by Josh Palkki
Discussion of gender-sexuality issues in music education has become much more prevalent in recent years due to, among other things, a 1990 Choral Journal article by Eric A. Gordon discussing GALA (gay and lesbian) choruses, and Louis Bergonzi’s publication of a 2009 Music Educators Journal article titled “Sexual Orientation and Music Education: Continuing a Tradition”—two pieces that sparked conversation and controversy. In addition, Dr. Bergonzi founded and hosted the first ever LGBT Studies in Music Education Conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010. As this dialogue in music education and choral music has expanded, so has the gender discourse more generally. In an effort to be inclusive (and, yes, even politically correct), I offer a discussion on some of LGBTQ semantics that may be helpful for (choral) music educators to understand. For a full list of terms (some of which I find problematic), click here.
SEX VS. GENDER
Sex is assigned at birth by a doctor, largely based on a baby’s genitalia. Gender is a set of socially constructed and context/culture-dependent ideas regarding gender roles and what behaviors and physical attributes are considered “masculine” or “feminine." Sex and Gender are not the same, though they are sometimes used interchangeably.
SEXUALITY AND GENDER
Sexuality (or Sexual Orientation) identifies with whom one is interested, romantically or sexually. Someone who is asexual does not have interest in anyone in a romantic or sexual sense. Gender is defined above, and is distinct from sexuality, though I conjecture that the two concepts are related.
Once used as a derogatory term for gay people, it has been largely re-claimed by younger generations who use it as something of a blanket term for gender-sexual diversity. “Queer” could refer to someone who defies gender norms or sexuality norms. (e.g., a transgender woman and a gay man can both identify as “queer”).
ALPHABET SOUP: LGBT? LGBTQ? LGBTQA? LGBTQAI? LGBTQ+?
What do all these letters mean? And why does it matter which ones are included? First of all, I think it’s important to understand that L, G, B, Q (queer/questioning), and A deal with sexuality while the T and the Q refer to gender. These are distinct concepts (see above). The importance of these acronyms lie in the fact that they can include or not include various identities, which can be hurtful for queer people. This is a complex issue with no easy answer. See below the ‘disclaimer’ I’ve taken to using in my academic writing:
L (lesbian), G (gay), B (bisexual), T (trans), Q (queer, questioning), and A (asexual). This is the way that I have chosen to represent sub-populations of gender-sexual diversity. When used in other forms (e.g., LGBT), I am quoting the acronym used by another author in an effort to accurately represent their writing. I have chosen these six letters (representing seven terms) because at this juncture, I consider it a fairly comprehensive representation of the many facets of the non-cisgender and non-heteronormative population at this time, and I am aware of the fact that these letters are not all-inclusive.
From what I have read (and in my opinion), including I (Intersex) is not appropriate. Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.For further reading, click here.
I am also not a fan of using the plus sign (+) at the end of the LGBT… acronym as I feel it is offensive to “tack on” an identity to the end using a punctuation mark. Why would one want to be added on as the “forgotten ‘other’”?
Like the acronyms described above, there is disagreement about whether or not to use an asterisk at the end of “trans.” I recommend not using this punctuation mark. According to Jane Ramseyer Miller, "The use of the asterisk (trans*) stems from common computing usage where it represents a wildcard used to search multiple derived words from a prefix" (2016, p. 63). Miller uses the asterisk in her helpful Choral Journal article. According to a helpful article on the Trans Student Educational Resources website, “There is nothing inherently problematic with the asterisk but it’s often applied in inaccessible, binarist, and transmisogynist ways. It is unnecessary and should not be used. Claiming the asterisk itself is fundamentally oppressive denies accountability and ignores the culture of binarism and transmisogyny that affects the community. People also often misattribute its history to cisgender and binarist people.” For more, click here.
This term is generally considered offensive.
The main message here is that words matter, especially when referring to one’s identity. To make a parallel to race, there are words that were used 50-75 years ago that would be considered horribly offensive today. I also want to leave you with the fact that mistakes with good intentions are always okay! I have misgendered trans friends, used incorrect pronouns, and been corrected on the proper use of LGBTQA-related terms many times. Do not be afraid to interact with and use the ever-evolving language we use to discuss gender and sexuality. If you have any questions, or have suggestions for other terms you’d like discussed here, please send me an email!
Miller, J. R. (2016). Creating choirs that welcome transgender singers. Choral Journal, 57(4), 61–63.
Steinmetz, K. (2014, December). Why it’s best to avoid the word “transgendered.” Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/3630965/transgender-transgendered/