It’s 2018. Why Are We Still Calling Ourselves Gold Star Gays?

Too many of us—myself included—have tossed these terms around without considering who we might be hurting or excluding.

I dated a trans guy for about a year. Can I still claim my platinum gay status? Or did having sex with a trans guy forfeit it?

When I read this question, a recent submission to Dan Savage’s “Savage Love Letter of the Day” column from a gay reader, I wanted to slam my head into my desk. I was angry. The question stunk of trans-exclusionary rhetoric, something I’ve grown especially sensitive to after dating a trans person more than three years. I was frustrated. The reader was more concerned with genitalia than gender identity, more worried about preserving an arbitrary identifier—namely, his Platinum Gay card—than considering how his question might hurt or invalidate others.

Above all, though, I found myself confused: Why are people still calling themselves “Platinum Gays” and “Gold Star Lesbians” in 2018, when gender and sexual fluidity are more common among young people than ever?

In case you’re not privy to the lingo, here’s a refresher: “Platinum Gay” refers to a gay man who’s never slept with a woman and was birthed by Caesarean section (AKA, he’s never even gone near a vagina.) “Gold Star Gay”—and its lesbian counterpart, which Savage also addressed—are similar, minus the C-section stipulation. These terms, which attach a symbolic “award” to an arbitrary fact, aren’t just unhelpful; they’re incredibly offensive. These labels exclude bisexuals, pansexuals, and anybody whose sexuality isn’t rigidly defined. They can hurt or conflict those who might want to experiment sexually. And they shift the focus from healthy, valid sexual expression to a preoccupation with our partners’ genitalia. At best, that’s off-putting; at worst, it’s flat-out transphobic.

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Since the ‘90s, these labels have been used as a point of pride by gays and lesbians—and they’ve appeared in pop culture as recently as an October 2017 episode of NBC’s Will & Grace. They’re exclusive by design, intended to foster an even tighter community within an already small sector of the population. Of course, it’s fine to be transparent about whether you’ve slept with someone of the opposite sex. But I’ve come to realize that these terms are actually more divisive than they are productive.

While I staunchly oppose this self-imposed “award” now, I, like many other queer folks, succumbed to it at one point. As a 17-year-old baby dyke, I proudly owned the fact that I’d never slept with a man—and used the term Gold Star Lesbian to describe myself. I used the phrase among friends and online as if I’d achieved something of merit, as if it made me somehow better or “gayer” than bisexual, pansexual, or queer women. I acted pompous and proud; in reality, I was insecure. I felt unattractive and unworthy of affection, as many teenagers do, and I owned my Gold Star status as a way to deflect from feeling undesired by both men and women.

The truth was, I’d only just begun to explore my sexuality, period.

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Privileging Gold Star status implicitly taught me that queer women who slept with men were less valid, less radical, and less worthy of my attention than “purebred” lesbians. It allowed no space for trans or gender-nonconforming people in my romantic life. But I clung onto that label, publicly and privately, until my partner came out as transgender, and it no longer fit me. The realization was a long time coming: I’d started to realize that the term was unproductive when it stopped me from exploring my sexuality. But having a transgender partner, and seeing how much of an impact the words I used to describe myself could have on someone I loved, was the final straw.

Here’s the thing about labels: By nature, they include some and exclude others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Labels are important for both individuals and groups—after all, they allow us to rally behind a shared identity or set of issues. They can foster community. They can encourage important discussions. But Platinum and Gold Star Gays have no place in 2018. Young people are rebelling against gender and sexual binaries now more than ever: In a 2017 report, GLAAD found that LGBT millennials prefer to self-identify with terms like “queer,” “bisexual,” and “pansexual,” all of which don’t imply specific gender identities.

Savage highlights the silliness of the whole thing:

Technically speaking… This ’platinum’ nonsense is about genitals, not gender. So if your trans ex-boyfriend had a vagina and you touched it, well, then you’ll have to mail your invisible platinum gay card back to the Imaginary Gay Accreditation Agency, and someone at the IGAA will pretend to mail you an invisible gold gay card within 90 business days.

In all seriousness, though: The queer community has enough external issues and internal schisms to deal with without adding these antiquated labels into the mix.

Do you care if you partner is a card-carrying Platinum or Gold Star Gay? Because I don’t.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.