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The Atlantic's Jonathan Rauch Tried to Weaponize 'LGBTQ.' He Failed

The Atlantic's Jonathan Rauch Tried to Weaponize 'LGBTQ.' He Failed

Amanda Kerri on acronyms

An acronym is not why much of the world hates us.

I think I figured out how to get published in a mainstream news magazine -- invent a problem that doesn't exist and then write a very thoughtful long-form article that appeals to the very bothered Hamptons crowd, but literally no one else. The trick is to cite someone as an authority, bonus points if you can work Martin Luther King into it, and then make an appeal to sanity because something or someone has run amok.

For Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings Institution fellow, the thing that has run amok and is destroying America this time is LGBTQ. Oh, not the people who are LGBTQ, but the actual acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Apparently it's gone too far as it grows into LGBTQIAA+ and LGBTTIQQ2SA and more, and it ends up dividing America and creating factionalism. OK, whatever. Rauch's argument at best is spurious, historically inaccurate, and myopic, and it blames LGBTQ people for their own continued oppression because they choose to use an acronym to identify their unique community.

Rauch implies that the term "lesbian" didn't exist or at least was not in popular use before the 1980s, when in fact the word entered common usage to describe gay women in the 19th century, whereas before they were often called "sapphists" or "sapphic." This is where Rauch's first fault lies. By seemingly positing lesbian as well as bisexual and transgender as uniquely modern identities, he can then go on to claim that they are part of the "identity politics" currently vexing the modern crowd.

The term "bisexual" first was used in a clinical sense in 1892, not 1992, and the modern term "transgender" is of course derived from "transvestite," which was coined by pioneering researcher Magnus Hirschfeld in 1918 in Germany, and "transsexual," first widely used by American sexologist Alfred Kinsey in the mid-20th century. Mind you, Hirschfeld's work studying transgender identity was destroyed by the Nazis, who were particularly keen on their own form of identity politics. Rauch's argument, implying that the components of LGBTQ are modern, perhaps even American-created identities meant to establish a tribal self, separate from the whole, is entirely contrived, without even the shallowest attempt at historical research.

Rauch uses this argument of increasingly divided identity to attack the growing acronym, which he calls "unwieldy" at even the level of LGBT, not even deigning to recognize other versions, like LGBTQIAA+. Rauch has a mild point about unwieldiness and verbosity here. The longer acronyms are quite a mouthful when speaking, and typing them can be quite fatiguing and obnoxious. That's why I, like some other writers, have taken to using LGBTQ+. Is it a perfect solution that is entirely inclusive of asexual or intersex identities? No, but most people catch on that it is an effort to recognize identities and be inclusive, and rarely do you find the longer acronyms outside of academic circles.

Yes, there are some who find it highly offensive that the variation that they feel includes them is not used every time, but the reality is that often those people are offended at anything. and most of the LGBTQ+ community tends to find those people insufferable and disruptive.

As a military veteran, I can appreciate the frustration at excessive acronyms, but I never see any outrage about that from America at large. Where is the outrage at the excessiveness of ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC, COMNAVAIRSYSCOM, NAVCOMTELSTA ASCOMM DET WHIDBEY, or FLEASWTRACENPAC? Those are real acronyms in the U.S. military, which actually mean something and identify specific things, as much as they seem like a cat walking across a keyboard. Military acronyms are so cryptic and convoluted the U.S. armed forces actually put out books on how to create new ones and to identify the ones that exist. Even rank-and-file service members find them laughable, making up crude and vulgar parodies, but there is no real pressure to change them because they do in fact serve a purpose and are much handier than writing out "Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command" (ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC).

Rauch argues that LGBTQ does not describe himself nor any other American but a coalition, and that it "blots out individuals." Instead, he advocates for simply using Q, as in "queer." Well, if Rauch would like to read the comments section of many an LGBTQ article that describes the LGBTQ+ community singularly as "queer," he would find several very loud announcements that someone does not identify as queer, they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, just as much as they abhor being called "faggot" as a term of affection by other homosexuals.

You see, the reason the acronym exists and not just the term "queer" is because not everyone identifies as queer. We added Q to the acronym because some do, but don't identify as LGBT. However, the real issue Rauch gives for his problem with the acronym isn't its verbosity and nonexistent clunkiness, but something else entirely.

Rauch's argument is that the acronym fuels "identity politics," a term that seems to resemble jazz in that no one can really define what it is, just that they pay lip service to it when it counts, but don't really like it. Rauch argues that it is alienating to white, straight, male America and turning them off from the civil rights movement. At no point does he cite any proof of this other than the fact that "political correctness" and identity politics poll badly among Trump voters. Must I, like many people before me, remind everyone that Donald Trump is president because of the Electoral College and not the number of votes? Additionally, he should certainly be able to recognize that the acronym exists because of the types of Trump voters who find it offensive and a turn-off because they have their own type of white, straight, cisgender, and conservative identarian politics.

Until the advent of the modern LGBTQ+ movement in America, which began at Stonewall, the normal attitude of LGBTQ activists was one of hetero and cisnormative assimilation with groups such as the Mattachine Society. However, it was recognized that assimilation and suppression of unique LGBTQ+ identity was never going to allow for equality; instead, an assertion and empowering of LGBTQ+ identity was the only path forward. I am loath to quote MLK quite often because it is so easy to rip him out of context, but Rauch cites Martin Luther King as an argument for an assimilationist and moderate appeal, ignoring that MLK loudly proclaimed "I'm black, I'm proud of it! I'm black and beautiful!"

MLK of course demanded equality in America and did dream of a day when color didn't matter anymore, but he never believed in subordinating black identity and culture to whiteness in order to achieve that dream. Any historian of the LGBTQ+ movement in America knows that Stonewall and the resulting modern movement were heavily inspired by the likes of King, and that is the point.

We identify as LGBTQ+ not to make ourselves unique and divided from the whole, but because we are unique and divided from the whole. Even using the word "queer" to describe us comes from us being strange or odd compared to the overwhelming majority of America that is heterosexual and cisgender. Even in Rauch's attempt to dismantle what he sees as an act of "identity politics" by renaming all of us as Q or queer in a misguided attempt to have us assimilate, he is merely reinforcing that we are separate in a regressive way.

Instead, the identity of lesbian came about to differentiate homosexual women's identity as from men's, bisexual came about to differentiate from a purely homosexual one, and transgender to describe a unique identity that is separate from the two. The acronym came together as the diverse communities came together in a sense of solidarity for equality from a shared sense of identity created by an already existing feeling of exclusion and discrimination. You see, it was those very Trump type voters who first created our identity as queer, not us. We identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender not because that is the term the academic community in its desire to catalog and order everything in the universe into neat piles assigned us. We merely took them up because they worked to give us an identity to be proud of, as opposed to "queer," "faggot," "dyke," or "tranny."

None of the millions of people who voted for someone other than Trump or any conservative has a real problem with the LGBTQ acronym or it many variations. They know it does not identify a singular person and that it denotes a community of marginalized people fighting for their equal place in society without subsuming that identity. Anyone who would quit being supportive of the community and equality and embrace someone like Trump or his cabal of bigoted goons because a mere acronym twisted their shorts was never on board and was merely looking for an excuse. As Rauch notes in his article that Trump himself uses the acronym, it's readily apparent that it's not the acronym that is the problem but the bigotry that causes it to have to be a thing in the first place. There is no acronym problem, just a bigotry one.

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City, and a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter@Amanda_Kerri.

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