In many cultures, language is still significantly lacking, especially for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Much of the vocabulary that does exist typically comes with a negative connotation and further stigmatizes queer and trans folks in these cultures.
According to a report by INTO, there is a new movement called the #FindYourWords initiative in order to create new words to use in reference to the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa’s 11 official languages. The initiative was created by Khanyi Mpumlwana and Nobantu Sibeko, after seeing how harmful it is not to have safe communities about queerness without respectful, endearing terms.
“The existing words, such as istabane or imoffie (Zulu for ‘homosexual’), are insulting, violent and are based in ostracism and a culture of shaming,” Mpumlwana said to INTO. “In TshiVenda, for example, people are labeled as matula/matudzi (bad omen/something unacceptable). So we needed to create or reclaim LGBTQQIAP+ identifying words and phrases in South Africa’s languages that are humanizing, instead of offensive.”
Using words such as Sekgele sa mookodi (the rainbow umbrella), seurubele (the transformative, soft and fluid one) and uthingo (rainbow), they have redefined these terms in order to use in conversation about the LGBT community. Seurubele, for instance, is used to refer to trans people who have a different gender identity/expression which differs from their assigned sex like the butterfly,” with origins in the Sesotho language of the Basotho people.
“We need positive words in our own languages,” Mpumlwana told INTO. “This will help in changing the narrative around what it means to be LGBTQQIAP+, and start to break the cycle of microaggression and prejudice that we experience every, single day.”
You can find the glossary for more terms here and You can also check out the commercial announcing the initiative down below.