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My take on the language wars

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

March 19th, 2011

[In this commentary I will use certain replacement characters within some words. This is to minimize the censoring features of website monitors. I want to keep BTB as accessible as possible.]

I am a word-Nazi.

I don’t allow certain words to be used in my home, in my car, or in my company. I refuse to let certain jokes be told or attitudes to be expressed. I have delivered obnoxious little lectures and, on at least one occasion, pulled over and ordered a friend out saying, “I don’t want to be around you right now.” I can be a real killjoy and a total pain in the ass.

I recognize that words come charged with history, context, and implication. So no, words are not “just words” and not all words are equal.

Consider the following sentence: “I believe that all people should be equal under the law, be they young or old, gay or straight, white or a n!gger.” It doesn’t matter that the sentiment is positive. The choice to go with a slur derails any possible good and suggests to the reader that this statement is not really one of inclusion. Or, at least, not in most contexts.

Most of my objections are to words, jokes, and attitudes surrounding race. Don’t say anything in my presence that you would filter out if that racial group were the majority in the room. But while I am more tolerant of gay folks usage of gay related humor, I fight against buying into the pejorative messages that are driven our direction.

And I am not one who believes much in “reclaiming the power” in words. I find that far too often, adopting a slur as our own in reality means conceding the presumptions that were thrown at us and acting as though they are positive instead of negative.

Take the campaign to reclaim “queer”. This word was at one time applied to gay folk as a way of saying, “you are different, you are odd, you are ‘other’ than me, you are outside of acceptable social norms.”

But many of those who have reclaimed this term do not seem, to me, to be countering that claim. Rather, they seem to be adopting it. They say, “yes, we are different, we are odd, we are other, we are unacceptable, and we’re proud of it.”

That might be fine for those who emotionally need an identity as outsider, but it still buys into the outsider mentality. It agrees with our tormentors that our differences are more important than our similarities, a perspective that I do not think is healthy or true.

Also queer has, in many contexts, shifted to mean “anyone other than the bourgeois capitalist conformists” with little attention to sexual orientation; an identity based more on politics than attributes. And, amusingly, a good many queer folk are so tied into their outsider identity that they would exclude some gay people from being queer like them, finding them to be too assimilationist (is there anyone who would consider a GOProud member to be part of the queer community?).

So I find little use in adopting queer as part of my self-identity or my vocabulary. I don’t agree that I am outside of acceptable social norms or believe I should be segregated from society at large. My sexual identity is based primarily on recognition of my own attractions rather than on rejection of someone else’s.

I think that f*ggot is another word with little going for it. Like queer, it is an in-your-face word and can carry shock value, but it carries even more baggage. Unlike queer, which has mostly dropped from common usage, f*ggot is the slur du jour for those who delight in pain.

It has been my personal observation that those gay people who use the word “f*ggot” have not recaptured it from our oppressors. Rather, they – whether consciously or unconsciously – are reflecting their own sense of inadequacy or shame in that word selection. Yes, it can be used in irony, but more often it carries an undertone of worthlessness.

When one angry gay person screams “f*ggot!!” at another, more than a little self-loathing is exposed. (And, on a side note, is there anything more cringe-worthy than hearing a black man referring to a rival as “that n*gger”?)

I choose not to feed my own demons. I choose not to bolster negative social messages or validate the hatred of others. So, for me, f*ggot is a word without value and with more than a little danger and it has no place in my vocabulary.

The word fag I find to be a bit less troublesome. While it is still a slur from those who hate us, there is less emotional baggage attached when used within our community. Yet I think it still carries some value of “lesser than” and thus I don’t find it to be particularly useful.

But while words are important, intent is what should drive our response. And it is on intent that I judge the use of pejorative terms used to refer to gay people.

Some who comment here use the term queer in a way that does not intend to emphasize outsider status or exclude gay people who are not socially segregated, and I cannot apply my observations about the term to their usage. And I am already on record as finding the use of f*ggot in culture to be less important than the purpose of its use.

