I frequently have a certain conversation with people, over what words are acceptable and what words are not, as regards the LGBT community. My contention has always been that intent is everything, and that it’s probably not useful to get one’s knickers in a twist every time somebody says a word we don’t personally like. Because really, we’re not all monolithic on the subject! For instance, I don’t like the word “queer.” I don’t know why, it just bugs me. You’ll never see me sign onto anything called “queer this” or “queer that,” but that’s just my personal preference. If you like that word, if you’ve embraced it, or if you use it in a positive manner, that’s fine by me.
Some people don’t like the word “homosexual.” That is also okay. Personally, my relationship with that word is 100% about the intent of the user. My Wonkette column is called “THE HOMOSEXUALS!” Why? Because I think it’s funny. Others do too. But I understand that, when used by the Religious Right, it’s a dogwhistle meant to engender hatred and revulsion. They emphasize the “sex” syllable, just like hard right Republicans pigheadedly refuse to call the Democratic party by its correct name, instead calling it the “Democrat Party,” emphasis on the “rat.”
The reason I bring this up is that one of THE BEST progressive outfits out there, The Young Turks, hosted by Cenk Uygur, is taking a lot of heat right now because one of them, Ana Kasparian, used the word “homosexual” instead of “gay” in some column. The Young Turks are, hands down, some of the most outspoken, smart, funny, consistently supportive opinion makers out there when it comes to the LGBT community. I know this because I’ve been listening for years. Back when Air America existed, I used to get up every single morning, and instead of flipping on the television while I got ready, I would turn on the radio to listen to The Young Turks. I even used to call in! If you’re not familiar with them, enjoy their YouTube page for yourself.
As to the specific situation at hand, here’s Cenk and Ana discussing what happened, so watch that, and I’ll meet you on the other side, because a writer at a large gay blog is not happy, and I want to respond to it:
The blog that had a problem was AfterElton. Here’s a bit of what Dennis Ayers had to say at that site:
Turns out these folks consider themselves liberal progressives! And that makes this video far more disappointing than if you’d seen something like it on FOX News. And you easily could.
Watching Kasparian walk through the objective data showing that the choice of using “homosexual” instead of “gay” is actually detrimental to the GLBT community, and then having Cenk Uygur actually dismiss that as gays… sorry, homosexuals… being overly sensitive and unreasonable is truly infuriating.
Last time I checked the “gay community” (is there really such a monolithic thing?) wasn’t calling for a ban on the word “homosexual.” But given the determined use of that term by Christian conservatives it really does seem like someone who is generally pro-gay, once aware of the negative connotation, would make the choice to not use it.
Why exactly does Uygur feel the need to draw a line in the sand and continue making the choice to refer to gays as homosexuals?
Well, more power to him if that’s what he wants to do. I can’t speak for the “gay community,” but I at least won’t be tuning in.
First of all, if you’re not tuning in, you’re missing something, because, as I said, The Young Turks are fabulous. What the writer found “pugnacious” is that Cenk Uygur has a biting, sarcastic, dry wit about him, and he’s willing to say what he thinks. This is not, inherently, a problem.
What I notice about that clip is that both Cenk AND Ana had really good points to make! Ana wasn’t aware that there was a problem with people’s perceptions of the word “homosexual,” and she learned about it. Cenk, quite rightly (!), points out that wingnuts will do this to ANY word that non-wingnuts use to describe ourselves. This has happened with the word “feminist,” to the point that freaking Lilith Fair participants all the way up to Ms. Sarah McLachlan were waffling around about whether they were or were not feminists, in the year 2010! We all know that wingnuts have done this to the word “liberal.” Sometimes, the correct response is to rebrand, but sometimes it’s much better to embrace the word and say “Yes, I am a liberal homosexual man [who happens to also be a feminist], and what exactly is your problem with that, please?”
My point, as I said above, is that it’s all about intent. Cenk Uygur is not anti-gay! He is extremely, vociferously pro-gay. I think we have to be careful, as LGBT people, not to approach every conversation about language like we’re teaching our own impromptu course in Cultural Sensitivity 101, because again, we all have differing opinions about this. Here’s another one of mine: I think we get mired down when we keep adding letters to “LGBT.” Partially, it’s because I’m simply not willing to spend the time learning them, but partially, it’s also because I think it confuses people. But if you like them, good! Use them!
And there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with Cenk here, or Ana. That’s fine. And you don’t have to listen to them, if their style isn’t to your liking. But I don’t think it’s a good excuse to make a mountain out of what is, in my opinion, nothing more than a teachable moment embedded in an intelligent discussion between two people who are, decidedly, on our side.
If you weren’t familiar with Cenk before, here he is on MSNBC defending marriage equality, in his trademark way:
Sidenote: I can almost smell the wingnuts trying to draw a parallel between this and the right-wing “How come they can say ‘nigger’ and we can’t?” argument. This is not the same thing. This is not about a term that is, and always has been, a pejorative. For one thing, I’d be hard pressed to find a white person who simultaneously: 1. Truly loves black people, and 2. Has a deep, resentful desire to use the word “nigger.” We’re talking here about a term that is actually, all the way back to its Latin roots, the correct term. The fact that certain people have turned it into a pejorative is undeniable. But it doesn’t have the immediate, cruel implications of words that have only been used as tools of hatred and demonization.