GSD: not just another queer alphabet soup

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

In 2013 the Pink Therapy group in the UK made news by proclaiming GSD (Gender and Sexual Diversities) as the new umbrella term for a community that seems to add letters by the season. Seriously, I've seen: LGBTQQIAA+ lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies. And lots of groups (non-monogamous people, kinky people, those who identify as pansexual, for example) aren't included in that mouthful of letters.

At first I thought it was just the brilliant Brits. And then I did a little research and discovered that the term is already in use in some academic and educational circles here in the U.S. Pink Therapy is publicizing a growing cultural shift. I'm jumping for joy! I feel like I've waited a lifetime for this trend.

Because this isn't just a new alphabet soup. This is a different paradigm, a reversal of the pattern of making finer and finer distinctions of sex and gender that prevails in all areas from identity politics to scientific discourse. 

They say in scientific thinking there are "splitters" and "lumpers." Different issues at different times require both approaches. LGBT activism started in the 1970s with organizations that just used "gay" in their titles, e.g. the National Gay Task Force. Then lesbians argued that "lumping" them with gay men made them invisible, and that started the trend of adding letters to distinguish the different groups who wanted to be included under the "big tent." Politically, this made sense. But science followed politics and over time researchers as well as the culture at large have behaved as though each letter in the acronym represents a distinctly different group. And this has led to some problems: identity politics have become conflated with reality. This is a time for us to be "lumping" together people who are outliers, minorities, nonconformers in their gender expression/identity and/or their sexual expression/identity. This group of people includes those with same-sex attractions, or both/pan gender attractions; it includes the whole spectrum of TGNC (transgender and gender nonconforming) people; but it also includes kinky, nonmonogamous, asexual, queer, refuse-to-label-myself people as well.

Here's why we should all switch to GSD immediately:

  1. It's easy. Say it a few times: it trips off the tongue.
  2. It's inclusive. We like inclusivity, right? Well, actually some of us don't, but I'm going to assume here that it's a good thing.
  3. It's politically advantageous. Strength in numbers. (And yes, I know the arguments against including people who are stigmatized even more than you. It's the reason why drag queens and other gender benders were excluded from gay politics for a long time. I disagree with the "Virtually Normal" argument.)
  4. It encourages us to find our commonalities. And believe me, as a queer shrink for 30+ years, we have SO much in common.
  5. It encourages us to work together. Good karma, good communities, good politics, too.
  6. THERE IS A LOT OF OVERLAP AMONG THESE COMMUNITIES ANYWAY. Especially among gay men/non-monogamy/bisexual/kinky folk.
  7. Which leads me to my last and not insignificant reason: IT IS VERY LIKELY SCIENTIFICALLY MORE CORRECT. Or at least it is a BETTER paradigm for scientific research than the one we are using now.

The paradigm that currently dominates the field of sex therapy and research is one that first and foremost is a pathology model, a medical/psychiatric model that tends to see all "outliers" as indicators of disease. And it is a "splitting" model: every time the psychiatric Bible, the DSM, is amended the fights are about adding new categories of sexual anomaly/pathology. This time around, in the preparation of DSM5, there was a group proposing that "hebephilia" be added as a "paraphilia" i.e., sexual perversion. (Hebephilia, by the way, means sexual attraction to teenagers. Perhaps a majority of men would qualify as hebephiles.)

And what I keep coming back to is that maybe our categories are just plain wrong. Different cultures at different historical periods have "sliced up" the GSD pie in different ways. For example, although we draw a bright line between gender and sexual orientation, throughout history more commonly the two have been conflated: "Invert" was the nineteenth century term for homosexual.

We "see" gender and the gender to which one is attracted as the two most important dimensions of sexuality. What if there are others we are missing completely? What if there are reasons, perhaps including even biological reasons, why the kink, non-monogamy, and LGBT communities overlap so much? More intriguing examples: young people are replacing "bisexual" with "pansexual," and it is true that there is a huge overlap between the bisexual, kink, transgender, and open relationship communities. What if we are missing an important dimension of human sexuality like general openness to a multitude of sex and gender expressions? Or this: there is a growing phenomenon of previously lesbian-identified trans men who become attracted to gay men after transition. What if "same-sex" orientation is exactly that: attraction to others of the same gender as you.

What if we don't have a clue? What if we are our understanding of sex/gender variation is in its infancy, as I believe? If there is a chance that is true then the lens we need to use must be broad and inclusive. For now, GSD, Gender and Sexual Diversities, is the best paradigm we can use.

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