Lynn Breedlove, a musician and author, spent years as a «butch dyke,» but nowadays, he prefers to interchange pronouns and, depending on his mood, goes back and forth between the old label and «trannyboy.» «Because I’m like Peter Pan — eternally youthful but I’m always played by a girl,» Breedlove said. «It’s more a faggy aesthetic thing. I don’t want hair on my face and chest. Ooh, I don’t want to be transman — that sounds really furry.»
While Breedlove is old enough to have an age complex — he explained his refusal to divulge his age as a «rock star thing» — a lot of the identity fluidity, name mania and word invention is bubbling up from the next generation of queer youth
«Now that community resources are in place and public acceptance has increased, it’s more feasible for adolescents to come out during adolescence,» said Caitlin Ryan, a researcher at San Francisco State University who has studied lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. «What we’re getting in the LGBT community is the power of youth. It’s their expression and exuberance and energy and also their contribution to the culture.»
It makes sense that youth, in particular, are coming up with new words and trying them on, considering that «identity development is one of the most important developmental tasks of adolescence,» she said.
Growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has also encouraged idiosyncrasy, Ryan said. «Identities are very personal. That was much less true 20 years ago, when identity was more around community. Now that there’s a community, a vibrant one with resources, there’s more room for personal identity. Before, the tribe was so much more important,» she said.
To further complicate matters, race and ethnicity affect who is using which words. Some people of color prefer the word «stud» to «butch,» meaning a masculine-identified lesbian. Which makes someone who falls between a stud and a femme — a more «feminine» lesbian — a «stem.»
And genderbending and genderqueerness aren’t as prevalent among people of color, said Mateo Cruz, who’s Latino and a staff member at the Pacific Center, Berkeley’s LGBT center.
In these communities, «queer» and the terms it spawned have a reputation of being «white,» so some shy away from them in favor of «same-gender-loving people» or «men who sleep with men,» or — among Spanish-speakers — «homosexual,» which is also a Spanish word.
«A lot of the stereotypes of what a ‘queer’ person is supposed to be, especially in mainstream media, is always a white person,» said Solomon, who is African American. «A lot of issues people of color have with their families is their parents are saying, ‘If you’re gay, then you want to be white.’ Because that’s all they see. So yeah, ‘queer’ is not a word that a lot of people of color use.»
No wonder Cruz sometimes grows frustrated when he leads discussions about appropriate language in anti-homophobia workshops. It can take an hour for his savviest students to list the «hundreds» of words they know for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Then the discussion about what the words mean, who can use them and whether they’re polite, often drags on ad nauseam.
When Cruz’s coding system — circles, big X’s and dotted lines to connote cool, uncool, and sometimes-cool terms — inevitably breaks down, he throws up his hands.
«However people self-identify,» he tells students, «we have to respect.» What it all means
Definitions of many words in the gay lexicon are hotly contested. Here is a sample:
Genderqueer: Someone who views the gender options as more than just male and female or who doesn’t fit into the binary male-female system.
Transgender: An umbrella term for transgression of the binary gender system. May include surgical, hormonal or nonhormonal changes that result in a gender identity different from the one assigned at birth.
Pansexual: Someone attracted to people of multiple genders.
Trannydyke: A transgender person attracted to people with a more feminine gender.
Trannyfag: A transgender person attracted to people with a more masculine gender.
Boi: A boyish gay guy or a biological female with a boyish presentation.
Heteroflexible: A straight person with a queer mind-set.
E-mail Rona Marech at firstname.lastname@example.org.