Much is written debating whether the rainbow alphabet acronym LGBTQ really needs to be that long, and specifically, why T needs to be included. The question of letters of political and legal coalitions isn’t just about acronyms, of course — it’s about political and cultural maneuvering in the pursuit of equality and fairness.

There are some (perhaps many) who are skeptical of the mash-up of L, G, and Q with T. Some lesbians and gays question the wisdom of having gay rights “dragged down” by transgender people, and there are some trans* people who feel very uncomfortable having their issues expressed as part of the rainbow agenda. In an ideal situation, family, friends, politicians, judges, legislators, and employers would have enough attention and interest to engage the LGBTQ communities separately, listening and learning about the specific concerns, issues, difficulties of lesbians separately from transsexuals, gay men separately from gender-queers, and so on.

But in the real world, society has lots and lots of different issues, and as far as most of the world is concerned, all the lesbians, gays, queers, and transgendered people are the same, and thus can be treated as one homogenous entity. To the outside world, we LGBTQ’s all violate two widely-held social belief systems.

The first is called heteronormativity, or the concept that what’s right and normal is men falling in love with women and that these dating/love/sex relationships are normal and right and everything else is abnormal and wrong. The second concept that rules the outside world is called gender normativity, or the system of clearly discernible differences in behavior between the feminine and the masculine, the rule that men are always masculine and women are always feminine, and a belief that adherence to these norms is normal and right and anything else is abnormal and wrong.

Theorists are generally able to distinguish between these two rule systems (hetero- and gender-normativity), but the rest of the world often conflates these two systems, and this conflation is what chains us all together and makes the LGBTQ acronym meaningful.

What do we mean by conflating, or mistaking, the two systems? Let’s use a couple of trite, but useful examples.

You may be a perfectly straight man with a girlfriend, thus adhering to all the “rules” of heterosexual normality, but if you violate gender norms, and are perceived by others to be a “girly-man,” a sissy, then some bullies are going to call you a faggot and give you a hard time. What are they reacting to? You’re being called a fag and yet you’re in a happy, heterosexual relationship. “Fag” is a verbal assault regarding your violations of gender-normativity, rather than your inner sense of what attracts you.

Or you’re a normal heterosexual woman who’s always been a tomboy, avoiding rigid gender expectations of femininity. Although you’re not a lesbian, you hear the insults of “dyke” or “lezzie,” and you’re lumped together with your LGBTQ friends whether you like it or not.

The same thing goes for gender-normal LGBTQ people, or straight-acting gays and lesbians. “Straight acting” means not showing public displays of affection for a same-sex partner, but it mostly means adhering to gender norms, so that women act “feminine” and men act “masculine.”

You need to ask yourself which is safer in the presence of homophobes, a gender-variant straight person, or a straight-acting homosexual? Do they care what you are?

See, I think that pushing orientation or identity, while feeling like a good and true strategy, is going about things all the wrong way. Orientation and identity are things are are essential and internal, while gender or sexual expression is external. No matter what you *are* inside, there’s no way for the outside world to know about your inner truth except via your expression of that truth. And that goes for gender, sexual attraction, philosophy, or any number of “essential” qualities.

If we’re interested in protecting transsexuals or gays or lesbians, I don’t think it’s enough to protect sexual orientation or gender identity — we should be protecting the expression of that sexual orientation or gender identity because that’s what’s observable to the outside world. It’s telling that more and more laws and policies are beginning to use language that says something like “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or the perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” and this approach gets at what’s important: that you don’t need protection for what you *are*, but rather for what people see you express.