A reader writes:
As the Democratic Party speechwriter (for another week, anyway), this post hit home. A-fucking-men! I’ve had to write so many speeches for GLAAD-type events, to the point where I’m being discouraged from writing “gay” because LGBT is more “inclusive.” One problem is that the acronym doesn’t lend itself to a plural, meaning we have to say “LGBT Americans” again and again. Eight clumsy syllables! Thank God I haven’t had to write any remarks that deal with the persecution of gays in other countries, because I don’t even know how I’d refer to that group of people in the plural.
Human beings are fairly sophisticated social creatures. There are many, many words that are capable of causing offense, but we don’t feel the need to silence all of them, because where do you start and end? I wish we could just agree that every word within a language can be used, and if we insist on taking offense at an utterance, let’s be offended not by the word itself but by the context.
Another adds sarcastically, “Isn’t the politically correct acronym now LGBTQIA? Just check out UC Davis.” Another alternative:
If you don’t like “LGBT”, you may prefer the version a friend coined: translesbigay. It just rolls off the tongue.
“BLT” is much easier to pronounce:
One problem with “gay” as a replacement for “homosexual” is that “gay” has become a sexist term. Half the time, “gay” refers only to gay men. “Gay porn,” for example, is gay male porn. If one wants to refer to both sexes, one must therefore say “gay and lesbian.” But half the time, “gay” refers to both men and women. A “Gay Pride” march includes both gay men and lesbians. Feminists have long objected to using the word “man” to refer to all human beings, male or female. What does it mean that we use the specifically masculine term “gay” as a universal term for all “homosexual” people? Why is there no currently acceptable term for both gay men and lesbians?
Interestingly, in the lesbian community, the universal term “woman” also means “lesbian.” I don’t know what that means.
You make a fair point on the term “homosexual,” though I understand GLAAD’s resistance to the term, given that it has mainly been used by anti-gay groups. Whatever; I don’t know many gay people that feel very strongly about it. On the other hand, you are far too cavalier about “queer” and “fag,” which have historically been insults that the gay left has attempted to – ugh – “reclaim.”
It’s a beautiful notion, but practically speaking it doesn’t work. Dave Chapelle tried a similar intellectual tack by repurposing several words and images (including the dreaded N-word) to take them away from racists. All he accomplished was creating a new white audience that used offensive words while being ignorant of their social context, or worse, who thought they were exempt from normal rules of polite society because they were trying to be funny.
We’re seeing a similar thing happen now with “queer.” Now it’s a word that college students use to mean everything from gay to gay-friendly, understanding that it’s still an epithet in the dictionary but thinking they are exempt from blame because they simply do not mean any harm. (God, if only it were true that people who don’t mean harm couldn’t cause it.) Many of us have had that word directed at us in a derogatory way, so hearing rich college kids bandy it about out of a need to feel special or tolerant doesn’t comfort us. It’s intensely irritating at best and offensively ignorant at worst.
Of course, the irony is that we, gay people, are responsible. Until we can talk about ourselves using language that is universally understood to be respectful, how can we expect anyone else to do so?
Another makes an interesting point:
Regarding you being fine with “fag,” I think it’s a generational thing, but also an English thing on your part. Perhaps look at whether you’d like to be described as a “poofter.” Somehow I doubt it. I think the key is what age you were when you first heard the derogatory description of who you are. At this point I’m fine with being an outsider, but the 12-year-old in me is still outraged that anyone would dismiss me so easily with that one f’ing word.
“Woofter” and “shirt-lifter” were more common in my youth. But I do think the fact that I wasn’t ever bullied for being gay affects me perspective on this. I recently reunited with several old classmates from my high school and they all said they didn’t know I was gay so didn’t call me those things. My nerdiness helped me slip below the radar. A female reader illustrates the impact of being way too sensitive to words:
For a year or two my brother and I (he lives next door) have not spoken much. We wave if we pass each other on the dirt road that leads to our houses. We live in a rural community outside of Tucson, AZ.
The reason for our estrangement is a word: “puto”, which in Spanish means faggot, sissy, male whore. Growing up he always used that word and I have always hated the word. I finally had the balls (that’s probably a hated word to some as well) to call him on it and our argument escalated to the point that we do not speak to one another now. We are in our early sixties, but he is for gay marriage and not a homophobe, he says. He occasionally yuck-yucks with his straight friends about gays, as in, “And I don’t care if they fuck ducks”. He is pro gay marriage and equality for his sister and her wife and everyone else. (Nancy and I were married in Seattle this past year.) However, when I asked him to use another word to describe someone he was trying to put down, he went ballistic. We are of Mexican-American heritage and I think the machismo man is emphasized and no one wants to be described as a sissy. Thus, I think it is a pejorative.