Are We Really All Queer?

LGBTQIAPK. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transexual, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual/Polyamorous, and Kinky.

That’s right. There are new letters. It’s an expanded acronym designed to be even more inclusive of gender identities and sexual orientations. It takes up two lines on my page, and it does some heavy lifting. The beauty of that acronym is that it’s shared. It binds us together into a community that’s big enough to speak up and be heard.

That function saved many of our lives in the 80s when the willful silence of Reagan’s administration during the AIDS crisis would have exterminated our community if not for loud protests from well-networked and organized groups like ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Our acronym works because when one is in trouble, there are many to help. But we’re losing sight of its significance.

People in and out of the LGBTQIAPK community are using the term “queer” as shorthand for our diverse community. “Queer” instead of non-binary. “Queer” instead of trans. “Queer” instead of asexual. “Queer” instead of gay, even. You get the point. The motivation there is questionable. It might be laziness. Or it might be something more positive; a drive to feel closer to one another, for all to sit at one table. On an individual level, it might be a means to avoid discussing our identities with curious strangers.

I sat next to Roxy at Twist, Seattle’s Queer Film Festival. She’s a 56-year-old, self-described “butch lesbian.” We went into that term, “butch.”

“I’m actually non-binary,” she said. Roxy only just discovered the term and began using she/they pronouns a year ago. When she wants to avoid a conversation about intersectionality, she often just says she’s queer. “My partner usually tells people she’s gender-queer,” she confided, “which doesn’t avoid much.”

Yet, the term “queer” can be homogenizing. When it’s used for a collective (i.e. “the queer community”), it doesn’t give us much room to be different — and we are different. Our experiences vary greatly. It’s important to recognize that, because our need for the network of support we developed in the 80s is the same.

According to Human Rights Campaign, last year 29 trans people were murdered; this year, the tally is already at 22 — and these are only confirmed homicides, and do not take into account trans individuals who are currently missing. To call us all “queer” is to equate the trans experience to, for example, the gay experience. The problem with that is that gay people aren’t being murdered at the rate trans people are. Saying “queer” instead of trans erases the specificity our community relies on to rally behind a group that needs support.

We did and do not come together because we are all the same. It’s important to remember that our sameness is not our point of commonality. Our point of commonality, the genesis of our alliance, is fighting to survive a strong and deadly heteronormative current. The symbol of that alliance? Our acronym. Thanks to our acronym, not a single sentence is written without each of us present. Thanks to LGBTQIAPK, we all sit at one table in full appreciation and recognition of our diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity. “Queer,” on the other hand, forces us to share a seat. It imagines a sameness in experience that, frankly, doesn’t exist. It behaves like the trans or non-binary or intersex experience can be likened to the gay experience when the they are each unique.

The acronym is better. But it’s also true that we seldom have a conversation with a heterosexual person without them bringing up how long the acronym is getting. The skeptic will wonder: By adding more letters, are we forgetting that we need to be understood when we speak up? Are we making indigestible alphabet soup? They’ll think it’s the last thing we need.

But “queer” muddies the water. In fact, it’s “queer” that makes us hard to understand. It isn’t a show of solidarity as much as it is a disservice to our mission of equal rights and equal treatment.

In ditching LGBTQIAPK for “queer,” we are silencing a minority of important experiences and turning our backs on the letters of our acronym which most need our support. When did we forget that, for us, silence = death?



I Talked To My Mom About Birth Control

I previously interviewed my Mom about her experience parenting a child with clinical depression — that child would be me. This time around, we’re talking birth control.

My mom was born in 1958 and grew up in a blue-collar mill town in Rhode Island, the youngest of eight children in a big ol’ Catholic family. She started taking the pill during college, and over the years has tried other modes of birth control like the diaphragm and the rhythm method.


When you first started on the pill did you have a conversation about it with Nana and Grandpa… just Nana?


Nooooo, no, no. It wasn’t talked about, first of all. I never ever, ever in a million years would have talked to father about it, but I wouldn’t have broached it with my mother because premarital sex was a sin. It was not something she would’ve been open to even hearing about. She would’ve been deeply offended.


She was a pretty devout Catholic, right?

She was, as was Grandpa.


Did a lot of parents share their viewpoint back then?

A lot of parents did, yeah — none of my peers did. No, I take that back, there were a few. But the majority of people my age were, you know… were engaging in premarital sex if they had partners.


So no conversations were had. What about any of your sisters?

Did they have conversations with my parents? No, I don’t think so. Aunt Holly [my Mom’s oldest sister] got married at 19 and she — I didn’t know this at the time — but she told me years later that one of the reasons she did it was she thought she would have to live with her parents until she got married. And she was right; that’s what women did in my parents’ generation, so that was their belief.


When you decided to start birth control, was it because you were or were about to become sexually active?

Yeah. By sexually active I mean I had sex with a boyfriend, but then when I broke up with him I didn’t take the pill anymore. So it was sort of an off and on thing.


Did that affect your body, going on and off it?

Looking back on it now I think I probably did feel different, just lighter, you know. By lighter, I mean lighter feeling, like less sluggish. You know the hormones can cause your body to think it’s pregnant a little bit and so there’s always that little bit of extra weight that can make you feel sluggish, or at least that’s how I felt.


