First a bit of background. Time was, rightwing bigots used to decry the word, declaring in basso profundo, “there’s nothing gay about them!” The somewhat less dour bigots would simply complain about how we’d “ruined a perfectly good word”.
Times change, and apart from the deviation into the youthful fad of saying “that’s so gay!” the English-speaking world pretty much moved on and accepted the word gay in its modern usage. Well, the mainstream did: Hardcore rightwingers still don’t.
And that lies at the heart of all this. Fundamentalist religionists prefer the term “homosexual” precisely because it sounds so clinical. At best, it sounds like a disease (which they think it is), or perhaps a crime (which they think it should be), but they also know that most people hear only or especially the third syllable—sex—which is what the right wants people to think about, namely, that gay people are all about sex, sex, sex.
Personally, I think this is what was at the heart of the BSA complaint I wrote about on Monday: Remember that the campaigner first claimed that the use of the word gay instead of homosexual was not objective or impartial. Most of us focussed on the bizarre bit about gay, used correctly, being a slur; to the rightwing, however, it would be a slur since they think there’s hardly anything worse than being gay.
So then today I saw a post on Joe.My.God. quoting from a press release by the anti-gay hate group, Illinois Family Institute. The group was complaining about a public apology issued by Chicago’s Roman Catholic cardinal, Francis George, who apologised for comparing the city’s annual Gay Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan. George realised, finally, he was wrong to do that (after criticism from public officials and even the conservative Chicago Tribune) and sincerely apologised.
While agreeing George never should have used the Klan analogy (which frankly surprised me), the hate group said he should have described homosexual acts as “abominable”, “soul-destroying” and “detestable”. Well, that’s nice and friendly, huh? They went on:
“Cardinal George should not use the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian.’ Those terms do not merely denote same-sex attraction and volitional acts. They connote biological determinism, immutability, and an inherent morality. What other groups would Cardinal George choose to identify by their disordered inclinations and freely chosen sinful acts? Rhetoric matters.”And there, in the last two words, we see what their problem is: Rhetoric matters. If people refer to us by the correct name, gay, that will mean accepting us as full and equal citizens, deserving of equal rights and equality under law. The word lesbian is, of course, every bit as clinical a word as homosexual, so I can only assume this is a testament to the success lesbians have had in taking back that word.
Yes, rhetoric matters. Using homosexual instead of gay is intended to dehumanise gay and lesbian people, to make language itself do the bigots' work for them.
On this blog, I often have fun turning the rightwing’s rhetorical tricks back on them, writing “Christian” (with quotation marks) when referring to protestant or catholic fundamentalists, in the same way they write “gay” (with quotation marks) when they can’t avoid the word. Similarly, I sometimes use the phrase “counterfeit Christians”, turning their slur against progressive Christians back on them. Whenever I do that, I’m laughing at them and their dour seriousness. It’s probably a bit naughty, but I just can’t resist. The difference is, apparently they don’t see what jokes they are.
Instead of worrying so much about rhetoric or semantics, maybe they should try and state simply and with no religious justifications whatsoever why it is, exactly, they think gay and lesbian people should be second-class (or worse) citizens. They can’t do that because without their religious appeals, they have no argument to make.
Rhetoric matters for that, too.