A friend informs me of a current exhibition of “LGBT History” in Plymouth, England. Doubtless one should be grateful to the organizers for gathering some hard-to-find documentation, but the title raises hackles.
Even in present-day circumstances, the clumsy acronym LGBT is eschewed when serious matters are concerned. No one writes about “LGBT law reform,” or “LGBT marriage,” or “LGBT service in the military” (at least no one I know). So far, so ludicrous. Why then should this monstrosity apply when it comes to the study of the past?
One may argue that LGBT has the advantages of “inclusiveness.” Perhaps so, but the value of such collocations must be determined individually on the merits.
A comparison will illustrate this point. A current acronym is BRIC, for the emerging major powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. This quartet makes some sense synchronically but not diachronically, Imagine an exhibition of BRIC History through the Ages. Such an event might help to understand the migration of Buddhism from India to China, and on to Brazil (where there is a substantial Japanese community), but little else.
A while back a philosopher introduced the concept of "making up people." That seems to be what has happened with the LGBT chimera.
I turn now to some more specific remarks. First, some tentative remarks on the last element of the acronymic quartet: the Ts.
First, I strongly believe in liberty of dress, including cross-dressing. The only objections to this principle of dress-liberty that come to mind are two: wearing a ski mask in a bank, and donning the uniform of a police officer when the intent is to deceive. (Even the latter might be OK in certain cases, as in the forthcoming film "Magic Mike.")
I also believe that one should be able to make whatever body modifications one sees fit, whether of the breasts, genitals, or some other bodily part.
That said, it seems to me that to link these two forms of T with the other three elements of the quaternion is a category mistake. For much of the 20th century sexologists struggled to clear up a common popular confusion, one that still survives in some quarters. This confusion links sexual orientation with cross-dressing, formerly known as eonism. Anyone who has had any experience in the matter knows that, for example, there are many heterosexual men who like to wear female clothing. Some heterosexual women like to don "mannish" clothing. And so on. In other words, the adoption of such a mode affords no conclusion as whether the adopter is gay, lesbian, or bi. Conversely, there is no particular compulsion among these three groups to engage in cross dressing.
As regards transsexualism, the great majority of gay men and lesbians, certainly the ones I know, prize their genitals as they are, and have no wish to modify them.
Sadly, the current addition of the T to the group reinstates this old confusion of categories. Why this should be done baffles me.
There are of course perfectly good grounds for studying the history and conceptualization of eonism and transsexualism. But they need to be studied for their own sake.
Finally, there are reasons for questioning, historically at least, the collocation of gay men and lesbian women. While there are some scattered earlier avatars of this pairing, only since 1869 with K. M. Kertbeny's coinage, has it been regarded as axiomatic. Yet historical study, which is the aim of the proposed inquiry, strongly suggests that it is not axiomatic--that is is a matter of (recent) culture rather than nature.