Monday, January 23, 2012

Just Say No to Saying "Homosexual"

“Language is not merely a means of expression and communication; it is an instrument of experiencing, thinking, and feeling ... Our ideas and experiences are not independent of language; they are all integral parts of the same pattern, the warp and woof of the same texture.” –William Chomsky

I believe in the importance of language. I believe in the power of words to do both harm and good. I believe that words are not just words— they are weapons, change agents, olive branches and identifiers. They are perhaps the most important tool we possess. So yes, I fixate on language. Some (many) might even say I harp on language. Annoying as it may be for others, that’s a badge I wear proudly. And as trite as it may seem, one of the words that makes me cringe the most is “homosexual”.

I get it. There’s no one word that works for everyone, and no matter what you say, you’ll probably offend someone.  Not everyone has reclaimed the world “queer”. Using an acronym such as “LGBT” forces the user to choose an order or hierarchy of identities, and either excludes people or becomes too long to use (LGBT vs. GLBT vs. TBLGA vs. LGBTAAQQP, etc.) “Gay” may offend the radical feminists of the 70’s. “Lesbian” doesn’t jive with many young gay women. And so on, and so forth. So I understand why people might gravitate towards “homosexual” as a neutral term.  However.

If you google “homosexual” and skim past Wikipedia and dictionary definitions, you arrive at the following:

1) What Causes Homosexual Desire ( (“Most of us fail to understand why anyone would want to engage in homosexual activity. To the average person, the very idea is either puzzling or repugnant.”)
2) Homosexuality ( (Basically, How to Avoid Being or Raising a Gay)
3) Homosexuality ( (Homosexuality is like being an alcoholic)
4) My personal favorite, a collection of old videos about The Homosexual Menace. “Boys beware!”

And it just gets better from there: Americans for Truth about Homosexuality! Multiple reparative therapy options! Research on homosexuality and finger length! (…Really? Nothing?)

Further, until 1974 “homosexuality” was a diagnosable mental disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (which remains the most widely-used manual for diagnosis of mental illness). That didn’t just result in some gay kids going to therapy (not to minimize the trauma I’m sure that caused), it meant that gays could be institutionalized against their will for consensual sexual behavior. It meant that gays couldn’t run for public office or work with children. It meant they couldn’t seek help for other mental health problems without having to work on their gayness as well.

All of this should tell you something—that the word “homosexual” has been used not as a term of endearment or empowerment, but as a stigmatizing, pathologizing and even demonizing word historically used to instill fear and discomfort—and that continues today (you don’t hear Hilary Clinton using the word “homosexual”—you hear crazies like Rick Santorum and Fred Phelps using it). No one says “Homosexual Pride Parade”; they say “homosexual agenda”. The term is used against us, not for us. Not with us. When I hear that word, I hear all of those awful contexts along with it. It sounds like oppression and discrimination and pain, to be frank. It makes me want to throw up and punch something at the same time. 

I don’t claim to speak for the gays of the world, or the gays of the country, or the lady gays, or really anyone other than myself. But I do know that I’m far from alone in my disdain for this word. So please, folks—think again before uttering the word “homosexual”.  It’s just gross. 


  1. Here, here. I will say that I think some have legit reclaimed this/prefer this (and that may be more common in older generations) - i.e. I am a proud homosexual male! Woot! (As an example. I am not. Ha.)

    But totes, it's not something I like hearing, and would certainly love for well-meaning folks to see the distinction you're drawing between the Perrys of the world and the allies, and adjust their word choice accordingly. When I was a youngin (of like, 17) it was described to me as, "'Homosexual' is how we were branded. 'Gay' started with us." And then a beautiful rainbow emerged in the sky. Etc.

  2. Interesting--now that you've said that, I do recall hearing one or two aging white gentlemen using that exact phrase on a panel.

  3. I can't believe those things pop up on google search... oh wait... unfortunately, thanks to those lovely haters in the world (that love "God" and what he stands for... aka thou shall not hate, or whatever)... I can believe it... it's terrible.. ::Sigh::