Waymon Hudson

Why Does the Word "Homosexual" Piss Me Off?

Filed By Waymon Hudson | December 05, 2008 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: faggot, LGBT people

I find myself cringing when I hear the word "homosexual."

Yes, I know it is a scientific term and meant to be clinical. And I know it is odd that this word bothers me when I embrace other words like queer, which is horribly offensive to some.

I know this may be in my mind, but I still have a guttural reaction when I hear the word. To me, it seems that more and more the word "homosexual" is becoming the new "faggot." It is being used by the religious right, conservatives, the media, and just about everyone else as a fill-in for a derogatory term.

Perhaps it is the usage of it- the hate behind the words that you can hear. It seems the only times I hear "homosexual" are from crazy fundies talking about "militant homosexual activists" (something I've been called more than a few times) or "homos." Even when used by politicians and media, it comes off sounding like a word they choke on- "I have no problem with the (gulp) homosexual community."

It just always sounds like an insult to me.

Maybe it's a generational thing. Like most people my age, I grew up hearing "gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender" as the terms for our community. Those a bit younger than me have reclaimed "queer" and it is now a term used to cover a broad spectrum. "Homosexual" always brings me back to a kind of dark place when I was a young kid looking it up in the library trying to find out why I was "different."

It doesn't seem to have a positive connotation. It just always leads back to a cold detachment, separated by hate and bigotry.

Maybe I'm just being oversensitive. Maybe I am just always on the defensive. Maybe it's not the word but how it is used.

Whatever the reason, I just can't help getting angry every time I hear it. It really pisses this queer off.


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i agree. i have the same reaction every time i hear it too.

Interesting, so you'd say the politics - if not the meaning - of the word is changing? To me "homosexual" has always seemed like the most politically safe or correct term to use, though I definitely see in the future past words with negative connotations - gay, queer, etc. - to be turned on their head through their use in the ______ community. I guess that's somewhat similar to "black power", at least how meaning is controlled by various social groups. I wonder, if more people that identify themselves as ___ start to use the term "gay" to describe themselves, will the media use different words to identify them? Ascription vs. subscription...

Same here. When i read the word, i hear Falwell's voice... ho-mo-sesxhual, dripping with contempt.

And i would rather that voice had been buried with him.

Well it does sound a bit clinical. I usually roll my eyes rather than cringe when I hear it used in everyday speech. I think its use by those you mention is a passive-aggressive way to say "those people" without appearing unreasonable.

The only people I want calling me queer are the radical right. Call me homo with a smile or gay and I'm a happy camper.


I was actually going to write something on this over the weekend, on my personal blog, how ironic.... What it comes down to, in my honest opinion, is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by what we do rather than who we are as a people.
Queer= Odd;
Homosexual= Has Sex with the Same Sex, etc.
There is also the issue that we have allowed the action to be the definer of identity with the minimalist act of sex rather than intimate relationship between two or more persons and therefore by the very nature of the statement, deny ourselves equality by using the title assigned to us by society rather than just being our own people group.

Those are the basic ideas I am working with, I hope it helps the conversation.

My religious conservative mother explained to me years ago that they started saying "homosexual" because "gay" also means "happy" and gays aren't happy and won't be when they're burning in hell. So when I hear a religious homobigot say "homosexual" my reaction is more akin to your own, but for other people, not so much.

That's dr. laura's exact reasoning for using "homosexual" instead of gay. They're doing it on purpose - there's a reason we don't like "homosexual" now.

Actually, your mother is partially right.

In the late 90s, about 50 Religious Right organizations held a secret meeting in Colorado Springs at the Navigator's headquarters to plot their long range anti-gay agenda. (I have about 8 hours of audio tapes a friend obtained and gave to me outlining all this and a lot more)

One of the things to come out of the meeting was an agreement they all would only use the word "homosexual" when talking about us gay folk.

They have pretty well stuck to that agreement since then.

I quess they figured the word "homosexual" could be made to sound more sinister just as the right has made the word "liberal" into a sinister sounding word so as we now are no longer "liberals" but "progressives." :)

The second thing to come out of the meeting was the ex-gay advertising program they hatched up featuring John Paulik and wife.

I was actually going to write something on this over the weekend, on my personal blog, how ironic.... What it comes down to, in my honest opinion, is that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by what we do rather than who we are as a people.
Queer= Odd;
Homosexual= Has Sex with the Same Sex, etc.
There is also the issue that we have allowed the action to be the definer of identity with the minimalist act of sex rather than intimate relationship between two or more persons and therefore by the very nature of the statement, deny ourselves equality by using the title assigned to us by society rather than just being our own people group.

