How can we possibly have too many words to describe the range of sexualities and gender identities within the human race?
How can we possibly keep up with the huge glossary of ever-changing terms which describe the range of sexualities and gender identities?
Difficult, isn’t it? But these are the opposing debates that we’re trying to suture together right now at Speak Out. Part of my job as Catalogue Editor is looking back through our catalogue for any reference to LGBTQ+ issues. However, a lot of it is quite difficult to find as it has been catalogued using outdated terminology.
To make it easier to search for LGBTQ+ material, I’m going to be adding in enrichment descriptions which will attach modern terminology to our records. This means that if you want to find the witness statement for Robert Northcott and George Harvey’s illicit Regent’s Park rendezvous, you will be able to search for records of ‘gay men’ instead of the rather ambiguous ‘unnatural misdemeanours’.
It could be argued that adding in this extra information is corrupting the historical record. For example, to call a woman from the 19th century a lesbian would be incorrect as the word indicates a cultural context that she would have been unaware of. She would not have thought of herself as a lesbian.
There is also the worry that the words that we use today could be considered antiquated or even offensive in the future. ‘Homosexual’, for example, used to be considered a polite term but nowadays, many consider it too clinical and diagnostic. And then, of course, there’s ‘queer’. As a member of the LMA LGBT History Club pointed out, a lot of people are very happy to describe themselves as queer, but quite a few people, particularly of the older generation, are still very uncomfortable being referred to as such.
Ultimately, the plan is for us to choose a list of about 10 LGBTQ+ words with which we can ‘tag’ our collections, but what those are going to be is still up for discussion. What do you think?
Written by Rosemary Munro (Speak Out Catalogue Editor)