Waymon Hudson

The Lost Art of Language

Filed By Waymon Hudson | December 16, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Media, The Movement
Tags: gay is good, Kameny, labels, language, LGBT people, queer

I'll admit it. I am fascinated by the way we communicate with one another- what we say, how we say it, and what we really mean. I've delved into it here before, from the language of gender (I still get angry emails calling me a "gender anarchist") to words that irk me (it must be a "homosexual" thing).

It has all led me to wonder if our community has lost the war over language- or at least waved the white flag of surrender (to quote the brilliant linguist Governor Palin in her VP debate).

Even when we speak to one another, such as in forums like Bilerico, we can't seem to shake the labels thrust upon us by the right. We use their language for us to define what we aren't rather than defining what we are.

Let's look at my pet peeve word- "Homosexual." My last post about the word caused quite a debate that I learned a lot from and found very interesting. It's a great example of the impact of language.

While "homosexual" is an accepted clinical/scientific term, its very basis is from the Catholic Church (who coined the term when trying to name the sin they wanted to condemn). Even if you look beyond that origin, its very basis is sexual in nature. We are being defined by who we have sex with, something I would argue is a small part of being gay- much like sex is a small part of being heterosexual.

It ignores the complexity of who we are- attraction, coupling, families, etc. It boils us down to what part goes where. And while sexuality is a part of the LGBT identity, it is not the total.

At the recent LGBT blogger summit in DC, one of our speakers talked about changing the dialogue and language we use when writing and speaking about our movement. I have to agree that too often we seem to be on the defensive and reacting to the language used by the fundamentalists. We force ourselves into a defensive stance, rather than take a more proactive, positive approach.

It all goes back to Frank Kameny's "Gay is Good" movement in the early days of LGBT activism. He argued that until we can break loose of the "LGBT is evil" argument and take control of the language and arguments, we will never really move forward.

So I have to wonder how we can do that. How can we break years of conditioning and repression to literally change the conversation? How can we reclaim the lost art of language for our community and help further all of the diverse goals towards equality we have?

I don't have the answers. I'm not sure any of us do. But perhaps if we can start the conversation and bounce ideas around among ourselves, we can help spark the change in dialogue we desperately need.


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One way would start to turn language around.....
Fundie christians are terrorists.....they have a long history of using terrorist tactics and we should start calling them by that name.

Right wing fanatics that were quick to brand anyone who disagreed with Bush traitors.....by their own use of the word they are traitors now in the attacks on our new President before he even takes office.

Lefties need to get over the politeness crap.....

This post is really really...um...good.

I think that it's very important not just to think about the language we use to describe ourselves, but also the language we use to describe political opponents. Use of pejoratives to describe them is, I think, a double edged sword. It radicalizes people who already agree with us by increasing their sense of anger towards opponents (and discourages any attempts to actually understand them), and can be useful for mobilizing your base. On the other hand, it alienates moderates.

There are people who are genuinely conflicted and aren't sure what to think who could be persuaded. There are people who understand the importance of not being jerks towards LGBT people, who would be willing to listen to their stories, but who currently think that something along the lines of "love the sinner, hate the sin" is genuinely loving. For many people who think this, I think that they could be persuaded that this position isn't really loving at all, but arguments would have to be tailored to their current views. In order to get them to hear (and take seriously) arguments that might persuade them or to listen to people's stories, it's important for the person making to argument to create a sense of trust of the part of the audience. This requires demonstrating that you understand where they're coming from and that you respect them. Using polarizing language that assumes everyone who disagrees with you is either evil or stupid not only fails to do this, but it can reinforce in the mind of the audience that the only way that people can disagree with them is by failing to understand they're views.

And that's not helpful for making allies.

The following about the origin of the word homosexual differs from your Catholic data:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl-Maria_Kertbeny

lol. I love this.
Yep, always keep focused on your own message. Don't use the same words tossed out there by your opponent unless your turning the conversation back on them. Word - family - yea, guess what, we are pro-family. assholes. We are part of the family. - asshole.