That was when you were on it, you mean?

Yeah, and then going off it. Although I say that now in retrospect. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to articulate that or notice it consciously at the time.


When people look at college communities nowadays, I think one common perception is that there’s a lot of sex happening all the time. “Hookup culture” is very much a thing, so I’m wondering: was it like that when you were there?

I would say no. People had sex but it was still very — it was an old fashioned kind of atmosphere where it was fine for the boys to.  Nobody used the term “hook up” but I’ll use it now. It was fine for boys to hook up with all the girls they could but it wasn’t okay for girls to do that.


Was there a stereotype — like only certain kinds of women take the pill?

No, I don’t think that was it. I knew that a lot of women my age did, but you know, there’s that little parental voice in the head saying, “This is shameful,” even though I knew it wasn’t and I knew other people were doing it, and it wasn’t, you know? You can’t get away from that parental voice. And if unintended pregnancy happened, you got married right away.


So pregnancy was the problem, marriage was the solution?

Yes, because out of wedlock pregnancy was a humiliation for the family, [considered] a failure on the parents’ part. Not to mention it was immoral in Catholic families.


There was a double standard?

Absolutely, yeah. That was my experience. It might have depended on what school you were at, what group of friends you had.


Absolutely. So going back to when you were in high school, was there any kind of Sex Ed program in place?



What about health class?

I think I kind of remember being in a health class for one semester. I don’t think there was any kind of birth control education or sex education or anything, but it could be that I’m just not remembering it. I was on the college track and so there were lots of requirements that I had to take, you know, the academic classes. So there weren’t a lot of opportunities for electives. Maybe it wasn’t even a semester. Maybe it was just for a few weeks as part of a PE class. I kind of remember sitting in a classroom with the male PE teacher teaching us and I remember trying not to pay attention.


I’m sure you don’t remember most of that class because you were trying not to listen — but was it more along the lines of “the miracle of life” or was it more — did they talk about sex at all? About contraception?

I would’ve paid attention if they had! But they didn’t. I’m thinking it was more like hygiene stuff. I know it was co-ed, and I don’t remember feeling embarrassed about anything like, the male PE teacher is gonna teach us how to douche — it wasn’t anything like that. Not that that’s a good idea to do, but you know back then there were even commercials on TV for products that do that… I think it was more like, “You know your body is gonna smell so use deodorant,” and stuff like that. Very, very superficial.


That was in high school that they were teaching you that kind of stuff?

I’m gonna say 10th grade. Maybe it was in response to what they were smelling in gym class.


So you talked a little bit about how being on the pill made you feel. Did you experience any side effects, mental or physical?

Not from the pill. It made me regular and I had always had irregular periods, so being on the pill was convenient in that way. Before that I did have — not severe cramps — but I did have cramps when I had my period. But when I started using a diaphragm for a little while I kept getting urinary tract infections. That was a big problem.


Was that a common thing with the diaphragm in general? To get UTIs?

I think it was just that, for my body, it didn’t work. If I’m remembering this correctly, my doctor said the way it fit in it sort of maybe hit something, blocked something so that… I don’t quite understand the anatomy enough to say what it was, but it had to do not so much with the device itself, but how I’m built.


Were there any brands that were popular? For any kind of contraceptive, not just the pill or the diaphragm.

No, it wasn’t something that I discussed with anybody.


Were there ads for them anywhere?



Not at all?



Not even condoms?

Not in the magazines or newspapers or TV stations I watched and read. Not the mainstream. Not on the nightly news on Channel 10.


So looking at the timeline, how many years do you think you were on birth control?

Let’s say age 19 to age 33.


So looking back on those 14 years, is there anything you would’ve changed? Are there things you wish you’d known?

I wish I had educated myself better. It was harder to get information then and I didn’t really seek it out. I think if I had had a regular doctor to talk to, that would’ve been better. But even then, I wasn’t proactive enough. Asking more questions, being more of an informed consumer would have helped a lot… because maybe an IUD would have been good for me.

The hormones of the pill weren’t great and the diaphragm never fit right, so if I had access to more information maybe that’s the method I would’ve ended up choosing. I mean the pill worked fine, I didn’t get pregnant — and that’s the goal, right?


So you feel like there was information out there but you could’ve done a better job of pursuing it?

I think the information was there but it was a lot harder to access. I didn’t realize I could have accessed it. I think now people your age know that it’s there, know how to access it, and know there’s no stigma or shame in accessing it. Maybe this part was my upbringing, my parents’ influence: the feeling that it wasn’t quite okay, even though it was and the alternative was pregnancy risk. It felt like, I just better figure this out quick and take care of it and not talk about it to anybody.

These days — if it’s not accepted that kids are going to [have premarital sex] — it’s at least understood that it’s a very distinct possibility. And so rather than just saying “Don’t do it”[we should be] teaching kids — if you do, here are some ways to avoid infection and avoid pregnancy; here’s the right way to do it. Without the judgement, without the moralizing. I think that’s a very good thing.


Big ups to my mom for letting me pepper her with questions — even uncomfortable ones — yet again. Thanks, Mom!


Talk to your doctor about which mode of birth control is best for you. You can find a list of different birth control options and information on how they work here.