The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms

Imprecision does not inclusivity make. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense to say “people” when you exclusively mean “men” or “women”, “partners” when you mean “spouses”, “spouses” when you mean “husbands” or “wives”, or “LGBT” when you mean “cis white gay men.” This nonsense is becoming more and more common as inclusivity becomes a more and more common goal, but inclusive-seeming language can serve as a shield to the lack of truly inclusive and intersectional concerns.

What might you expect from an article called “What Happens When Rich People Marry Poor People“? I would certainly expect a focus on heterosexuality, as is the case in most articles about marriage-without-the-modifier, since, in the common parlance, same-sex couples get same-sex or “gay” married while heteros simply get married. True to the heterocentrism that so pervades society, the piece focuses on male-female married pairings despite the magnanimous use of “people” in the title. Confusingly enough, the word “partner” is used to refer to the two people in the relationship instead of the far more accurate “spouse.” Further belying its title’s attempt at inclusivity is the piece’s exclusive focus on rich man-poor woman marriages.

A more accurate title for the article would have been “What Happens When Rich Men Marry Poor Women,” but instead, the title has an inclusive sound that rings hollow when the actual content is taken into consideration. Saying “people” but only allowing for the voices and experiences of rich man-poor woman marriages to be heard not only is disingenuous, it is erasure.

black text on white sign reading "Welcome. We are building an inclusive community." Underneath is a sticker added reading "[citation needed]"

The erasure becomes more egregious when placed into historical context. The notion of women “marrying up” is an age-old one, worthy of several tropes around it and the source of much of straight male resentment against women (so-called “hypergamy”, anyone?). Not referencing the phenomenon in a title for a piece that actually is all about it ensures a rather favorable decontextualization. I’d imagine that seeming to be about anything other than the usual “rich men marry poorer women, news at 11” probably works out in favor of the people behind the piece. This is true whether they realize it or not, and most likely the latter, since the problem isn’t deliberate malice but the lack of deliberation that often underlies these sorts of flubs.

I’m reminded of when Joan Rivers passed away. News outlets and fans referred to her as “one of Hollywood’s most vocal supporters of LGBT equality” (emphasis mine) despite the blatantly transantagonistic remarks that she had made just two months prior to her demise. Joan Rivers is hardly the only example of a so-called “LGBT” advocate despite apathy-at-best and outright-hostility-at-worst to trans people. The HRC, widely recognized and considered to be the LGBT rights organization up to and including on the government level, has done so poorly on trans issues that its president felt compelled to apologize for it last year. This isn’t even considering the bi erasure and hostility that characterizes many “LGBT” orgs and groups.

Inclusivity that is more attempt than actual is not only unhelpful, it hinders real inclusivity. To return to the article, unless you’re reading closely and with an eye for such things, you’d conclude that there has been research on people in marriages that go either way when that is clearly not the case. As for Joan Rivers, the HRC, and other “LGBT” advocates that only or primarily focus on the rights of a single letter in that initialism, those outside of activism might conclude that trans activism is more powerful than it actually is.

Precision and specificity are important in all facets of life. Inclusivity — and activism as a whole — are not exempt.

The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms

6 thoughts on “The False Inclusivity of “LGBT” & Other Hip Terms

  1. 1

    Organizational names definitely need to be accurate. It isn’t wrong for a group to be focused solely on, say, lesbian issues, so long as their internal conduct is not contrary to other SJ topics (in much the same way that it’s not wrong for feminist groups to not spend time or money working on, say, cosmetic male infant circumcision). But they shouldn’t call themselves an LGBT group, either.

    1. 2.1

      You are far too kind. HRC spent decades mostly just trying to get Democratic politicians elected, many of whom had spotty records on gay rights at best. They were late to the party on same sex marriage and then claimed credit after the fact.

  2. Ed

    I agree as long as it’s recognized that more general or inclusive terms have value, too, depending on the circumstances. For example, there are people and organizations genuinely concerned with LGBT rights as such.

    The various groups of people who are not heterosexual and/or cis do have interests and experiences in common, so it makes sense to me that there is an inclusive term. I agree that cis, white (or assimilated into predominately white culture), affluent, attractive gay men get disproportionate recognition.

    And it’s very careless to call a straight person a LGBT community supporter simply because they have liberal attitudes about one or more groups but prejudices against others or one.

    On sex specific or inspecific language, there are possible statements which apply to members of a married couple regardless of sex in which the term “spouses” can be appropriate in the same way the words “parents” and “siblings” often are. But I agree that they shouldn’t be used to obscure sex specific topics.

    Language can be used in too precisely or too generally.

    While the following example isn’t nearly as important because it doesn’t really hurt anyone and isn’t a justice issue, being either vague or rigidly over-specific is a problem in fiction as well.

    Some writers go on and on about the exact heigh of every character, every article of clothing they are wearing, reams of biographical information not related to the plot, meaningless details of the architectural layout of a house, a cumbersome inventory of furniture and so on. Others are so obsessed with minimalism that their characters and settings hardly have any attributes.

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