People are somewhat stupid and HAVE to be called on their shit. I believe the bible is the inerrant word of god... No you don't or you'd be dressed funny.
Love the sinner, hate the sin. What kind of love denies another dignity?
They need to be caled on there weirdness and lies EVERY CHANCE WE GET.
Gay and lesbian works for me, but I am unafraid of the work homosexual.
You bettcha they use this word to stir up negative feelings and images of sex. Guess maybe they need to be called on it?
Madonna was right.
Americamns are way to stuck up about sex

lol. I love this.
Yep, always keep focused on your own message. Don't use the same words tossed out there by your opponent unless your turning the conversation back on them. Word - family - yea, guess what, we are pro-family. assholes. We are part of the family. - asshole.

People are somewhat stupid and HAVE to be called on their shit. I believe the bible is the inerrant word of god... No you don't or you'd be dressed funny.
Love the sinner, hate the sin. What kind of love denies another dignity?
They need to be caled on there weirdness and lies EVERY CHANCE WE GET.
Gay and lesbian works for me, but I am unafraid of the work homosexual.
You bettcha they use this word to stir up negative feelings and images of sex. Guess maybe they need to be called on it?
Madonna was right.
Americamns are way to stuck up about sex

Charles, thanks, that was an interesting read.

I had always heard that the term gained popular use in Psychiatry when they pathologized gays as being mentally ill(Kind of like they still do with transexuals, but that is a different argument).

The Christian taliban, is always going to control the direction of the dialogue. No matter how ridiculous their attacks or arguments are, they have the factor of initiative on their side. They can start an attack from the pulpit, spreading their message virally, getting it out among their followers before we even know what they are doing.

Cultural terrorists, that is what they are.

Outside of a legacy of oppression, we are a "sexual minority". Homosexual is entirely appropriate; you fuck other men. Homosexuality is just a part of who you are-- as a person, not a homosexual, to turn your heterosexuality metaphor on its head.

Coupling, interaction, that is all part of a culture that is born out of an oppressive climate. Once that oppression's gone, what are you? You claim that defining by sexuality alone is dangerous; and yet, you would have us defined by a culture we develop in response to discrimination? Equally precocious, if you ask me. Furthermore, I don't know what all this self-righteousness about sex is. Sex is an elemental part of the animal kingdom; why do you validate the view that being sexual beings is something to be ashamed of?

Charles already mentioned that false claim you made about the word's origin, so I'll leave you to get acquainted with the facts.

The point of the word is that we're merely distinguished by who we fuck. We are not inherently different in animalistic aspirations to heterosexuals-- many of us want children, many want companionship, many separate, many are engaged in activities not estranged to heterosexuals. What makes a gay pothead different from a straight one? He fucks men instead.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 17, 2008 8:06 AM

I was happy to note that you capitalized "Gay."

I have never understood the tendency not to capitalize a group identity and movement allowing a defining phrase of Dr. Kameny to be confused with "having a gay time."

But what do I know, I am a homophile, who knows that truth is a relative concept and history is written by whomever won. A successful politician I knew referred to his sexuality as one facet of a diamond. One facet can cast shadings of color on the rest of the stone, but the facet is not even the stone. The facet is just a mirror to the heart.

Understanding your post I recognize you have been negated for an imprecise reference (Charles was spot on to do this)and treated to ignorant swear words when a more mature level of language would have sufficed. "L" has demonstrated magnificently how many in the "Gay Community" prefer to goad others rather than perfecting themselves. I think you have set an excellent trap whether you meant to or not.

It just seems to me that there's a whole lot more to being gay than just fucking another dude. I always found it interesting that "homosexual" focuses on "having sex with the same gender." Why not focus on "falls in love with the same gender"? We don't categorize people by which gender they love, only which gender(s) they have sex with. It seems like a typical human way of focusing more on the crotch than the heart.

Bil, Bil, Bil........the first rule of propaganda is you dehumanize those you wish to oppose. Make it all about sex and gonads and you effectively diminish the humanity by ignoring all other aspects and erasing any possible commonality.

This is why we need to fight fire with fire in opposing the right controlling the language used to discuss the issues.

BTW this is also why I'm such a bitch about using shemale etc and forcing "transgender" down the throats of women of trans/intersexed history.

And what is falling in love? You can fall in love with heterosexual male friends; it happens all the time. What makes it different is the physical interaction.