Those are the basic ideas I am working with, I hope it helps the conversation.

Martin Joaquin | December 5, 2008 8:56 PM

I am satisfied with the term "Gay" for LGBTQ. I do not like queer and I hate faggot, both were terms of hate that my stepfather used on myself and my younger brother. When spoken by a person who hates all LGBTQ people, it does not matter which term is used, it will still drip with contempt. I am happy with gay.

I use homosexual to describe myself quite often.

If we're thinking about demonized words, think about "gay". Using the word as a pejorative has utterly overtaken its use to convey identity. Does that mean it should become repulsive? I don't think so.

I only dislike words that originated out of ill-intent, such as queer, faggot, sissy, etc.

Joseph Kowalski | December 5, 2008 10:25 PM

It isn't so much the actual word homosexual which I find offense but the way anti-gay people pronounce the word with the accent on sex.

I much prefer using the word queer. It's concise and can refer to all parts of the queer community without using that long list of letters to include everyone.

Homosexual is primarily a scientific and clinical term, and the word is OK with me if it is used scientifically/clinically.

The problem, obviously, is when used in political speech. "Homosexual" is the only word available that isn't overtly hostile, yet short of affirming like the word "gay". The word "homosexual" comes out of their mouths, but you do not have an over-active imagination when you hear the word "faggot" "queer" or "cocksucker" (No, "cocksucker" is too graphically sexual --- not even bigots can use that one if they want to pretend that they are being genteel! Nice people just don't talk about "cocks" ... much less, talk about sucking them.)

"Sexual deviants" is another term they might use ... as in, "Regarding same-sex attraction, there are about 25 million sexual deviants like this in America." Problem is, after having just pointed out that there are 25 million of us, exactly how "deviant" could it possibly be?

"Homosexual" is much like the word "Negro" ... it can be used neutrally, or it can be an obvious euphemism for a term that is more offensive, even though that offensive term is exactly what the speaker would prefer to say.

If the word "homosexual" rolls off the speaker's tongue naturally, it is probably a scientist speaking --- and when you hear the word KNEEEE-GROOOOOW you know the person speaking is either a black person speaking in code, or a white bigot who wants to make it out of the room alive.

I don't particularly care for the word "homosexual", in large part to the disdain with which it is used by those who dislike us. I am often more irritated by the work "lifestyle." "I don't agree with your lifestyle, but I'm an glad you are happy..." What LIFESTYLE is that? The one where I go to work 40 hours a week? pay my taxes? care for my family? sleep with the person I love? It is so derogatory.

It has been a long week... sorry for the mistakes and typos.

I don't particularly care for the word "homosexual," in large part due to the disdain with which it is used by those who dislike us. I am often more irritated by the word "lifestyle." "I don't agree with your lifestyle, but I'm glad you are happy..." What LIFESTYLE is that? The one where I go to work 40 hours a week? pay my taxes? care for my family? sleep with the person I love? It is so derogatory.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 7, 2008 8:28 AM

I would ask them if they practice a "green lifestyle?" The world "lifestyle" is often over thought. When I have ran in to this simplistic sentence I would ask the speaker if everything about their lives is good or bad based upon their sexual orientation.

Now if someone says my lifestyle CHOICE I go ballistic because it presumes that people make an active choice to be discriminated against and I make sure the speaker knows they are stupid.


Ah,yes ... the "homosexual lifestyle"!!

What it it? ... Well, for me, I crack open the hinge on my coffin at about 6:15 in the evening to see if the sun has gone down yet. By 6:30 PM my coffin lid is usually wide open, and I grab the TV remote and watch the national news. Around 7 I spend about an hour sharpening my fangs, then I put on my cloak and hang upside down from the ceiling beams in my cellar until about 11 o'clock. Then, finally, it is time for me to go out onto the street to see if I can find a lovely bare neck to ...

That goes to show how personal these things are. The fastest way to get me riled up is to call me gay. I never use this term to denote the whole LGBT community and cannot stand it when my own sexual identity is absorbed into that term in a 'catch all' fashion. Gay has a very specific general connotation and that is for something that I am not. I'm happier using queer but tend to use specific terms for specific things.

Allan Brauer | December 6, 2008 12:04 AM

Gore Vidal pointed out that the late 19th-century coined word "homosexual" is itself a badly formed bastardization because it combines a Greek prefix "homo" with the Latin "sex."

