First, there was the term «homosexual,» then «gay» and «lesbian,» then the once taboo «dyke» and «queer.»
Now, all bets are off.
With the universe of gender and sexual identities expanding, a gay youth culture emerging, acceptance of gays rising and label loyalty falling, the gay lexicon has exploded with scores of new words and blended phrases that delineate every conceivable stop on the identity spectrum — at least for this week.
Someone who is «genderqueer,» for example, views the gender options as more than just male and female or doesn’t fit into the binary male-female system. A «trannydyke» is a transgender person (whose gender is different than the one assigned at birth) attracted to people with a more feminine gender, while a «pansexual» is attracted to people of multiple genders. A «boi» describes a boyish gay guy or a biological female with a male presentation; and «heteroflexible» refers to a straight person with a queer mind-set.
The list of terms — which have hotly contested definitions — goes on: «FTM» for female to male, «MTF» for male to female, «boydyke,» «trannyboy, » «trannyfag,» «multigendered,» «polygendered,» «queerboi,» «transboi,» «transguy,» «transman,» «half-dyke,» «bi-dyke,» «stud,» «stem,» «trisexual,» «omnisexual,» and «multisexual.»
«The language thing is tricky,» said Thom Lynch, the director of the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center. «I feel sorry for straight people.»
Tricky, maybe, but also healthy and empowering, said Carolyn Laub, the director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which links gay and lesbian student clubs in the state.
«We in society and in our generation are developing new understandings of sexual orientation and gender identities and what that means to us,» she said. «We don’t really have enough language to describe that; therefore, we have to create new words.»
For those back in the linguistic dark ages still wondering what’s wrong with «homosexual,» the evolution of queer identity language has progressed something like this: «Homosexual» sounded pathological and clinical, so activists went about creating their own words, starting with «gay» and «lesbian.» That was well and good, but terms like «dyke» and «queer» had an appealing spikiness and served double-duty by stripping the sting from words that had heretofore been considered unspeakably nasty.
The adjustment took time for some: As recently as 2002, visitors at the San Francisco community center routinely complained about a sign proudly pronouncing it «the queerest place on Earth,» Lynch said. But in the Bay Area, in the age of «Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,» that sort of sensitivity is beginning to seem almost quaint. Even some straight people have adopted the word because they have gay parents or an affinity for gay culture.
These days, «queer» is especially handy because it’s vague enough to encompass just about everyone. The word and its newfangled linguistic cousins have become indispensable as the transgender population in the Bay Area has grown exponentially — into the tens of thousands, advocates say — and sexual identities have become increasingly complicated.
«If you’re not a man or woman, words like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ don’t fit you anymore,» said Sam Davis, founder of United Genders of The Universe, a support group and speakers bureau. «The words from just a few years ago aren’t adequate to talk about who we are, where we’re coming from and who we like.»
Dee Braur, a 17-year-old with a tuft of greenish hair, calls herself «half-dyke.» «I’m bisexual but I lean more toward women than men,» she said. Men, she added, annoy her.
«Trisexual» also works, she said with a snicker: «I’ll try anything once and if I like it, I’ll try it again and again and again.»
Andy Duran, 19, said: «People are feeling like, what’s the point of labeling? If I must label, let me create my own.»
That said, Duran uses «queer» — among others — because «it’s the one that leaves the most for discovery. … It’s not really limiting. I can date a woman or a man. I can date someone who’s transgender or genderqueer.»
Tiffany Solomon, who is 19 and technically a lesbian, is put off by the word «lesbian.»
«I think of a shorthaired woman who wears flannel. It’s bad to a degree, but it’s something that becomes embedded when you’re young and queer and look on TV and you only have stereotypes to go on,» she said. She calls herself a «metrosexual» — the word used to describe straight men who have a gay sensibility when it comes to fashion and grooming — because she also identifies with gay male culture.
Justin, who is 19 and didn’t want to use his last name because he’s not out to his family as transgender, calls himself a «boi» — with an «i» — because he feels like a boy — with a «y» — but «I don’t have the boy parts, as much as I wish I did.»
«I’m still learning the ropes of just being me,» he added