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Unscrambling the Queer Alphabet

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Sydney Festival's Speakers Corner stage
Sydney Festival's Speakers Corner Stage

Whatever your sexual predilection, whatever cheeky pink bits you have tucked into your panties, whatever letter in the Queer alphabet soup you subscribe to, you're bound to be caught up somehow in your gender identity.

For the Sydney Festival 2021 Speaker’s Corner Soapbox series I was tasked with the challenge of ‘Unscrambling the Queer Alphabet’. LGBTIQA+ stands for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex Queer Asexual plus everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that letters and words can’t yet describe.

Confused? Well, I’m here to help. At least to give it good hard crack. I've been around since homosexuality was outlawed and have witnessed the wonderful explosion of sexual identities over the decades.

My father is gay, and my Aunty Kay is gay too, and I’m all over the place because the entire nation has been in the back of a panel van with me at one time or another watching ‘Puberty Blues’. So I guess I've been instrumental in helping Australians grapple with complex issues around sex in general for over 40 years.

As a cis-gendered white settler woman (cis-gendered meaning that my gender identity matches the sex I was assigned at birth, i.e., female), I'm coming at this from a position of privilege, although it wasn't always so. I'm a fifth generation Australian, descended from poverty-stricken Irish convicts who stole no more than a little pink dress (note the colour pink - a flamboyant colour embraced by gays and their allies and worn as a badge of pride, as opposed to the pink triangle arm band that homosexuals were marked with by Nazis in the 1940s).

My ancestors were transported here and flogged mercilessly by their British wardens for their petty crimes. There has been so much violent colonisation and hateful treatment of humans by their supposed superiors to get me to this enlightened point, and I am indeeed indebted to all those who fought for my rights to freely express myself as a proud Queer woman - Queer As. Or is it QweerAZ?

The Alphabet itself is a word constructed using the first two letters of the Greek alphabet - Alpha and Beta. Alpha is also an acceptable Scrabble word used to describe dominant males in the gorilla population, and in the human population too. I guess it’s like a top, which makes Beta a bottom right?

The letter ‘B’ in the official Qweer alphabet stands for Bisexual. It’s a controversial box to tick. It was one of many boxes that one was asked to tick by Mardi Gras in the olden days when you signed up for membership on their website.

I never liked being boxed in. Surely it’s Gender Euphoria (GE) that everyone seeks? That sense of happiness that a Gender Diverse person may experience from affirming their own gender identity and being affirmed by others beyond the binary framework.

When I first joined Mardi Gras back in 1988, a decade after that first political protest against police brutality towards our Qmmunity, the organisation had been known as the Gay Mardi Gras - ‘Gay’ of course represented by the second letter in the Qweer Alphabet - ‘G’.

Back then, I identified as a Lesbian and I joined the organisation to vote at a special general meeting that saw the word ‘Lesbian’ included in ‘Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras’. But I always thought the blokes had a better deal with the merry old word 'gay'.

‘L’ stands proud today as the first letter of the Qweer alphabet. But where are all the other letters in the organisation’s name? Where’s BTIQA+ ? This was a challenge for the organisers of World Pride 2023 who proposed changing the name to something that rolls off the tongue a little easier, like Pride Mardi Gras. I MC’d a forum a few years ago to discuss the issue but the lesbian reps were insistent that people continue to say the word in the mainstream media and beyond. And might I say, no-one messes with a stone butch Lezzo.

Hosting World Pride in Sydney was a big deal. In 2019, New York City hosted the event and it went down as the single biggest international Pride celebration in history, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which are credited with birthing the gay rights movement globally.

LGBTIQA+ Pride is growing bigger every day, yet P doesn’t appear in the Qweer Alphabet. Nor does ‘H’ for Homosexual. Humanity begins with 'H' and, in the end, it’s our shared humanity and basic human rights that we are calling for - the right to be treated equally.

It all boils down to addressing discrimination and prejudice within our society and no group has done more pioneering work on this in recent times than the Transgender Qmmunity - it’s the ‘T’ in the alphabet soup.

As a feminist from the age of 10 when I marched with Germaine Greer for Women’s Liberation, I have always demanded women’s rights first. Back in 2015, Greer said that Transgender women “are not women”, and became known as a TERF - a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. JK Rowling was also branded with the acronym when she opposed the proposed new Scottish laws to make it easier for people to self-identify as whatever sex they choose. Both GG and JK are in the LGBTIQ+ doghouse.

Trans and gender diverse (TGD) people self-identify as such and want recognition and respect just like anyone else. As do “Intersex” people who have both male and female sex characteristics including genitalia, hormones, chromosomes, and reproductive organs. It’s a naturally occurring variation in humans and accounts for the ‘I’ in the Qweer Alphabet.

Each of these letters have been used as powerful tools in the fight for equality and represent an evolution towards inclusion in society.

There are undoubtedly others I have missed, but I’m going to skip straight to the last letter of the conventional alphabet now with ‘Z’ for Zoe Belle - a transgender activist who was committed to disability rights, queer rights, feminist politics and anti-violence work. On January 15 2008, Zoe killed herself and was post-posthumously honoured in the naming of the ZBGC - The Zoe Belle Gender Collective. The collective’s core principles “support and improve the health and wellbeing of people of all genders. They view health holistically to assist, inform, enliven and advocate for their communities.”

What a wonderful world it would be if we all focused on that mission statement instead of division?

Sometimes it feels as if we have so much yet to do to achieve equality, whatever letter of the Qweer Alphabet we identify with. But the truth is that we've come such a long way in the last 50 years. Thanks to the work being done by so many groups in this field, our governments now have guides in to how to use language respectfully and inclusively when working with gender diverse people.

Now is the time to embrace our humanity in all its rainbow colours of the alphabet and use our very best selves to support each other through these scrambled times.



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