A Discussion of Language and Inclusion with Activist Madeline Scyphers

Last week I had the privilege to meet with Madeline Scyphers, an activist for the queer community. I had a lot of questions about her community, and Madeline had a lot of answers. I started out by asking Madeline what her identities are so I could get an idea of where she is coming from. She has many, and her response was, “I identify as trans. I identify somewhere between a transwoman and someone who identifies as nonbinary transfeminine. What that means to me is I do feel like the binary gender system of being a man or a woman does not necessarily fit me as a descriptor all the time. I never identify as someone who is a man  or a boy, and I really hate it when someone does gender me that way.”

That’s just one aspect of her identity. When I asked her about her sexual orientation, she responded, “The best word I use is queer. I do and have always primarily dated women, but I’m attracted to most people, at least some of the time, but not all people all of the time. Bi and pan don’t really encompass that; only if you explain it to someone. Since I have to explain it to someone anyways, because it’s [the terms bi and pan] implying things that I don’t want it to imply, why don’t you just use the term queer, which is purposefully vague? I can use it, and you don’t make assumptions about what it means.” There’s more to Madeline than her sexual orientation and gender identity. Madeline said, “I also identify as an activist, I am a math student, and that’s really important to me, and it plays into a larger identity of feeling like kind of a nerd.”

One question that has been haunting me for a few months now is the LGBTQA+ acronym. As an outsider to the community, I’ve noticed that it’s a paradox, simultaneously working to be inclusive, while being inherently exclusive. I never knew which acronym to use, as you see many. LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQA, LGBTQIA, LGBTQIA+, LGBTTQQIAAP, and more. I also feel like there are a lot of misconceptions about what the acronym actually means. Madeline’s reaction made me feel like my questions were valid, “I hate the acronym. I think its awful. It has its uses.  I use queer as my default term, a lot of people don’t like the term, especially people who are older in the community because queer is a reclaimed slur that was used against people like me and our community in a very hateful and negative way.”

A big question with the acronym is which identities should be included. I, which stands for intersex, is one of those questionable letters. Madeline responds to this complex issue with, “I 100% believe that intersex people should be considered queer if they want to be considered queer. A lot of intersex people do identify as being queer, and a lot of intersex people don’t want to identify as queer. So by saying LGBTQIA, you are saying that intersex is part of the community, and you’re not listening to people who are opting out.”

This can be an issue with many of the letters on the acronym. But, the plus on LGBTQ+ has problems of its own, according to Madeline, the plus can be construed as saying, “These are the people who deserve to get a letter, and these are all the people who deserve to only be clumped together in a plus.”

Honestly, after our conversation about the acronym I was even more confused. Clearly even the acronym, which may seem simple, is a very complex issue in itself. Everyone you meet will probably have a different opinion of it, so how do you know what’s right to say? Since I’m not a member of the queer community, I hesitate to use the word queer because of its history. But, because of all the problems with the acronym, I’m not inclined to use that either. It’s complicated, but we can make it work by keeping our lines of communication open. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as that is the best way to educate yourself.

At the end of the interview, I asked Madeline if there was anything she would like to educate people about. She responded, “If you want to be an ally to my community, you need to do the work. You need to put the work in, advocated for them, create spaces for them; don’t make them do all the work, but don’t speak over us or for us.”

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