Skip links

Not everyone loves alphabet soup, writes Jennifer Hopelezz

Share This Post

I don’t quite remember when it happened, but at some stage I started calling myself ‘queer’ or ‘a member of the LGBTQIA+ community’ instead of how I used to describe myself, that is, ‘gay’.

And the two businesses I run in Amsterdam, previously referred to respectively as a ‘gay men’s sauna’ and a ‘gay cruise club’, somehow morphed into ‘LGBTQI+ safe spaces’.

Somewhere along the line, ‘gay’ started to feel exclusionary, almost privileged or bigoted. ‘Queer’ felt like a more inclusive, woke, umbrella term and, paired with the progress flag, left no-one out. But, in fact, that’s not totally true.

Queer, of course, is a reclaimed old slur, a word that is sometimes still used by (elderly) homophobes. But it’s also a synonym for non-conformity and eccentricity, and also implies anti-assimilation, ‘burn the house down’ ideas. Hardly a word that describes many of the gay men or lesbians I know who live a very white-picket-fence life.

And it’s a blurry word when it comes to what it actually means. I have plenty of kooky straight friends who are a lot queerer than many of my gay friends. It’s a good thing when we start to break down the labels that limit and define us, but there’s a risk it erases our identities as well.

And the new, slightly awkward and academic ‘LGBTQIA+ safe space’ hardly describes places like saunas for gay men (even if they do sometimes have mixed nights for other people of the alphabet). Not a lot of lesbians, asexuals, allies or other plus people lounging about the last time I visited.

‘Gay’ has always been a lovely little Doris Day word, originally meaning ‘carefree’ and ‘cheerful’ that never hurt anyone. From the 1960s till at least the 2000’s it became the most popular way to describe our community. A lot of straight people back when used to regret that this sweet innocent word was kidnapped by us homosexuals, which made it even more appealing.

I get that language changes, and I get that everyone needs to be recognized with their own letter and flag (50 flags and counting, according to But if our identities start to look like a computer code, or we get swallowed up into a murky queer brew (or, even worse, fall under the bland ‘diversity’ label) then no-one gets the recognition they deserve.

And now with World Pride and Mardi Gras season upon us, it leaves me wondering how Sydney’s Mardi Gras managed to hold onto its simple Gay & Lesbian designation all these years?

Well, whatever the reason, I wish you all a gay old time! Happy Mardi Gras and Happy World Pride!