He proposed "homophile" as a term purely derived from Greek elements.

Yes --- and "homoerotic" is another word with Greek roots, avoiding the split between Greek and Latin.

I prefer HOMO-loving. I have the Love-Orientation to fall in love with souls found in the same gender.

I knew this at an early age. Later on as I grew up, I knew I could express this love through sex.

The term HOMOSEXUAL keeps the focus on the "behavior" - the sex act, which is such limited thinking. The WINGNUTS want to frame this "act" as a choice, while we know we are just expressing our nature, which doesn't seem like much of a choice.

Yeah, well... I lean in AJ's direction, and yours, Waymon... the folks who are most comfortable with the word are also the ones who tend to be uncomfortable sitting down face-to-face with me at a midwestern church potluck.

well i think they use it because it highlights the 'sex' part of us.

and i think the trick to disempowering it is to *not* respond with disgust.

don't play on their terms -- embrace the 'sex' in us and insist that there's nothing to fear about it

Know how you feel. The fundies use the term "transvestite" to describe someone like me. Crossdresser is much preferred at this point in time, but you can't get the fundies to admit that.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 6, 2008 4:21 AM

You are right to recoil and it's not an appropriate term for non-clinical settings. When drafting ENDA, we studiously avoided it, relying on a study that showed that juries reacted negatively to it and were more likely to rule against the gay person's side in a case when it was used in civil rights law, thus repeated frequently in a civil rights case.

They found it alienating and also thought that it described us as more rampantly hypersexual in an offensive, out-of-control way, much akin to the hypersexualizing-with-connotations-of-danger mis-attached to African-American men.

I know what you mean about that delivery problem, too. Back in the dark ages, I actually used to do trainings for journalism students -- particularly broadcast journalism ones -- where I made them practice saying the various terms until they could do it with fluent ease, as if these were ordinary everyday words -- like they are -- instead of something akin to long dead fish that needed to be held as far away from one's nose as possible.

For myself, I'm growing fond of calling us "Super-Queers", cape fully attached. I'm still working on the musical theme to go with it.

One thing that pisses me off is the missing p-word: people. I've been trolling on some fundie Facebook groups and getting downright confrontational about that, saying that I've observed that many people who use the word "homosexuals" can't bring themselves to say "people." Quite often the people who are going on about "homosexxuals" simply change the subject, disoriented that their linguistic tool for "othering" is missing.

Arthur Corbin | December 6, 2008 7:03 AM

The religious fascists use homosexual deliberately and with malice.

The use of the negative homosexual is intended to remind people that we have anal sex and sex with other deviants, another word in the negative words game. The word homosexual has become a code word for deviance, godlessness, sinner, and sexual debauchery.

That gives us 2 choices. 1) Not use homosexual because homosexual describes sexual acts not complete and whole people. 2) Not use homosexual because the religious fascists have through 30 years of repetition and demagoguery managed to take a neutral word and make it into a trigger of negative images in the minds of many Americans.

I was happy to see a generation retake the word queer and remake it into a word of pride and defiance.

The joke in the 1950's was, "A queer is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room."

Many people have been trained and sensitized to react negatively when they hear homosexual. We may have to give homosexual a time out and insist that people and the media use the word gay.

One of the major battles of gay liberation (remember that?) was our right to call ourselves whatever we wanted and not what other people choose to call us. I do not see gay and queer people reaching consensus on what words we use to describe ourselves any day soon.

The older generation prefers homosexual and gay. The younger generations prefer queer and gay, if they describe themselves at all.

At least this is being discussed.

The joke in the 1950's was, "A queer is the homosexual gentleman who just left the room."

Literary note: Many of us are aware of that saying today because of its popularization when Merle Miller discussed it at some length in his New York Times Magazine article "What It Means To Be A Homosexual" in January 1971. Miller later expanded the article into a small book, entitled On Being Different: What It Means To Be A Homosexual ... and if you can find a good copy, it is something of a collector's item. The article appeared only two years after Stonewall, before the word "gay" was a popularly disseminated as it is now. Still, Miller's work seems imbued with the conclusion that 99% of the time, "homosexual" is a put-down --- showing that this word's negative connotations are longstanding and not just a development of the Reagan - Religious Right era.

(I don't mean to be playing Fanny Footnote, but this is language we are talking about here, and language is often enlightened by history.)

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 6, 2008 5:01 PM

Oh I adore Fanny Footnoting! Never hesitate to help us learn or remember our history.

