Thursday, 10 October 2013

Homo Hero Lesson 3: Revealing Antonyms

Antonyms. Remember them in school? Synonyms and antonyms. Opposite-words.

One of the lessons of spending an evening at the Homo Heroes Awards was that cis remains a word too far, for far too many LGBT activist brains. With award winners, presenters and hosts representing a wide range of notionally LGBT or LGBT-community-engaged organisations, talking about their varied work with LGBT and non-LGBT alike, I don't think it passed the lips of a single person given a platform at the awards.

It wasn't a fluke. So many people in notionally-LGBT activism and volunteering still think 'heterosexual' is the antonym to 'LGBT'.  But when we talk of something as being the opposite to LGBT, or want a collective term for people who are non-LGBT, the word we need has to be more than just non-gay.  It's non-trans. Straight isn't the antonym, because loads and loads of trans people are straight.  People who aren't trans are cis, and you need to say that qualifier out loud too.

Strictly, it's not just trans fail.  While straight or heterosexual may work well as the antonym to gay and lesbian, either term is only the antonym to LGB in the sense that we are socially deemed heterosexual until found to be bisexual or gay.  There's a fair case to be made that the antonym to LGB is SA, for straight and asexual, but therein lie a series of nuances about biromantic, homoromantic and heteroromantic asexuals, so I'm prepared to take the "straight is the opposite of LGB" on the chin as being where our collective discourse on sexuality has got to.

This lack of thinking through and understanding is a reflection not just of my experience of Manchester's notoriously LGbt culture but of the level of wider LGBT debate outside of bi and trans circles. It reflects how sadly stuck in the 80s so much of 'LGBT' is wherever the B&T have not been able to break through and rise up the queer power pyramid in significant numbers.

When you hear comments like "everyone - LGBT or straight" you have to wonder if you're listening to someone who has 'got' the LG part of the equation, and merely trained themselves to tack some extra letters on when they speak. It's a bit like saying that there are disabled people and normal people, gay people and normal people, immigrants and normal people. 'Normal' believes it doesn't need a word to define itself: but as Derek Jarman pointed out so sharply twentysome years ago, there's a subtle difference between normal and common.

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