the symbol +

Opinion, Lifestyle

25th February 2022

LGBT+ in Conversation: The Symbol +

This opinion piece is the view of the interviewer / interviewee and in no way reflects the views of Liverpool Guild Student Media or Liverpool Guild of Students.

Throughout LGBT+ History Month, I’ve held conversations with my friends to discuss their feelings about the area of LGBT+ that represents them. Yesterday, I published my fourth conversation, the letter T. Now I am finishing, with the symbol +.

It’s my last conversation of the week. I’m rounding it off by speaking to Geography student Liv about pansexuality, which comes under the ‘plus’ bracket. We contemplated the development of LGBT initialisms and the incorporations of other identities, such as intersex and asexual. We also spoke about positive reactions from family members with regards to coming out, both as pansexual and, later, non-binary and the need for equality and diversity training throughout the university.

When did you first come out and what was the process of that? How did people react?

It’s quite interesting really because I’ve had to come out twice, so I’ve got two stories. I came out to my friends first as pansexual, I was about fourteen, quite young really. Then I came out to my parents. I was quite scared, so I did it by text and because my parents don’t live together I thought if I text them both, they’ll get it at the same time. “Mum, Dad. I hope you don’t think differently of me, it’s just who I am, I’m still gonna be the same person but I am pansexual.”

My dad text back instantly and said, “that’s fine love, as long as you’re not vegetarian.” I was like, this is fine. It was more scary when I told him I was pescatarian a year later, genuinely! My mum was still working full time and so she didn’t look at her phone until the evening. I was sat right next to her when she opened it and it was just as bad as telling her face to face. She said, “that’s fine but what does it mean?” I was so shaky and nervous I said I didn’t want to talk about it and went to bed. The next morning she came in and said, “I still love you but you’re really young and I don’t want you putting labels in yourself until you’re actually sure who you are.” I told her I appreciated it.

The joy of pansexuality is that it’s kind of a label that isn’t a label. You just love people because of who they are. Love who you love, fancy who you fancy. The definition of pansexuality is sexual attraction regardless of gender identity or biological sex. The misconception is that it means you love everybody but it’s not that. It’s that if you find someone attractive and that person doesn’t identify with the gender they present as or they identify as say non-binary, it doesn’t phase you. I tried to explain that to my mum.

She was supportive, she just didn’t want me to put myself in a box and because of that, we didn’t speak about it again for a long time. I went to an all girls high school but I didn’t date girls through school or college. I had only ever dated cis-gendered men until the last six months. On the face of it I don’t come across as queer, until you have a conversation with me and I’m constantly talking about it because it’s fun.

And your rainbow jacket!

Rainbow everything! We had another conversation about it a year ago, so I was about nineteen or twenty. I explained it better to my mum, what it meant and my preferences. Because I do tend to have a preference, even having only dated cis men, for women and feminine people. I explained that to her and she was really good at listening and taking it in and gave me a hug. She understands it more now, which is great.

I came out as non-binary to her recently. The whole gender identity situation has been about a year and a half something like that. It was just before I went home for Christmas. I visited before that for a weekend and I wear a binder sometimes to hide my chest. She noticed and asked me like, “what are you doing? Where’ve your boobs gone?” She kept asking about it and I said, “well I did want to sit down and tell you this all nicely.” I told her that sometimes I don’t like the way my chest makes me feel, “so then I hide them and I wear this and I do it safely and follow all the guidance online.”

She asked if I wanted to be a man and I said, “it’s not as much as that, it’s just like you feel in between.” You don’t identify with the binary system. You don’t identify with what you’re assigned but you also don’t identify with the other option. It’s like neither option. Like pansexual, I like non-binary because it isn’t set in stone. The way I feel about my gender is fluid, so I like that term because it applies at all times.

When I went home for Christmas properly, my cousin’s husband came over and he asked me, what pronouns did I use. I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation with anyone in my family, ever. So it was nice that he initiated it and it shows that your family do care enough to ask. He was really polite and understanding. Coming out about gender is more scary and I’m not sure why.

Do you think people understand it a bit less? If someone is gay or bi, people can still relate to loving someone that way but if people haven’t had any gender identity issues they can’t imagine it.

Yeah, that’s true actually. Very true. I’m friends with a lot of trans and non-binary people and we joke that we forget that cis people exist. There’s actually some people who are okay with their gender, what a weird concept.

Overall, it’s been a pretty positive experience. I haven’t had any hate or anything from any of my friends or family. Anyone who didn’t get to or want to put the effort in, they aren’t people I want to be around anyway.

What about wider society?

I think it’s a shared pressure for pansexuality and being non-binary that a lot of people just believe there are two genders. I’ve never had anybody say anything to me. If I’m going out and I’m binding or presenting more masculine, nobody has ever said anything. I’m working pretty closely with the uni on it because even if people don’t understand it, that’s not an excuse not to accept it.

