Earlier this year I wrote about the need for us to embrace the language changes that are happening and ensure that we, as writers, are cognizant of these changes as we build our worlds. The importance to write stories that are relevant, but relatable to a mass audience should be in the forefront of writers’ mind. This is particularly true when it comes to language representation. As the LGBTQIA+ community continues to become ever more accepted through society, we find ourselves at an interesting crossroads when it comes to language and how we interact with LGBTQIA+ identities. With this, a trend is emerging within the community when it comes to language choice. This trend, I would argue, is the acceptance that English, within its current constraints, hasn’t been able to evolve to represent our community fast enough.
These past decades have been painted in a hue rainbow. The LGBTQIA+ community demanded acceptance and began to get results for real change. Similar to the results of the study that I did into gay jargon, as the “taboo” became the every day, the conversations that we are having around the spectrums of sexuality and gender have sprouted an influx in terminatology to give definitions to each level of the spectrums. We realize that this is incredibly important so that one can discover and find all the intersections of their identity and more specifically where they can find the rest of the community that best “fits” their intersections. I, myself, use terms like gay, cis poly male, but where and how the commas are worked into this when writing or how these fit into English’s adjectival word order, I still have no fucking idea. I find myself struggling and having difficulty when it comes to the boundaries of my own language. So for those whose identities are far more complex, my heart aches because we get fixated on labels as that’s what we’ve been taught. We use these labels as a way to “fit” people in the boxes we need. This fixation on labels, in an era where you must be cognizant in everything you say, is where we have begun to see in fighting within the LGBTQIA+ community. Further distancing each other away from those that don’t fit into our boxes because those that aren’t in our label couldn’t possibly understand our complex identities. To alleviate this distancing and ‘in-fighting’ there has been a language trend that is emerging to combat this within the community. We can rely on our language for that, to evolve as we need it. However, this trend that has emerged is being seen by some not as an evolution as much as it is a de-evolution and a reconfirmation of a past generations understanding.
“We’re here, we’re Queer!” A chant that is reminiscent of stonewall and the AIDs crisis. However, in major LGBTQIA+ community hubs there is the ever more present use of the term queer as an all encompassing term of representation for all spectrums of gender identity, identity, and sexuality. Regardless of where in the spectrum you fit or where your intersections lie, you are queer and come out to people as queer only. This resurgence of something that some would argue is the opposite of language evolution, I would argue is the communities realization that as we continue to understand more spectrums we need to realize that our language, specifically English, has its boundaries. English, being an analytic language, has requirements of specificity to ensure clarity. At times, what some languages can say in a word or a phrase, requires in depth sentences in English. Now, for my linguist friends, I am not saying that we can’t express the same things between languages, but the classic “there’s not a good word for this” rings ever more true for the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community. We are working towards being able to have single word definitions for incredibly complex identities, but we just aren’t there yet. Furthermore, the problem is that English speakers are constantly arguing over grammatical genders and their effect on biological genders. As linguists, we understand just how much of a slippery slope this is. That the confusion of these is often a pitfall. English has coded into our language that people only get he/she pronouns and that everything else is an it or a thing. This in of itself is beyond queer, when compared to many languages, as this restrictive coding structure for pronouns has caused a linchpin for being able to create and define gender identity and its representations in English.
A great way to visually see this change and get an idea of how much it is impacting English speaking countries is to turn to the language nerds. Corpus indexing is a great record to be able to see language use and its frequency of use. Below is a series of graphs pulled from Google's corpus index that shows data on how this trend is becoming in the forefront of the internet as well (from top to bottom: queer, gay, lesbian, transgender)
We are at a unique time in our language’s history, a point where we have to look at our language and accept that it may not be ready to “come out.” English is struggling to define all the aspects and spectrums of sexuality and gender. Just as we are beginning to realize and accept each other for being uniquely them, we need to start realizing and accepting that the English language isn’t ready to meet our needs. For now, we need to continue to elaborate and discuss all of the deep levels to gender and sexuality in order to work together to come up with agreed upon meanings. However, what we cannot do is continue to ‘in-fight’ within the community when lexical associations are not identical across all verticals of the LGBTQIA+ community. Acceptance has been at the forefront of our community so inherently if someone looks to the identities that have been established and feels a sense of belonging then wave your flag hunty and be you, but also respect that not everyone in this community has this and until we get there we need to continue to accept each other. Something that really stood out to me that encapsulated all of this was the ending to Eugene Lee Yang’s coming out video. If you haven’t seen it, please Google now! The representation of this sentiment of overly critical in-fighting over definitions, I feel, is really seen in the end where he is trying to be uniquely him in a room of people on both sides arguing. These sides are dressed in black and white. Each side fitting into their perspective boxes and definitions. However, the pain and agony on his face in feeling alone as there is no definition or box for him to fit in shows the importance of continuing to define these spectrums as a means of helping and allowing the entire community to be uniquely them.
This re-adoption of queer and its all encompassing notion to our community really is a woke af realization from the community and how we need to continue to push for change, but also realize that the changes we have made can only go so far and now our own language stands in the way. This means for creators in all verticals change demands we be completely aware and ensure we are taking proper measures to incorporate language representations as they are today. As writers, we need to do what has always been our forte; be the cutting edge of change. It’s important that we continue to push our boundaries and work to help others see how language shapes our world and the worlds we are creating. For those linguists out there, do what I am doing. Record everything! Keep building corpus after corpus to get snapshots of this beautiful new landscape of language change so that we can continue to document this incredible shift that I think is more important than the infamous vowel shift. English will be forced to get there, but for now, where ever you pull your definitions, whether it be queer or something more specific, we are all forcing this change; so let’s do so together.