HONOLULU (KHON2) — Going beyond binaries always makes things a bit more complicated.

But complicated does not mean bad. Look at the difference between stick figure humans and animals painted on cave walls in France versus the art in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

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Simple versus complicated resulted in some of the most beautiful works of art ever created.

So too are humans. Humanity has an astonishingly wide array of identities. We have a near limitless capacity for envisioning who we believe ourselves to be.

This has become reflected in the modern Pride establishment. Pride has emerged as a conduit to reinforce freedom of expression and the ability to explore who we are without being imprisoned or murdered for it.

But with all the demarcations and letters that abbreviate our signifiers, folks can become confused and even intimidated when they do not understand what is being said and/or presented.

So, KHON2.com decided to embark on a journey that sheds a bit of light on all these letters and terms.


2S is the demarcation for two-spirits. While the concept of being both masculine and feminine are in no way new, the identifier known as two-spirit is fairly new.

Two-spirits are indigenous peoples to Turtle Island (North America) who have traditionally played various roles in different tribes.

With the onslaught of Manifest Destiny, free reign in murdering indigenous peoples and government sanctioned, religiously staffed boarding schools sought to stamp out all of the histories, languages, traditions and religions of indigenous peoples.

This included wiping out the people who did not fit into European constructs of masculine and feminine. Many tribes lost their understanding and acceptance of these people.

Elder Myra Laramee proposed the creation of the term two-spirit in the Third Annual Inter-tribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference, held in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990.

For indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, most tribal languages did not focus on the identity of the person as much as the action of the person. Hence, not all tribes have traditional words to identify two-spirits. This came about due to European influences.

Traditional feather regalia adorn the Pride flag to embrace two-spirits.
Traditional feather regalia adorn the Pride flag to embrace two-spirits.

While two-spirits tend to be drawn to the LGBTQ+ community, not all accept them or understand them. And there are plenty of tribal systems who refuse to accept the traditional understanding of non-binary concepts.

Needless to say, two-spirits have a difficult path in finding acceptance and a community that understands and accepts them.

While not all LGBTQ+ communities embrace two-spirits, the Researching for LGBTQ2S+ Health organization has made a concerted effort to include this highly marginalized community.

The two-spirit identifier can only be used by Native American peoples. This means that non-Indigenous peoples cannot claim the term since the concept carries specific cultural and historical significance.

Sometimes, the Hawaiian māhū or the Tongan leiti fall under this demarcation as their letters have not been added to the Pride pantheon… yet.


The letter L is to represent lesbians. The term lesbian was adopted from the Greek stories of Lesbos. Sappho of Lesbos was an extraordinarily famous and popular lyricist in the ancient world.

She was a renowned lover of women, and her lyrics reflect her passion for women.

According to researcher Joshua J. Mark with the World History Encyclopedia, the church during the Middle Ages sought to suppress the expression of female love. Church leaders purposefully destroyed much of Sappho’s lesbian love poetry as a means of stamping out its existence and to support its move to strip women of autonomy.

This happened circa 1073 CE; however, much of her works lost long before this time as scholars did not know the various dialects of the Greek language well enough to understand her works. The lack of translation helped preserve some of her works that would have been destroyed otherwise.

Pinks and white adorn the lesbian Pride flag.
Pinks and white adorn the lesbian Pride flag.

It was not until the 1890 that the word lesbian was first used in a medical journal as a way of identifying women who loved women.


Gay is what the letter G represents. While gay is a fairly wide-ranging term, most men who love men identify as gay.

The word gay has drastically evolved since its first inception in the 12th century. The English word comes from the Old French word ‘gai’ which meant joyful and full of mirth and the Old High German word ‘gahi’ which meant impulsive.

In the 17th century, gay became associated with people who did not embrace the capitalist machine that was overtaking much of the world at the time. The word was used to describe someone who was immoral, unethical and prone to decadence.

In the 1890s, the term slowly began evolving to identify women who sold sex and men who freely slept with many women.

In the 1920s and 1930s in the United States, gay began evolving again and became known to mean men who love other men. In 1938, Cary Grant declares that he has “gone gay” when he is seen wearing a feminine, feathery outfit.

Shades of green, blue, and purple adorn the gay men's Pride flag.
Shades of green, blue, and purple adorn the gay men’s Pride flag.

Then, in 1951, the Oxford English Dictionary changed the definition for gay to incorporate it as a slang term for homosexual.