Interesting.

I'm a trans woman who is sexually and romantically interested in men only and i've begun using the word heterosexual as my sexual identity in order to detach myself from the politics of of the word straight. I see being straight as being sick with sexism, misogyny, classism and the general oppression of women. I see the word as a value judgment against queer people (i.e. I'm on the straight and narrow and you are crooked and broken). I share none of these values and feel that my sexuality as a trans woman that although normative is also oppressed (The same bigots who would use the word homosexual against you, would be disgusted in the same way to know the sex acts I engage in with my male partners).

Its very interesting how the dichotomy of straight/homosexual as become oppressive and full of negative value judgments against LGB folk, while heterosexual/gay have maintained a kind of positivity or at the very least detachment from that kind of negative politics.

I agree that homosexual is more appropriately used as an adjective rather than a noun, but I think it doesn't matter what word fundie wannabes* use, it is the contempt and self-righteousness that irritates me and not the language alone. All the words allude to sexual activity, just as straight and heterosexual do. I see no need to engage in a victorian purge of all references to the fact that the relationships being fought over have a sexual component.


*I've come to conclude that the most visible aren't particularly conservative, just sanctimonious.

Don Slater, a movement founder and longtime editor of ONE Magazine said the same thing-homosexual is a good adjective, not noun. But he alsosaid the same thing about gay.

And he/we asked then, and now, what's wrong with using a term about sex It would seem the "gays" are still unwillng tobe sexy!

beachcomberT | December 6, 2008 8:58 AM

Fascinating how politically correct language changes so quickly. We aging boomers still cringe at "queer" because we remember being taunted with it on playgrounds and in locker rooms. But I'm willing to steel myself and go along with "queer" now that colleges have Queer Studies courses etc. (What college pioneered that, I wonder). I'll just turn the chant inward: "I'm here, I'm queer, get over it."
Still have no problem with homosexual, no matter how the preachers leeringly pronounce it. It seems to me the most politically neutral term, and our movement's pioneers were very glad to claim "equal rights for homosexuals." Not sure why "gay" is now losing appeal. It took decades for the mainstream media to accept the term, and it will take decades more to teach them "queer" as a neutral term. If the hip-hop artists can casually call one another "nigga" maybe we can call each other "fagga." Any other alternative terms out there?

Hey, Waymon,

"Homosexual" always makes me feel like I should be pressed flat against a corkboard, spreadeagled, with a sharp pin through my middle. And with the word "Homosexual-Lesbianus" scrawled in lovely script on a little piece of white paper right below.

I like being a queer lesbian.

LOL :)

It's a medical term. Unless we're going to stipulate to the fact that we're mentally/physically sick, then we shouldn't be using it.

I can't stand the use of "homosexual" in non-clinical or scientific discussions. When we're talking about a gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans or queer or [fill in the blank] identity, we're talking about people. And when we're talking about our struggle, it really isn't about what happens in bedrooms, it what happens in boardrooms. In workplaces. In hospitals. In courthouses. And ultimately, in all the ordinary transactions and communications of daily life. In everything I do, I am who I am, and I expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Replacing my words -- gay, among others -- with homosexual does not give me that respect, and it reduces me to a one-dimensional caricature.

Some of my "other" words are "middle aged," "military brat," "self-employed," "moderate," "spiritual," "Texan," and so on. There are more. It's not necessary or desirable to use all of them at once, and I won't be restricted by any one of them.

Notice that up above I separated the various "words" instead of saying GLBTQ (or whichever order I'm supposed to use to be politically correct). I think we have to remember that each of these are distinct identities, and they are -not- always a single monolithic community with a common voice or common interests. Yes, we frequently intersect, yes we are often oppressed together, but yes we also have separate needs, separate experiences, and separate identities, too. It's sort of like trying to use the phrase "Asian-Pacific" to encompass people whose heritage ranges from India to Korea to Samoa. Often there is a common interest; often there simply is not.

Oh, Waymon. You can't be too old for "queer," because I know that movement started before me and I'm not that much younger than you are. I think it was in the early 90's when people started talking about reclaiming it.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 6, 2008 5:07 PM

If I'm not too old in my mid-50s, Waymon, who is relatively a youth certainly is not!

Most of the African-American GLBT community hates the 'Q' word, myself included. When I was the co-host of a GLBT radio show back home on KPFT-FM I cringed when Jimmy Carper used to go into his tagline 'Queer Radio With Attitude'

Most African-American peeps prefer using the term 'SGL community', same gender-loving community or simply gay.

