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Room for Squares
by Philip Wong on Jul 18, 2008
Not so long ago, an English bard asked the question: “What’s in a name?” For the star crossed lovers in his play, a name was everything; it single-handedly predetermined their fates and ultimately brought about their untimely deaths. But “Romeo and Juliet” is a 16th century play written for an Elizabethan audience. And while 400 years isn’t really a long time relatively speaking, it is ample time to remove us from the confines of taxonomy that existed around the time of the plays inception. Or at least it should be.
So what is in a name? To answer that question, let’s examine mine. My name is Philip, a combination of two Ancient Greek words that basically mean "lover of horses". While I was ignorant of its meaning at the time, as a child, I loved horses. I would run around neighing like one. I watched “Mr. Ed” all the time. My favorite movie was “The Black Stallion,” and “My Little Pony” was my best friend. And when, many years later in a college Greek class, I finally learned the origin of my name, well, it was the eeriest encounter with predetermination I had ever had.
Or maybe it was just coincidence. The more I thought about it, the more I started to realize that my name really had nothing to do with my equine fascination. I mean, sure, I liked horses, but surprisingly, that didn’t translate into wanting to ride one or own one. And more importantly, it didn’t exclude me from liking anything else. It was, in fact, just a name. A sequence of letters that probably means something very different from what it did thousands of years ago. That’s just the nature of names and words; their meanings change.
Take our own community for instance. Getting us to agree on one moniker can be like trying to settle on one Presidential candidate, except that in this race, we have a lot more than two choices. Because ours is a progressive lot, leaving out any one faction could potentially be seen as a move backwards. In remaining PC, you not only have to remember the gays and lesbians, but you also have to be aware of the bisexuals, the transsexuals, the transgendered, the transvestites, the asexuals, and the list goes on. Can you picture it? The “GLBTTTA...” Community? And I thought acronyms were supposed to make things easier.
Look around and all you see are varying permutations of the same thing. The San Francisco LGBT Community Center. The GLBT Historical Society. And so forth, each one with its own idea of community, its own version of inclusiveness. Although they each have different names, I think everyone would agree that they all serve the same community and that they exist for all of us. I mean, it’s pretty apparent that something like the LGBT Community center is open to everybody, even if it isn’t spelled out explicitly.
Perhaps the folks at the center, in deciding on a name, were just a few years late. Recently, the term “queer” reentered the lexicon of popular discourse. Once a word used by the public at large solely to demean and belittle us, it is now synonymous with our shared identity and even serves to empower us. When “queer” is used nowadays, it’s a shout out to all of us. It’s like a tip of the hat to all those before us who had to endure the figurative stoning every time that word was hurled at them and living testimony to the ever changing meaning of words. So, regardless of whether we’re G, L, B, T, Q, or any combination thereof, let’s not give our names and words too much weight.
by Philip Wong on Jul 18, 2008