I’ve heard plenty of our enemies – those who seriously want to harm our lives and our freedoms – use the word “homosexual” in ways that were far more corrosive than had they said f*ggot. I’d far rather accept someone who toss out “homo” or “fag” but with a message of inclusion than read one more rant from the right that uses the polite term “gay community.”

Because while I am a word-Nazi around my friends, it isn’t really the word that I am objecting to, but the reason for the word. There are seldom any good reasons to use slurs, and when a pejorative term is used it mostly means that a mean-spirited thought is behind it. And that is what I find unacceptable.

Blanket policies about words that do not consider context or meaning are ridiculous and counter-productive. And, sadly, I think that in this instance that is where GLAAD has gone.

I agree with GLAAD that incautiously using the term fag – even when by a gay person – can add to an overall atmosphere that is damaging, especially to kids in school. There simply is no disputing that tossing around this word contributes to its social acceptance or that while he may have meant no harm, much harm can result.

I even think that it is within the mission of GLAAD to contact the writer and remind him how language can have consequences and to encourage him to look at the reasons within himself that he chose to go that path. I would hope that they would correct a writer that called something “so gay” when they meant “so pathetic”, even if the writer were gay.

But they should not presume intent or imply that Berk was an insensitive jerk that needed to be slapped down. And they should not have published this effort as a victory or suggested that it is the word itself, and not its intent, is what matters. Rather than participate in a more safe society, they reveal a rigidity to political correctness that is, for all practical purposes, just the mirror image of those anti-gay activists who put the word gay in scare quotes and insist “the correct word is homosexual”.

In writing this, I recalled two experiences that relate to this issue.

A few years ago I was on a cruise ship and overheard one young man talking to his friends. He was telling them that they should go to a particular club on the ship because there were some girls that were attractive and “the guys with them are gay.” At first I thought he was being offensive, using the word “gay” as a put-down. Then I realized what group he was talking about. And, yes, the guys were gay.

The other was a time I was walking on a street in my neighborhood with a friend. Some young man passing on the other side yelled “f*ggots!!.” I turned and shouted back, “yeah!” He kinda paused and shouted again, “f*ggots!!” and I responded with, “Yes. Good guess.” in a slightly impatient tone that implied that he was maybe just a bit slow. He stared, started to respond, closed his mouth, and walked away.

My point being, don’t find offense where it isn’t intended. And when we do reclaim power, reclaim it over our worth as people rather than just over a word.

Comments

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Tony P
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

Yes, some language should not be used in polite company.

And I’ve developed quite the tic to handle words I don’t find polite. It’s that gentle glare.

Hazumu
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

What about the words used to discount and devalue transgenders? There were no examples such as “hey, tr@nny!” given in this piece. For that matter, there were no examples of words that denigrate females who are homosexual, either — no ‘hey, dyk3!’

Tim, you have a valid point. But your rhetoric and examples is tightly focused on gay males. Thus, when you refer to ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ in the article, I strongly doubt that I, a trans woman, have been included in your thesis.

Jim Burroway
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

Hazumu,

I don’t want to answer for Timothy, but I know your feeling left out deserves to be addressed.

Let me say that my approach here is similar to Timothy’s. But for my part in reasoning through how I feel about using the word “fag”, it’s based on the fact that, well, I’m a fag.

But my reasoning for using the word “n!gger” is very different, and it’s based on the recognition that I am not African-American. I know that in every single instance, my use of that word is inappropriate (unless I’m quoting someone else or I’m discussing the use of the word, which, as I said, for me otherwise is inappropriate for me to use.)

I know lesbians who use the word “dyk3″ and call themselves “dyk3″. I would have to be a good friend, though, before I would use the term in a good-natured way. But generally, I think it would be as inappropriate for my to use the word as it is to use the n-word.

And same, I think, goes for transgender people. I have not met a transgender person who uses the word “Tr@nny.” And I wouldn’t dream of using it, even with a close transgender friend, unless I understood his or her perspective on the word. And even then… well, generally, as with the other words, it is inappropriate.

But how Transgender people and lesbians choose to regard those words, I think, is their call. It certainly isn’t mine.

David Malcolm
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

I was originally on the fence with whether I’d agree with you in the end, but overall I do. (Though I find the notion that saying n!gger is less offensive than saying nigger when neither are in a derogatory sense is rather childish… even if many adults do get offended.)