But that may be a generational thing in our community as well.

More and more I'm just using the letter Q; Q community, Q rights, Q visibilty.

Maybe I'm just a lazy typist.

Carl Hendrickson | December 6, 2008 5:30 PM

I am creeping up on 62 but I've learned a bit over the years--35 years of being a totally out homosexual, homo, queer, faggot member of the GLBT community.

Here are 2 things to live by, all be it not always easy. They really go hand-in-glove:

#1--be OUT. Visability is power.
#2--OWN the vocabulary however and whenever it evolves.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 6, 2008 9:40 PM

Queer is my preferred term to describe myself (and I'm definitely over 50!) precisely BECAUSE it implies a radical, subversive, anti-hetero-normative, feminist and leftist stance.

To me, lesbian and gay implies an investment, conscious or otherwise, in the mainstream status-quo.

Homosexual, on the other hand, implies a person who is unable to resist unwanted, perverse desires. I also think it is understood fundamentally, although not technically, to be male. After all, from a patriarchal standpoint, what (harm) can two women do together?

I use "homosexual" to refer to men who I know for a fact are actively renouncing their primary sexual attraction to other men. Larry Craig comes to mind.

I agree with Brynn, but also think that "Larry Craig" is now a whole species/genus unto himself ;-)

I mean, look how his name is now part of the language, as in: "He did a Larry Craig in the men's room" or "I was just Larry-Craiged by this guy." Okay, I'll admit I made up those specific examples, but I KNOW I've seen stuff like that floating around the web...

Off to do harm...at least in my mind...

Queer is my preferred term to describe myself (and I'm definitely over 50!) precisely BECAUSE it implies a radical, subversive, anti-hetero-normative, feminist and leftist stance.

And it's a judo throw. Has been for a long time.

To me, lesbian and gay implies an investment, conscious or otherwise, in the mainstream status-quo.

They validate liberalism when radicalism is what's needed, or radicalism is a more rational stance?

After all, from a patriarchal standpoint, what (harm) can two women do together?

Well, surprise buttsecks is pretty much out ;)

Same-sex relationships are deeply subversive to the norm of male dominance and female submission. Yay for that.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 7, 2008 1:54 AM

They validate liberalism when radicalism is what's needed, or radicalism is a more rational stance?

Good question. I don't know the answer. I was speaking from a purely emotional standpoint, rather than a political one.

I agree wholeheartedly that same-sex relationships are deeply subversive to the norm of male dominance and female submission. But what about when the participants don't want it to be so? When what they really want more than anything is to be normal, but are unable to be so?

And Yasmin, Off to do harm...at least in my mind... LOL


But what about when the participants don't want it to be so? When what they really want more than anything is to be normal, but are unable to be so?

Sometimes paradigms break and sometimes they stretch to fit something bigger? Must. Stop. This. Metaphor.

Already did my harm.

But it's true anyway.

I think it's all context. I like science, I read about it all the time. When a scientist or doctor uses the term "homosexual" objectively, to describe the natural phenomenon of sexual orientation, I am not the least bit offended. But when someone calls me "a homosexual", as if I can be solely defined by my sexual orientation, then yeah I can tell they're doing it to be cruel and trivialize my humanity.

Just like I have no problem with "queer" when we're talking about queer studies or something, but I still get pissed when a redneck yells "queer!" at me.

Frank Gurucharri | December 8, 2008 8:48 AM

Waymon, I agree. Homosexual has a "medical" and "clinical" connotation. The word was used for so many years by psychiatrists and pscyhologists as a label for a mental disorder, until it was taken off the list in the '70s.
On the other hand, I always feel silly describing our communities with a string of letters- -LGBTQISA, etc. Come on, we are some of the most creative folks on the planet and we come up create a FABULOUS name for ourselves that includes all of us...all the letters? Someone plaese!

uh, dudes...
Well, I was in the same boat a little while ago. I hope you follow my path soon Waynmon.
Yea, the religous right like to use the term cuz it brings up sex... and that freaks out their base.
Personally, it no longer brings up any negitive feelings for me. It's clinical. It's discriptive and is some times the only work we can use.
I am no longer afraid of being called a homo. Doesn't phase me a bit. I'm not willing to give them that power.

What I find more offensive is being referred to as a "practicing homosexual." I've had enough practice to know what I'm doing! ;-)

For me it's context.
Homosexual I use at certain times.
Just as I would use Hetrosexual rather then Straight, Het or Breeder.