What’s in a Word?

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

***WARNING*** This following blog post deals with words that people may find extremely offensive. The purpose of this post is not to offend, the purpose is to explore the use of particular words that do offend. I purposely chose to candidly spell out every word instead of using euphemisms because I did not wish to label particular words as being more offensive than the others. If you cannot handle seeing these words for purpose of discussion/dissection then please do not read any further. 

Yesterday I had a conversation (argument?) with a devoted fan of Tim Tebow. It’s pointless to argue with someone who has made a rookie quarterback their new god, but the conversation did come around to something interesting.

I used the word “homosexuals” to describe one of the groups of people that Tebow would treat as second class due to his religious beliefs. I was shortly thereafter accused of being just as oppressive of this group because I used the term “homosexual” to describe this group. Somehow, use of that particular word is akin to using one bible verse as justification to deny the entire GLBT community equal rights as citizens. Who knew?

I certainly didn’t. I don’t keep up much with psychological/sociological news and literature. I did a quick search and came up with this article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gays-anatomy/200810/the-terms-homosexual-and-the-n-word

The article basically equates the word, “homosexual” to the word “nigger.” The reasoning behind the offensiveness of the term is somehow linked to a clinical and/or religious concept that sexual orientation is a choice, rather than an intrinsic part of the individual.  I don’t deny that the term is probably offensive to some. However, to say it is offensive to all people in the GLBT community is even more offensive. Though many in this community may share similar experiences, they do not all share the same experiences. It is certainly offensive to fault, or blame a person for how they were born, but to say they should also be offended by all the same things that someone else who was born the same way is just ridiculous.

The article discusses this point, that not every gay person is okay with being called “gay.” “Gay” and “lesbian” being the preferred, politically correct, non-offensive terms are still deemed offensive to some. In my complete lack of knowledge on the subject (before I was informed that this is the “correct” terminology) I was working under the assumption that these terms (not “lesbian” as much as “gay”) were more offensive than the all-inclusive term, “homosexual.”

So, that’s confusing. How does one know? I’m not the type of person that likes to hurt others, or make them feel uncomfortable about something they can’t change about themselves. I’m not the type of person that thinks people should feel they have to change these things about themselves. If I used a word that offended someone, all they would have to do was say something and I would correct myself and move on.

This is because the intent of a word is more powerful than a word itself. I don’t say that to justify using language that hurts other people. Words themselves can be very powerful regardless of the intent. I have no idea of how it feels to be called “nigger” or “faggot” or “dyke”, but these words have very powerful effects and are often used with ill intent (unless re-appropriated by the groups they were originally intended to harm).  However, when trying to be descriptive, there is an array of words to choose from. When you’re outside of that group you’re trying to describe, it is sometimes confusing how to go about that without being completely, or even slightly, insulting.

Also, another confusing point, the term “homosexual” is wrong, but the term “bisexual” is not? Is there just not a good enough euphemism for it? Both terms explain the orientation in a very basic way. “Homo” means “the same”, “bi” means “two” and “sexual”….well, you get the point. Is it because of the ill intentions of other groups (such as religious groups) made “homosexual” their anti-gay term, but not “bisexual?” Is that what makes it offensive?

Speaking of intention, after my Tebow argument I saw this link come up in my Facebook news feed: http://storify.com/homophobes/100-homophobes-who-would-kill-their-gay-child
The link shows 100 Tweets by homophobes, using the word gay to describe the hypothetical sexual orientation of their hypothetical unborn child, before they threaten them with death. The owner of the Twitter account @homophobes, who exposes this disgusting hatred, refers to himself as a homosexual.

Exposing homophobia and describing themselves with a really offensive term.

I’m a white girl. I’m heterosexual. I just don’t get it. I mean it. I really, really, really don’t get it. I just do my best to get by in a diverse place while doing the least possible damage. I know that this Tebow fan, who started this confusing new journey for me, probably also knows that I wasn’t using the language I used with intent to hurt or discriminate. She just isn’t very good at arguing, and decided to take a stab at me to make me look like an ass. I feel like an ass. This whole post makes me feel like an ass.

So far I still have no clarity on the matter. These difficult subjects need to be discussed. I am critical of religion because of the harmful effects it has on whole groups of people. Speaking up for people isn’t very effective when you’re also pissing them off. Does use of offensive terms, by accident or with intent, equate to the use of bible verses as justification for discrimination? I don’t think so. Does discussion of how to refer to certain groups detract from discussion of how to end discrimination? Maybe. As a heterosexual white girl, do I have any business trying to discuss this? Maybe not, but I don’t exist on an island outside of the diversity of this country. So even though it makes me uncomfortable because I’m blindly reaching out, trying to understand just what the hell is in a word, I have to push myself to find understanding on some level here.

  1. Saorcha says:

    Wow, that link (100 homophobe fucktards) is unbelievable!! I can’t believe people can be so cruel…..scratch that….yes I can. Some people are fucking evil in this world and find writing things like that funny. I hope they’re ashamed of themselves but what world am I living in?… People these days aren’t afraid of offending people. At the risk of sounding cliched, life is short. We’re all here together…what’s the hell is the harm in being civil along the way.

  2. maribelcosta says:

    I think they’re messing with you. I’m a homosexual who shares her life with a homosexual and has known many, many homosexuals and none of us are offended by this term. It’s just a bit dorky and clinical is all. Don’t worry about it.

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for your input.:) The academic consensus seems to say that it is offensive. I could care less about that as long as the folks I know and interact with are comfortable around me.

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