What are you doing with the uni?

It’s called the Equality, Inclusivity and Diversity Committee, under my faculty. We are bringing together materials to make a workshop on pronouns, gender identities and how they don’t have to match up with what a person looks like. If you say you are a gender identity, people have to believe you, no matter what pronouns you’re using. It’s not difficult if you put in effort, people know themselves better than you do.

Do you think that should be a compulsory part of everyone’s degree? I think it’s an optional module on Canvas.

Yes definitely. I didn’t know about that until now. That’s the sort of thing we are planning though. There’s a Sustainability in Action module which is optional but I think goes on your HEAR accreditation. If there’s something about respecting the environment, there can be one to respect people.

Do you think our generation… well I’m old, so my generation and your generation, get it more?

I don’t think it’s getting it. People are who they are and that’s up to them. Realistically how much of what I do in my life is gonna effect you or any other human. How much conflict are you willing to get into over that? I think it’s the direction we are going in that one day people won’t need to come out. They’ll just tell someone their pronouns and that’ll be cool. That’s the ideal world.

I guess it is a generational thing but my mum’s been fine with it. She’s been educating herself and getting involved with queer culture. My family are inquisitive in a polite way. It’s a bit of that but in each generation there are people who don’t follow the generational trend, it’s an individual scale.

I agree. So pansexuality comes under the plus, what else comes under the plus? The evolution from LGBT, to LGBTQ, to LGBTQIA, has led us to LGBT+. That seems to be the best one fits all term now, would you agree?

The thing is, where do you draw the line? How many letters do you use? When is it unfair to cut it off? With LBGT+, LGBT was the umbrella term for a long time but wasn’t inclusive of all these other identities. I quite like LGBTQ+ because queer in of itself is an umbrella term, it includes a lot of people who do identify in that plus. I’d identify as queer, outside of pansexuality or non-binary – I think I could call myself queer and it covers both. Then I only need to say it once.

It’s an issue because asexual people have a lot of action online about inclusivity of asexual people. Asexuality is a different sexuality because there is no sexual attraction. In a hyper-sexual culture, that’s really difficult for people to get their head around. I think there needs to be more education around that to reduce the stigma. There’s a difference between romance and sexual attraction.

Then the I is intersex, I think?

Yeah. I guess that’s the same, it’s different to the others because it relates to the way you are born?

I would say the most politically correct term then is LGBTQIA+ because intersex people deserve to be recognised in their own right. They’ve had a lot of prejudice through history and even now. Having both masculine and feminine features but not by their own choice to identify as one or the other. Not having education or representation around that, people don’t know how to react. They don’t understand it.

The thing is there is a lack of choice. There’s a lot of stories that the parents pick the gender and choose to raise the child as what they think. Then puberty hits and they don’t understand it themselves. It’s important for them to see that recognised and realise it’s normal. It’s just who they are and that’s fine.

There also should be a wider education amongst medical professionals. About not encouraging parents to take that route or making surgical alterations without the child’s understanding or consent.

Absolutely. The political incorrectness from medical professionals runs in lots of minority groups. There’s a nasty western, white dominance in those circles. There needs to be better understanding and changes in perspective on assigned gender at birth. Including intersex kids.

Do you think that’s why a module like you’re suggesting needs to be compulsory? For example, in the medical school, which is where there are the professions who realistically need that understanding the most.

This is the thing. Whether you agree with someone or not, their job is to help people and make them better. Part of that is making them comfortable and safe, thinking about the language you use and pronouns comes under that. You’re exposed to that in a medical profession, lots of interactions with people from different backgrounds, when it comes to the most important thing in life, their health. I think that should be part of every degree which relates to healthcare.

What about wider representation? I don’t think I’ve seen a portrayal of pansexuality.

They did it very badly on Big Mouth, there was a lot of stick about it.

There can be a perspective, around queer identities, that people will get attacked if they use the wrong pronouns. I’m very patient with people, if they’re conditioned in a heteronormative society. Like, my mum, she’s known me my whole life, it’s not gonna be a quick thing. They just need to put in the effort to get it right. The reason people could snap is if they’ve had issues in the past that have exacerbated it because they think people don’t get it. Just catch them on a bad day and it’s pent up anger.

I try to use neutral language until someone makes it known. It depends if you’re actually having a conversation. If someone calls me ‘ma’am’ in a shop, I’m not gonna pull them up and be like, “uh, actually…” I’m probably never gonna see them again. It’s everyone’s responsibility though and other people could have had a difficult time with it and have dysphoria around being misgendered. At the end of the day we are all unique and have our own perspectives. All people are valid and beautiful and we love them very much.

Cover Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels