I was having tapas last week with three gay friends—two of them in a decades-long committed relationship, the third traveling solo these days—and the talk turned to the growing number of non-heterosexual gender identities and sexual expressions in vogue today. We didn’t have enough fingers among us to count all the ways people are making love, and lust.
Just around the table that night we came up with these designations of categories you’d see on a typical summer day in Provincetown or Key West or Fire Island or The Castro:
Bears: Heavy-set, hairy-bodied older guys
Cubs: Young Bears
Chubs: The opposite of the ripped guys
Silver Foxes: Gray-haired but still hot-looking men
Wolves: Picture a wolf in a tank top and Speedo
Thuples: Like a couple, but a relationship of three, of any gender combination
Cynthia Nixon recently photographed by Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/AP
While I’m talking to the guys about evolving gender identities, New York State gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon is telling The New York Daily News that although she’s been married to a woman since 2012, she’s not a lesbian.
Ms. Nixon previously partnered with a man. But now she identifies as “queer,” not as a lesbian.
“It’s personal,” she answered.
I think this is what it’s all about: respecting someone’s deeply personal sense of self.
“Queer” used to be a pejorative term for LGBT people. Now it’s becoming a positive, personal descriptor of gender and sexual identity.
As journalist Samantha Allen wrote last week in her Daily Beast story about Ms. Nixon, “queer” is a one-syllable way to say that one’s romantic and sexual attractions are less important than the fact that they lie outside the norm. The use of “queer” is a rejection of the way that labels like “gay” or “lesbian” can reduce the complexity of a person’s identity.
The exploration of gender identity has a history in literature.
In 8 A.D., Roman poet Ovid wrote Metamorphoses, his magnum opus about shifting forms. Humans turn into trees or animals, or the gods embody themselves as humans to pursue sexual conquests.
In The Arabian Nights, there are gender-switching plots and cross-dressing.
Shakespeare loved gender disguises—a girl who’s a boy, a boy who’s a girl. Women were not allowed on the London stage in Shakespeare’s day, so males played female roles.
Bisexual author Virginia Woolf wrote what probably is the first trans novel, Orlando, a best-seller published in 1928.
In it, Orlando changes gender with what’s been called grace and profound truth. Seeing himself in the mirror as a woman for the first time, she remarks: “Different sex. Same person.”
It seems that we are just beginning to admit and talk openly about the many innate expressions of sexuality and affection that comprise the human species. Obviously, people come in more than Henry Heinz’s “57 Varieties of Pickles.”
So my question is, why must we discriminate against people who do not match our personal definition of what a human being is?
Astoundingly, it seems that people of God are the worse offenders.
The Hebrew bible taught, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them . . . shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:13)
Evangelical Protestants condemn practitioners of non-heterosexual sex to hell fire.
The Catholic Church harkens back to Aristotle to rationalize homosexuality as “unnatural” and “intrinsically disordered.” The only sinless homosexual is one who lives a chaste life.
And Muslims? Some of them just beat you till you stop. Others toss you from tall buildings.
For example, in Malaysia last week, two women were publically caned for “attempting” to have lesbian sex in a car.
A masked man administers the “lesson” to a wayward Malaysian woman.
An outraged Malaysian parliamentarian subsequently called for laws that criminalize homosexuality to be immediately abolished.
“We need to stop targeting the LGBT community,” he wrote. “We need to stop invading their privacy. We need to stop abusing them. We need to grow up as a society and learn to embrace diversity.”
State officials, however, justified the Sharia punishment.
“It is more to educate than to harm or hurt,” one told a media conference after the sentence was carried out. The public nature of the canings is intended to serve as a “lesson for society.”
If there’s a lesson for society in all this, it’s contained in the now-famous words of Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?”
President Jimmy Carter, too, reminded us, “Jesus never said a word about homosexuality.”
What Jesus did say, however, is that we are forbidden to judge. Forbidden.
Here is an updated—but undoubtedly incomplete—glossary of the many hues of humanity:
Cisgender: People who stay with with the gender assigned to them at birth
Queer: Sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Queer was originally used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires but, beginning in the late 1980s, queer scholars and activists began to reclaim the word.
Lesbian: A female homosexual
Gay: A homosexual person or the trait of being homosexual. Gay is often used to describe homosexual males, but lesbians may also be referred to as gay.
Gold Star Gay: A gay person who has never had sex with the opposite gender
Platinum Star Gay: A Gold Star Gay who was born by caesarean section and has never touched a vagina
Bisexual: Romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females, or romantic or sexual attraction to people of any sex or gender identity; this latter aspect is sometimes termed pan-sexuality.
Transgender: People whose gender identity differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth, sometimes abbreviated to “trans.”
Two-Spirit: Used by some indigenous North Americans to describe gender-variant individuals in their communities, specifically people within indigenous communities who are seen as having both male and female spirits within
Intersex: Have physical sex characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, or genitals, which do not allow an individual to be identified as male or female
Asexual or nonsexual: Lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in sexual activity.
Pansexuality or omnisexuality: Sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are insignificant or irrelevant in determining whether they will be sexually attracted to others.
Agender: Also called genderless, genderfree, non-gendered, or ungendered, identify as having no gender or being without any gender identity. This category includes a very broad range of identities that do not conform to traditional gender norms.
Gender Queer: Not exclusively masculine or feminine
Bigender: Moving between feminine and masculine behaviors, possibly depending on context and expressed as feminine and masculine respectively or as two genders simultaneously
Gender variant, or gender nonconformity: Does not match masculine and feminine gender norms. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse or gender atypical, and may be transgender, or otherwise variant in their gender expression.
Pangender: Identify as all genders
Questioning: People unsure, still exploring, or hesitant to apply a social label to themselves
Ally: A friend to the LGBTQ+ community