they all hated. That word was “homosexual.” Their reasons for hating the word were that it was clinical and it was used as a tool by that polite society to embrace all those other hurtful and derogatory words used by them to describe us.
The very first thing that came out of Stonewall when Gay Liberation Front spoke OUT, PROUD and in your face, was that we no longer would allow polite society to label us, but we would label ourselves and define who we were as a people and individually. Some of our labels included “fairies” and “radical lesbian.” Sylvia [Rivera] and Marsha [Johnson], a couple of unsung heroes of the Gay Liberation Front, tried various labels, but decided on transvestite and created Street transvestite Action Revolutionaries, STAR. My little group was simply “gay youth,” which might not seem controversial now, but in those days, society’s image of gays was as child molesters and old men. And those labels that those of us from GLF and Stonewall used, well the mainstream of our community had issues with them — similar as today’s labels used at the top of this column.
That should be a guideline today, since the same rules of Stonewall/GLF still stand true. Translation: You as an individual have the right to label yourself, or not, and others should respect that. And, likewise, we have no right to impose a label on anyone else. If we do so we are as guilty as “polite society.”
In correspondence with other GLF members I still sign off with “your Gay Youth, Mark.” I may not be a youth any longer, but my label is still simply, “gay.”
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.