The only concern that I have is that you like different with unacceptable when it comes to the word queer. Even if we raise families, get houses, and dogs, and lawn mowers, we’re still not quite hetero-normative. I think the word queer acknowledges this. It also wasn’t exclusively used as an insult. Often times things that were weird or unexpected were called queer, these days most of the time when you run across the word not coming from a gay person it very well might be coming from a fifty year old piece of writing where someone wanted to say that something was odd. I identify first as gay, but if I want to talk about generally non-hetero-normative people I’ll use the word queer. (Since straight people tend to look at you funny when you vomit out alphabet soup.)

As to Hazumu, I’m sorry but your comment kind of comes off as more than a little needy. You seem to suggest that by not including in a discussion that doesn’t really relate to trans people directly, you were somehow slighted. Believe it or not, I could still be a gay man even if all the trans people got in a rocket ship and flew off to Mars.

As a gay man, I catch TONS of flack over and above what I already do, because as a result of the notion of the LGBTTQ* community lots of people think that if I’m gay I’m probably also somehow trans, and that confuses them even more than me being gay!
To be honest, I have read lots of discussions about trans specific issues that don’t really address how trying to figure out if I should call someone she or he, somehow relates to me as a gay man… and that’s actually entirely fine.

This discussion is about the words fag and faggot in particular, which are PRIMARILY used against gay males. If someone calls you a fag then in addition to being a bigot they’re also stupid. So go figure, the post doesn’t address trans issues. This isn’t really a LGBTTQ* issue, this is much more of a G issue.

Riva
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

Overall I find it amusing that you take offense at the use of certain pejorative words when they apply to race or sexuality, but feel free to equate the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis with…well…words. I’m fairly certain the Jews and the homosexuals and the handicapped and the communists and the political dissidents and all the rest who perished at the hands of the Third Reich find it rather peculiar that their tormentors are now no better or worse than those who quibble over grammar, punctuation and what one person chooses as their personal label.

Oh, and a personal aside, I identify as queer. I’m genderqueer, so what should I call myself? I’m not gay and I’m not a lesbian and I’m not trans in the strictest sense.

If a person chooses to call themselves queer or fag or bitch or cunt or dike or nigger, it’s totally their choice and all we can do is accept it.

And no, that doesn’t count for the so-called grammar/spelling nazis since using that word is less about ‘reclaiming’ an identity and more about showing off how anal and superior you consider yourself.

tim
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

The word is “faggot” – not “f*ggot” And the mission of GLAAD is to stamp out freedom of speech. No more no less. They should not be supported in any way.

Btw why does every story of yours involve a “cruise” or staying a “gay” hotel anyways – leave the ghetto and get out in the real world for a change.

Grover Clark
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

Tim,
That was a commendably balanced treatment.

David,
How upset will you be when Dr. Laura goes off the air?

Lucrece
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

I got over the indignation a long time ago, when I realized how silly it was to assume that gay people wouldn’t be equally ignorant and oftentimes stupid as their straight peers.

You might have the patience to give lectures– I just tend to say something along the lines of “GTFO” and severing the relationship if the behavior is not amended at least in my presence.

As far as a black man calling another a nigger, it’s typical class warfare. A nigger is an unsophisticated jackass– and then are the black men who “rise above it”. Terrible cognitive dissonance, but not so cringe-inducing. Not rare at all to adopt degrading social narratives even if you’re a minority person.

Ben in Oakland
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

I’m happy to refer to myself as a big ol’ fag when the moment is appropos. I’m with Jim, though– no use of the word faggot.

I would never call another man a fag, though, with the occasional exception of people like, oh, a certain AC, RT, GR, and a few others who are basically fairly despicable and, unfortunately for them and everyone around them, homosexual.

Wyzdyx
March 19th, 2011 | LINK

Three of my four grandparents were mixed race (Native American/Caucasian, and since anti-miscegenation laws never applied to Native Americans one may have had African American ancestry as well) so my family was more cognizant of civil rights issues in the 1950s and 60s than might be expected of white, blue-collar high school dropouts.

