Prisoners of the "+"
The Hidden Identities of the LGBT+ Community
They are non-binary, she is aromantic. She is pansexual, he is asexual. Together, they are the "+." Without them, the "+" cannot exist. However, it keeps them silent and invisible. Even if multiple people in this group don't consider themselves "gay," to this day, most people call the LGBT+ community "the gay community," from ignorance or from lack of care. The reason? The last two letters are still hard to swallow. Lesbian, gay? Alright, that's fine. Bisexual? C'mon! Why don't you just choose one of the two genders, so we can call it a day. Transgender? You can't choose your gender, what is this? Taking that into consideration, it just makes sense that everything "after," which means the people included in the "+" are systematically invalidated. This then forces these people to wait their turn to speak, no matter how long it will take. In this article, I will try as best as I can, to give them the right to speak up about their experience.
Sexuality and Romance the "+"
One of the most known terms of the unknown terms is definitely the term pansexual. This sexual orientation is used by people who don't consider gender to be a criterion of selection. The word is a combination of the prefix "pan," which means "all" in Latin—in this case, all genders—and the word ‘‘sexual’’ because it is a sexual orientation. People who are attracted to men, women, and non-binary folks (term that will be explained later) can use this label instead of the more common term, bisexual. Mireille considers this label more inclusive, because she says she's "more attracted by someone's personality than by their gender."
Asexuality, which is in a way the opposite, is also a sexual orientation; however, it is way less celebrated than the previous one. Sam, asexual and aromantic himself, confirmed it to me: "Asexuality is a sexuality that isn't really known, almost totally unknown and commoditized by most of the world." Asexual people don't feel sexual attraction towards girls, guys or anyone in between. Sexual orientation is a spectrum, the same way that gender is a spectrum. Attraction can go from a lot, to not at all to just sometimes, which is often called demisexuality. For Delphine, who is demisexual, "sexual orientation is something that [she doesn't] feel, unless she develops a very strong emotional bond with somebody." Not to confuse with being abstinent or being "picky" when it comes to choosing a partner, she clarifies: "I CANNOT feel sexual desire. It's not that I don't want to! I can't even think about being attracted to someone else than my boyfriend!" Certain asexual individuals are in relationships and have sexual intercourse with their partner(s) to please them because being asexual doesn't always mean a systematic repulsion to sex.
When it comes to aromanticism, it's basically the same thing. Romantic attraction is associated with the concepts of intimacy, certain affectionate gestures, in short: the desire of these things, to be in a relationship as well as the capacity to fall in love. Sam doesn't have these desires; these things are not a necessity for him. People who are on the asexual and/or the aromantic spectrum are often told that they're "stuck up" or that they simply didn't find the right person yet. Delphine always hated that comment: "Yes, for me it changed when I met my boyfriend, but… it took time. And it could have never happened, and it would have been okay!"
Gender of the "+"
If you were born with a penis and identify as a man, then you are a cisgender man. Otherwise, we say that somebody is transgender when they don't identify with the gender they were assigned at birth when a doctor looked between their legs. Someone who was born with a penis but who feels like a woman is then considered a transgender woman. However, certain people don't feel like either a man or a woman, no matter what set of genitals they have. The term "non-binary" (binary here referring to the binary system of gender that includes man and woman), which can be associated with the term transgender, is often used in that situation. This umbrella term includes multiple gender identities. Noa, for example, is agender, which means she doesn't have a gender. "Woman" and "man" are not terms that correspond with her, which makes her "neutral, in a way," she explained. Aki, on the opposite, is bigender, because he is both a woman and a man.
Here you have the example of two non-binary persons using different pronouns. However, it's obvious that the whole pronoun thing can be confusing. What do you use for people who are between the "he" and the "she?" In English, because of its gender neutrality, the use of singular "they" is becoming more and more common (yes, it is, and it's grammatically correct, look it up), but unfortunately, there is no French equivalent. Non-binary French speaking people have to choose between "il" (he) and "elle" (she) or use both. Sidd, who is non-binary as well, prefers neutral pronouns when he's speaking in English, but is indifferent when speaking in French. Aki prefers masculine pronouns and Noa feminine pronouns. But how do I know what pronouns to use? It's pretty easy: You just have to ask!
And their sexuality? Trans people experience their sexuality the same way cis people do: It just depends on the people! A lesbian is a girl who is attracted to other girls, but if we don't have a gender, what term should we use to label our sexuality? Once again, it depends. When I talked to Eliott, who is a non-binary boy (which means that he is non-binary but that his gender is closer to the masculine side than to the feminine side), his attraction to women and non-binary folks caused a conflict when it was time to label his sexuality: "The term 'lesbian' is definitely not appropriate for me, because I'm not a girl. However, 'gay' is used by men, and women, so it feels more inclusive and fits with my gender identity," he explained.
Some other people use the label "queer," which can include sexual orientation and gender identity. In that case, the person doesn't identify with being cis nor straight. For Sidd, "queer" is the right label: "I like to use [it] because this umbrella term includes a lot of my sexual orientation." Noa is bisexual. Aki is pansexual. In short, it's very diverse!
Wishes of the "+"
Like mentioned earlier, I want to use my voice in the best way that I can to make my subjects heard. Everyone can agree that the LGBT+ community is on the right path when it comes to giving more place to the unheard, but there is still a long way to go, nonetheless. Among the gays and the lesbians, pansexual people, asexual people and non-binary people feel erased: "I don't feel represented at all in the community because there are not many pan folks like me," admitted Mireille. However, it's always encouraging for them to meet people who share their experience: "We feel very alone most of the time, so it feels good… to share something with someone else, to identify ourselves with another person,’’ explained Cassandre, pansexual by definition, but who feels more comfortable with the terms "gay" and "queer." For Sam, it's the same thing. He considers asexuality to be "very erased" because "[asexual people are not] taken seriously." He thinks taking a step back is necessary because no one holds the absolute truth. The community should be a safe place that helps to "fight discrimination and that shows solidarity so that we can fight the problem together," said beautifully Cassandre.
And what should we do about the others—the cisgender, heterosexual and heteroromantic people of the world? Whether it's about racial, sexual, or gender minorities, the solution is the same: Representation is essential. Obviously, this affects everyone differently. Aki "doesn't really see any non-binary folks like [them]," but on the other side, Eliott is surrounded by queer people, so he doesn't feel as invisible. Now with that being said, the lack of diversity is still the primary reason why the general population is ignorant, and it becomes "an important obstacle that is difficult to overcome, mostly when people are so afraid of the unknown from the start," explains Sidd. But it goes further than that. A lot of people consider that having a "gay friend" is already enough, as if they deserved a Nobel prize for it! For Eliott, it's annoying when you're part of the "+" because "it's harder to be accepted or understood [by people since] their level of open mindedness is high enough, to them... they open their mind to what they want."
"But isn't it too much?"
For a few years, we've seen the acronym elongate and people say they lost track. That they try to keep themselves updated but too much is too much, to the point of it being ridiculous. When it is time to judge the attitude of people who are part of marginalized groups, the tendency to, let's say, exaggerate is very common. For example, cisgender people love to portray trans folks as impatient and merciless when it come to pronoun mistakes, to only name this example. The meme "Did you just assume my gender?" with an illustration of a feminine-presenting individual yelling at a man because he assumed that they were a woman based on their appearance became very popular a few years ago for that exact reason.
The idea that trans people—binary or not, or with less common sexualities—are beasts, thirsty for justice, ready to jump in the face of anyone who would have the audacity to say something out of place, is only getting worse with time. It's a concept that I always had trouble understanding, considering that the majority of trans people I know would never correct a stranger on their pronouns. Making fun of people's gender dysphoria is obviously the best way to rationalize our own transphobia, right? Right…
The important thing to remember here is that being perfectly in touch with the changes and knowing perfectly every single definition is not the key, which is why I only explained terms that my subjects identified with, in order to make this article as short as possible. I don't expect every person reading this to become an LGBT+ advocate and get a rainbow tattooed on their left but cheek. If by the end of this you are just a little more respectful of the unknowns of this diverse community, my goal will be more than accomplished. Understanding can be difficult. I totally understand that, mostly when we live in a world so obsessed with the concept of normality. Respect, however, is free, it feels good, and it can change the world.