The letter B is for bisexual. Bisexuals are attracted to both men and women. This is not to be confused with the term pansexual.

Here’s the difference. Bisexuals typically refer to their attraction being for men and women. Pansexuals go a step beyond. For those who identify as pansexual, it is not about the male and female of the attraction, meaning gender and sex are not the defining characteristics of attraction. It is about the emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical attractiveness of the person and people to whom they are attracted.

For many years, those who identify as bisexual were not embraced by the gay and lesbian communities since they did not have a hard and fast rule about which sex they prefer. The need for binaries drove this difficult relationship.

  • Pink and purple blend to create the bisexual Pride flag.
  • Pink, yellow and blue blend to create the bisexual Pride flag.

But as more and more people begin to understand their own sexuality and identity outside of prescribed identities that were artificially created to control, bisexuals are coming out of the closet and demanding respect.


T stands for transgender. This group has gone through some of the worst abuse and marginalization of any other group. Beaten, hated, segregated and marginalized by both the straight and queer worlds, transgender people have had to hide or be so bold that no one could touch them.

As far back as 7,000 years ago, transgender people were described as being priests of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. They took on feminine names and spoke their own dialect.

Then, around 2,500 years ago, Greek historians recorded the lives of priests who took on feminine names and clothing.

There are countless other historical documents that support the histories of many priests, monks, soldiers, generals and heroes who defied the constructs attached to them at birth.

Being transgender means that someone’s gender expression differs from the gender affiliated with their sex assignment at the time of their birth.

Since masculine and feminine constructs as well as fashion are all artificial constructs, transgender people have long been persecuted for not embracing the artificial identifiers created as control mechanisms for populations.

Pink, white and blue blend to create the trans Pride flag.
Pink, white and blue blend to create the trans Pride flag.

While the world is becoming more accepting of those who defy gender construct control, Amnesty International said that there are 1.4 million transgender adults living in the U.S., which is about 0.5% of the population. There are no statistics for how many transgender people under the age of 18 exist.


The letter Q represents queer people. Queer is an expansive term that provides refuge for everyone who feels they defy the “norm”. Those norms are binaries and constructs that inhibit self-expression and love of the self.

It has been used for many years as a derogatory term to humiliate people who refuse to acquiesce; but in recent years, the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has embraced the term, claiming it as their own.

The Q also represents those who are questioning. One of the defining characteristics of the of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is the quest for the self. Rarely is someone born fully understanding what their identity is or to whom they will be sexually attracted. For most, this is a journey of self-exploration.

So, there are lots of folks who are in the process of questioning, and the support they receive during this time is integral to self-esteem and having a sense of place and family.


I represents those who are intersex. For many years, these individuals were shamed as “hermaphrodites”. Parents would decide at birth what the sex of the child would be with no regard for how the person would develop their own sense of self.

Intersex individuals have been a part of religions and religious leadership for millennia. They were often the prophets and were believed to have a special connection to the divine. They were believed to transcend the binary of male and female, making them holy.

But in the 1600s, Protestant colonizers in Turtle Island (North America) decided that intersex people were “hermaphrodites” and decided to identify them as the personification of Satan’s evil.

The intersex Pride flag is represented with a yellow background and a purple circle.
The intersex Pride flag is represented with a yellow background and a purple circle.

Butchered for centuries, a movement in the 1970s emerged to help intersex people reclaim their autonomy and power. These historically special individuals are born at an approximate rate of 2 per 100 births in the United States.


The letter A is for asexual. These are people who have transcended the need for sexual relations. In a world that values the sexuality of both individuals and coupled peoples, asexualism is one that not many people understand.

Even within the 2SLGBTQ+ community, asexual people have been misunderstood and marginalized.

Asexual means that a person will have a lack of sexual attraction to others. This includes a low interest in sexual activity. But one must remember that sexuality means different things to different people.

The black, gray, white and purple represents the entire community of asexual folks.
The black, gray, white and purple represents the entire community of asexual folks.

Asexual is often used as an umbrella term for differing approaches to asexuality, including aromantic people, sapiosexuals and demisexuals.


The plus embraces all the other folks who live and work, all the varieties of persons that make up the beautiful tapestry of humanity.

These include but are not limited to:

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As you go out into the world, remember that no two people experience life the same. From love to education to careers and families, there is a vast ocean of differences that make this world an extraordinary place.