The thing I’ve noticed over the decades is that people from minority groups “reclaim” the hurtful words to lessen the hurt. One woman told me that she would rather her child first hear the word n****r from her as a term of endearment than from a racist. I still didn’t feel comfortable when she expected me to use it that way, too.

Stephen
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

I detest the word ‘gay’. I find it demeaning. I also hate it when the word ‘homosexual’ is used as a noun instead an adjective. I also hate it when it is pronounced with a long drawn out ‘hoa’ sound as if it’s from the Latin. But what are we to do? My first suggestion would be to quit redacting words like ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’ because we disapprove of them being used. Or, even worse in my opinion, resort to the detestable ‘n-word’ or, god help us, the ‘f-word’.

Clearly the writer of the Vanity Fair piece was making an observation about the quality of writing in Glee. And if referring to two of the characters as ‘party gays’ is as bad as it gets I think we can sleep safe at night.

Recently I found a review of a production of ‘As You Like It’ – a text I care more about than the childish ‘Glee’ – in a gay literary review which took to task the director for his homophobia for not stressing an element of the play that existed only in the reviewers mind (the little putz was also quite stern with WS). He got extremely over-heated and was very free with the ‘h-word’, inventing a controversy where there was none while at the same time making clear his own moral and, I suppose, artistic superiority to the name-brand director involved. So I think it’s as well to retain a sense of proportion. I find myself living so much in a state of heightened indignation these days given the amount of truly vile and unscrupulous rhetoric coming from so much of the right and its ministries of fear that my nerve-endings might be a touch over-active. Therefor, when I find someone using the phrase ‘party fag’ in what is clearly an affectionate manner I try to maintain a sense of proportion. And it’s important perhaps to remember that the writer did not use the word ‘fag’. He used what is in its way a term of endearment. And if it’s not a phrase I would use – though I do say ‘drama queen’ and sometimes ‘theatre fag’ to describe specific types – if I were he and GLAD got all self-righteous on my ass I would tell them to fuck off.

If the religious right uses the ‘attack on marriage’ to raise money, GLAD does the same thing by manufacturing this kind of controversy.

enough already
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy,
Thank you for writing what must have been a difficult piece.

One of the most infuriating aspects of communicating and working together within our non-heterosexual and non-cis-gendered as well as the heterosexual but allied and cis-gendered but totally cool with all genders and non-genders as well as with those who are in an interrogative discussion with themselves -communities and further…

Oh, forget it.

See – there is going to be somebody like Wyzdyx (and both ‘wise’ as well as ‘dyke’ could be taken as extremely offensive by some, just saying…) who actually reads my entire last paragraph and decides I have left an important letter in the alphabet soup out, ergo, I am a xyz-o-phobe!

I settled on ‘queer’ community about six months back when I noticed that both young people, my age group, older people, basically everybody outside of the politically correct found the word appropriate.

I’m still looking for a word to describe those members of the Christian religion who are our enemies. No luck with that one, even after more than 10 years of posting and reading on the Internet. Somebody will and does object to every single choice. ‘Christianist’ is best, in my view, yet invokes too much anti-Andrew rage. ‘Small-c’, christian is very good but that one invariably results in a lecture on capitalization and respect and ‘not all Christians are like that’.

Despite the indisputable fact that the entire attack against us in the US is inexorably tied to that particular religion.

But, then, I’ve seen commentators and posters taken to task here for saying ‘us’ because it is not all-inclusive in somebody’s PC mind.

Sigh.

This is why our enemies are winning and we are losing. They work together despite their differences, we create differences among ourselves, that we need not work together.

And now, some grammarian will be upset because the subjunctive shouldn’t be used in modern English, their faculty guidelines say so.

Reed Boyer
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Tim -

Thanks for this lengthy and well-written essay. You raise many excellent points; while I may not agree with all of them, I certainly respect your point of view.

This is a refreshing change from Jim Burroway’s “Fags! There, I said it,” which I have just quoted in its entirety.

I’m gay (it’s a generational thing), a “homo” when joking about, and generally “queer” (because I DID reclaim the slur). Because most others aren’t comfy with “the Q-word,” I’m sensitive to the company I’m in.

I pick and choose (Humpty-Dumpty logic) which aspects of the word I’m intending, and concentrate on the positive ones: “strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular;” and my favorites:
“exceptional,” “extraordinary,” “remarkable,” and “rare.” As well, the synonyms: “unconventional” and “curious,” and by extension “outstanding.”
The neutral terms “anomalous,” “droll,” “atypical,” and “outré” are fun – the last of these appeals to my French heritage.

One of the dictionary discussions of “queer” includes the note that it’s become “an umbrella term.” I like that inclusive aspect of it – and it’s more easily pronounced than LGBT, or LGBTQ, or GLBTIQA (or other alphabet soup combos).

mikenola
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

To the author…

As a self-described “word nazi” who (apparently) regulates the thoughts, intent and context of his friends speech on a regular basis you seem to downplay your own hypocrisy in the usage of offensive words.

your article highlights your personal offense at anything that might be racial, but give a squirmy pass to faggot and fag but not so much queer.

You apparently believe YOU are the arbiter of what everyone else should say or do, even to the point of being insistent that GLAAD should have done, what YOU would believe YOU would do.

That does not make you a “word nazi” it makes you a PRIG! A superannuated, over-sensitive, dictatorial, self-centered PRIG!

You erroneously believe that YOU have the right to demand that others behave as you insist they behave, that they modify their language and experience to meet the standard (wishy washy as it may be) the you pontificate about.

Let us be clear, I am QUEER as a Three dollar Bill and if in my presence you pulled that crap I would tell you to your face, out loud and in the hearing of everyone whose attention that I could capture that YOU are acting like a whiny, sniveling FAGGOTY ASSED PRIG!

This over-sensitivity you feel coupled with the demands that people don’t hurt your feelings is one of the major reasons that racial tensions seethe below the surface. White to Black, Black to White, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim,,, pick a group, they don’t some other group and other groups don’t like them…maybe for ridiculous reasons and often irrational reasons but that is the reality of the human condition.

The same applies to gays not liking straights and straights not liking gay.

Demanding that others some how know that YOU the individual feel about some certain word or phrase is asinine and childish.

Each of use lives and speaks in the context of our individual lives. To solve the problems of racism and homophobia ALL people must learn to first accept that language is imprecise. That experience, culture and geography dictate verbiage.

Once that acceptance occurs we can begin to have an honest dialogue using the words we have instead of being forced into the verbal sausage casing of some OTHER persons arbitrary demands.

Get over yourself Timothy.

Priya Lynn
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy said “Consider the following sentence: “I believe that all people should be equal under the law, be they young or old, gay or straight, white or a n!gger.” It doesn’t matter that the sentiment is positive. The choice to go with a slur derails any possible good and suggests to the reader that this statement is not really one of inclusion.”

And then Timothy contradicted himself by saying “But they [Glaad] should not presume intent or imply that Berk was an insensitive jerk that needed to be slapped down. And they should not have published this effort as a victory or suggested that it is the word itself, and not its intent, is what matters….My point being, don’t find offense where it isn’t intended.”.

The rationale you used in the first paragraph to say N*gger is unacceptable also applies to the use of the word F*g. F*g and F*ggot are eseentially the same slurs so to say the first is less offensive than the second isn’t true.

F*g is the slur of choice for high school bullies assaulting gay teenagers. We can’t stand against that sort of bullying and then say there is a context in which the use of the word f*g is okay.

David Malcom said “Believe it or not, I could still be a gay man even if all the trans people got in a rocket ship and flew off to Mars.”.

In the context you used it I’m not sure what you meant by that sentence but its hard to imagine a meaning that isn’t pretty offensive.

enough already
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Frankly,
Priya Lynn, it is hard for me to imagine a context which you have not in the past, are currently or would not, in any imaginable future, determine as offensive in any discussion in which a white, homosexual should be so uppity as to speak, at all.

Can’t we just set aside our seething hatred for each other long enough to battle our enemies until we have achieved equal rights. Then we can all go our separate ways and return to hating each other at will?

enough already
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

oops, left out “male” in my ‘white, homosexual MALE’ rant.

Iamposterity
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy,

Thank you so much for expressing a sentiment that I have been unable to articulate for a long time. I do not understand why our community has adopted such words you described including B*tch, Whore, Hoe, and other derogatories as endearing banter between friends within the LGBT peopledom.

I do not know about anyone else but I expect my friends to be kind in word voice and action to set an example!

The Golem
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Being born shortly after the end of WW2 and raised with many survivors of Auschwitz and their children, I have a much stronger negative reaction to the trivialization of the word Nazi than I do to the word Queer, which I prefer, actually, as being more inclusive and smoother rhetorically than any other suggestons I’ve seen.

Matt
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

“I find that far too often, adopting a slur as our own in reality means conceding the presumptions that were thrown at us and acting as though they are positive instead of negative.”

I don’t think I’ve ever read so concise a description of the problem with identifying as “queer.” I agree wholeheartedly.


As for GLAAD — I know thousands of young gay people in urban and rural communities will enjoy greater self-esteem and self-actualization because a Vanity Fair writer was taken to task. Way to speak truth to power, guys!

andrew
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

First of all, I’ll be assertive: While I default against my will to “gay” for standard English usage, I adore “fag” among friends. (I have my reasons, if you’ll bear with me…)

But I also agree with Tim’s conclusion 100% – not to find offense. And to achieve that, we have to make sure we LISTEN carefully to what’s being said. Because sometime our enemies are not who we perceive them to be. And the same can be said for some we thought to be friends or allies.

I also think his piece underline one of the most persistent problems our community has: language. And since language defines debates, it’s always put us at a disadvantage.

I notice that Tim, rather than affirmatively tell us what word he DOES like, passively accepts it by using “gay” late in his piece. This is still troublesome – it potentially reflects a form of self-abnegation that is very much part of the gay (whoops!) identity for many. Or it could reflect passivity… Or it could just be his refusal to tell us what words to use.

The rest is how things sound to my ears:

“Gay” sounds effeminate, and I’m completely hyper-sensitive to attempts by straight meant to diminish gay men by attacking their manhood and to feminize them.
“Homosexuals” was used by clinicians as an excuse to apply elecro-shock therapy to our community, and if you’ve ever suffered abuse at the hands of professional (spiritual or medical) using that term (I have), it can be particularly freighted with baggage.
“Queers” are angry
“LGBTQ” reminds me of the “splitters!” sketch in Life of Bryan… it also adds to the perception that we’re a community in which either anything goes, or the grab bag of rejects that is more about special interest groups and advocacy organizations, so paralyzed by it’s desire to be politically correct that it’s incapable of expressing anything but impotent complaint.

Even “Bats for the other team” (which would sound hilarious if formally adopted as the appropriate descriptor by a major news network) either reflects the truism that there are no universally accepted adjectives… or shame in speaking of it.

But (to my ear)…
“Fag” is masculine and tough. Fags drive trucks, join the NRA and are Eagles Scouts. You don’t mess with a fag.
“Poofter” can be arch and hilarious and defuse a tense situation – another way I see myself, using humor to bridge gaps to our community.

I agree that most of these are going to make us sound like the “other”, and in many ways, we are, although increasingly that’s past-tense as we integrate into the mainstream. Perhaps that’s why my favorite term is Phil’s husband

Jonathan
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Thank you for all you do Timothy. I love your site and your high standards. I think you have articulated a correct line for negotiating correct language usage, however I do have a little beef over a your use of the term “political correctness” because I see that term used by anti-gay activists to dismiss our life stories. Typically, a newspaper will print a story about a same-sex headed family and an anti-gay letter writer will complain that the “liberal media” has gone “politically correct”.

I’m reprinting a letter to the editor that I wrote to a right-wing local newspaper that addresses the issue. In this case, the local school administration warned coaches and teachers not to proselytize students. The ADF has been agitating for coaches to do just that, and the ADF has two active supporters on our school board. The editor criticized the anti-proseletyzing notice. I believe that GLAAD’s mistake is dogmatism, not political correctness.

Good editorials teach. They point out successes and failures, injustices and corruption, and they spur needed discourse. Bad ones shut down debate. Take the “School Admin Gone Too Far?” editorial critical of the staff communication regarding sports prayer, calling it “political correctness to a level never seen before in Loudoun County”.

The term “political correctness” immediately shuts down debate. I know because it’s been hurled at me ever since I made the public declaration that I’m married to a man and that my family is just as good as any other family. Loudoun integrated national hate groups responded that my family is a “threat to the moral fabric of our nation”. A school board member told me that I shouldn’t “impose immorality” on the boardroom by making a public comment. Congressman Wolf, my “human rights advocate” wrote that legal protections for my family would collide with “religious liberty”. What about my religious and personal liberty? And people who wish to dismiss do so by saying that any discussion of my point of view is “politically correct”.

The real question is “what happened?” Focus on the Family’s Alliance Defense Fund has been itching for student prayer law suits. Is this the next “controversy”? The school administration is “restricting religious liberty”? If there are reports of proselytizing school staff or if national groups are planning a campaign and ultimately a law suit, that’s a story. Declaring this a “political correctness” issue is a cover-up at best and a witch-hunt at worst.

Jonathan
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

@The Golem,

I’m second generation. My father survived the holocaust. The rest of his family was murdered. I too take issue with the trivialization of the word “Nazi”, but didn’t want to deflect. Since Jerry Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi” character became part of our culture, all attempts to codify what a Nazi really is have pretty much been trumped.

andrew
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

And one more thing:

These responses are all going to be intensely personal responses to a personal piece. So yeah, it is going to focus on a male perspective.

Don’t find offense where none is intended.

Jim: I agree — we need to “have that ticket punched” before we can use certain terms. I’m suburban white. I approach the N-word with trepidation.

little tim: I demand freedom of speech. But who advocates for us when the haters run their venom through the media to the heteropublic and thereby shape the debate? We just need to tug their leash a little.

stephen – glee is doing good work for us in living rooms right now. shakespeare doesn’t get ratings.

reed, if i read you right, THANK YOU for being the generation that got angry and took back many things. You also saved our community during the depths of the AIDS epidemic. you are our version of the “greatest generation”.

Again, it’s about listening. Sometimes we’ll have to coach, too. And sometimes even accept badly dressed loving intentions.

Ben in Oakland
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Andrew: interesting take on “fag”. I realized as soon as I read it that when I apply the word to myself, I am asserting a “buchesse” (French for butchness, not that they have a word for it, but we gotta gay it up somehow).

Calling myself a big ‘ol fag means that I WILL stand up for myself as a gay man. Calling AC a big ‘ol fag is a way of saying that he is a despicable, dishonesthomosexual, possibly (well, probably) even a homo-hatin’-homo, which is far wrose.

I have no problem with gay at all

Loki
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Well first off, a note about the words themselves, since there seems to be an etymological confusion going on:

Gay: it originally meant “happy,” but across the 19th century gained a secondary connotation of “lasciviousness.” By the 20′s it had become the prim and proper way to refer to gay people instead of the older words.

Homosexual: created by someone incredibly pro-gay in the late 1800′s specifically to make a word that did not confer moral judgement. He really wanted to eliminate “pederast” the former word that was most often used.

Queer: was a generic insult to anyone who was odd, one that became specific to anyone who was gay only in the early part of the 20th century.

Faggot: a contemptuous term for women. It began being applied to gay people specifically to effeminate.

Ben M
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

@Andrew and Ben in Oakland. I find your of the word ‘fag’ very interesting because it is a very different view than my own. I find fag to be a very feminine word, perhaps because the relative few people in my social circle who use to it tend to be more feminine.

I suppose that goes to the point of our imprecise methods of communicating.

Loki
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Then there is this disturbing trend of claiming that criticism is somehow regulatory. Sorry, but no. No one has the power to regulate what you do or say, however what you do or say has consequences.

You can use “faggot” or “nigger” all you like, but you have to accept that there will be consequences to your word choice. In this case Vanity Fair or the article’s author could have simply told GLAAD to go screw themselves. That was just as much their prerogative as it was GLAAD’s to take offense.

