Note: This transcript has been edited to explain some of the signs, but I would suggest watching the video to get the full picture.
Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome! This is your reminder to do what you can to support the Black Lives Matter movement, whether that be donating, protesting, having hard conversations with your white family and friends. This isn’t an US-only issue, it’s global as well so international people are not exempt from this.
Today, we’ll be talking about signs for queer terms from other countries. First, before you get all excited, I won’t actually be showing you a list per se. This is more of a discussion and my thoughts on certain signs, what concepts they can convey to people. The queer community obviously has always been there, all over the world. From my small exposure of international life when I studied abroad in Denmark, it seems like it hasn’t been as visible as it has in the US. In part because comparatively, it’s much larger and louder in the US. That definitely has influenced how signs for queer terms have developed.
Of course, there will be bias in this, since I’m US-born and don’t have an exhaustive knowledge of queer signs all over the world. I will discuss what I do know, and I want to emphasize that this is not saying that they should/shouldn’t be using those signs. It’s not my language after all. I just want to give people some things to think about, in relation to their own signs, from an outside perspective. If I happen to talk about a sign you use, please let me know what your thoughts are. I want different perspectives! Also, I will link to my video of ASL queer signs if you want some comparison. Okay, with that long introduction and disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started.
Many countries will do some variation on the rainbow sign to represent LGBTQ+ or queer, including the US. [shows a few variations that are similar to the sign for “rainbow”] All good there! Now let’s look at more specific signs.
Gay and lesbian. The US tends to prefer spelling gay, but signs lesbian with a L, the index finger tapping the chin. The international sign for gay is a dominant hand thumbs up on your non-dominant palm, twisting your wrist. Lesbian is the same, but with a L handshape. A few countries will sign gay this way, like the handshape and motion for duck, but grasping the earlobe. Very interesting, I suspect this comes from the old idea that if you wore an earring in a specific ear, that meant you were saying you’re gay. It wasn’t really a thing in the queer community, so it was probably a weird straight rumor. Anyway. Several use a similar sign for lesbian as the US. I’ve seen some signs that I do not like and won’t repeat here, because they’re… Let’s say they’re a little risqué. They’re focused on what they *do,* rather than who they are. [makes a face]
For bi, I’ve seen a lot will simply spell bi because it’s only two letters. But I’ve also seen many that rely on the mistaken concept of binary. Examples: Non-dominant signing two, while the dominant hand signs switching between the two. B-handshapes touching the chest and alternating motions away. I’ve even seen this, [B-straight I]. Absolutely not. We’re not Straight Lite. Or is that Gay Lite? *shrugs*
Trans. This is the one I have the most…issues with. In the US, everyone uses the “beautiful” on the chest. I have a video on this. I actually don’t recall the international sign for this, it might be the one that the US uses. I know some countries are starting to adopt this sign as well, because what they are currently using is a little problematic. LSF, Langue des Signes Française, signs it like: V-handshape with one finger touching the chest, flipping so the other finger touches the chest. I can’t recall which country this is from, but I’ve seen one like the LSF version, but the V handshape is horizontal and twists up or down. The way you go depends on if they’re MTF or FTM, which is kind of gross. All of those are problematic because they focus on the concept of “changing from one sex to another” rather than gender being an intrinsic thing. It also perpetuates the binary idea and that you have to have had a surgery to be considered fully trans. That sign doesn’t really consider nonbinary people and people who don’t consider themself a binary trans person. There are many trans people who have no interest in having any type of surgery. That is still valid.
I found a video from 2017 of a person explaining the major queer signs in LSM, Lengua de Señas Mexicana. Focusing on trans specifically, LSM uses this sign as an umbrella, both hands in T-handshape twisting together like signing change. Again, this focuses on the “changing” part which is not accurate. The transitioning process is simply bringing their body into alignment with how they view themselves. And that’s only if they actually transition! This person also talks about other terms which are outdated in English, and a little cringey for me to watch because they’re explained in such a biological view. The signs kept being like “man become woman,” “woman with mind of a man,” and so on. Ugh, that’s—no. Again, like I said before, this is not my language, and it’s not my place to say people shouldn’t be using this at all. However, I beg people to consider the impact that the signs can have on trans people in their own community. In my view, this can be extremely harmful to them. Just think about your choice of signs and what they *mean.*
Like in ASL, many of the other less common terms in the mainstream don’t have signs yet. The last word I want to briefly mention is intersex. ASL does have a sign: starting with I-handshape touching the forehead, moving down to touch the chest and it changes into a X before touching. And this was created by a deaf intersex person. I’m not a big fan of it, just because it doesn’t really convey the concept to me, and relies on the English. Now, the sign in LSF is one that I actually kind of like, and it’s very conceptually clear. It starts with two open hands touching each shoulder, then they slide in together, closing in and finish in the center, completely closed. Essentially, two sexes in one body. This is a situation where biology comes in, because this is an identity term yes, but it’s also a scientific term. [LSF intersex] shows the binary, but also shows it’s a range of a kind. This, to me, shows the concept of being intersex very clearly without relying on English letters. Of course, if you disagree, please let me know. I’d love your perspective on this, especially since I’m not intersex myself.
I’m sure I’m leaving some things out that I haven’t thought of, but I’ll add them in the pinned comment on YouTube if there’s more. I will leave links to the videos I mentioned for LSF and LSM at the end of this post, but just be aware they’re both in those languages. The LSF one has French subtitles, while the LSM one has none at all. And that’s all I have for this video. Let me know what your thoughts are on, if you know queer signs in other languages and what you think of them, and so on.
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Please let me know if there’s anything you feel should be added to the list below. Thank you!
- White people, read these
- Support queer businesses!
- Queer black businesses: https://bit.ly/2TV2H8X
- BLM Queer-inclusive organizations: https://www.instagram.com/p/CA3fWCjpHI4/
- Qwear (fashion): https://www.qwearfashion.com/home/queer-black-brands-for-the-socially-conscious-fashionista
- 20 LGBTQ Businesses: https://www.reviewed.com/home-outdoors/features/20-lgbtq-owned-businesses-to-shop-and-show-your-support
- The Okra Project – https://www.theokraproject.com
- House of GG – https://www.houseofgg.org
- The Transgender District – https://www.transgenderdistrictsf.com
- 9 Black LGBTQ+ Organizations – https://hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/black-lgbtq-organizations-to-donate-to/