This is all the same hypocrisy as Laura Schlessinger’s claim that people criticizing her ten minute, obscenely racist rant were somehow taking away her freedom of speech.

You say what you say, and you accept the consequences that come with it. Don’t complain because someone has the temerity to criticize you for your (probably poorly chosen) words that it is some horrible form of oppression.

Timothy Kincaid
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks for the truly thoughtful comments, including the ones who disagreed or took me to task.

I do want to apologize for seeming glib or insensitive by using the term “word-Nazi”. Perhaps I illustrated a little too well that “words come charged with history, context, and implication.” I am sorry for the offense.

Ben in Oakland
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy– we in the business were referring to certain church ladies as “wedding Nazis” long before Jerry seinfeld.

Loki– the etymology for faggot that I have heard for decades was referring to the sticks used to burn a witch. apparently, they would start the fire with sodomites, because that was the only fire foul enough to burn a witch.

fag also refers to a cigarette in british slang, tired (fagged out), and i think some sort of underling or subservient person.

Timothy Kincaid
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Hazumu,

You rightly point out that this commentary does not address transgender persons (or lesbians or bisexuals). And Jim is correct that it was because I’m really not qualified to discuss what is or is not appropriate nomenclature, slang, or slur.

We did have a commentary some time ago that tried to address the issue. I think it was much like this discussion, inconclusive.

Loki
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Loki– the etymology for faggot that I have heard for decades was referring to the sticks used to burn a witch. apparently, they would start the fire with sodomites, because that was the only fire foul enough to burn a witch.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists “faggot” as a bundle of sticks specifically used to burn witches and “faggot” as a derogatory reference towards women appearing in the English language in fairly quick succession in the late 1500s, with it really being popular in the 1800s. “Faggot” as applied to gay people does not show up until the early 1900s.

Becky
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy, I adore you and this blog. That said, please know how hilarious it is to see you call yourself a “word Nazi” about avoiding offensive words, without any sense of irony or sarcasm about using the ultimate offensive word: Nazi!

In the family I grew up in, you’d be lucky to get off with a short lecture after calling yourself a word Nazi. Talk about words with violent, homophobic origins, that we throw around too much!

There are so many other good words to choose from: curmudgeon, for example, or (my favorite) fascist. Please consider using one of them instead next time.

Amicus
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

I’ve contended that “I’m a fag” is just mistaken usage. “Fag”, like “nigger”, is a relational term. You can’t make yourself a “fag”.

In Tim’s well-written ending, consider this alternative response to his hecklers: “Totally gay, d’oh!; but, sorry, I can’t be a fag for you…”. (Yes, the other ‘works’ – this is just more precise to illustrate the point).

As for “fag” or “faggot” becoming the quintessential in-group bonding or feature, that’s just whacked. It’s like letting yourself be defined by your otherness, rather than your personhood or agency. A ghettoized mentality of sorts? Except, of course, in L.A., where it is permissible and right to call someone by their car, as in, “Hey, Honda”, because you are what you drive…

I don’t get “reclamation fags” we keep hearing about (yes, that’s my ironic contribution). Pretending that words don’t mean anything somehow erases the concept of “fag hatred”? Okay, then.

Throbert McGee
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

The complicated etymological histories of “fag” and “faggot” are discussed at some length in the South Park episode The F-word.

But in a nutshell, the use of “fag(got)” for male homosexuals is a 20th-century Americanism, and thus the “homosexuals were used as kindling to burn witches” story has absolutely no historic basis, as witch-burning was not an American practice in any century. (Leaving aside the rather obvious fact that unlike witches, homosexuals are not made of wood, and thus make very poor kindling.)

Note that in British all-boys boarding schools in the early 20th century, “to do fag work” meant “to do little-old-cleaning-lady labor for ‘senior’ boys, as a form of hazing for ‘junior’ boys.”

In actual practice, “doing fag work” meant having to polish an older boy’s shoes and hem his trousers and iron his shirt, etc. — in other words, the sort of “woman’s work” that an unmarried gentleman would normally hire a lower-class female to do.

But it’s possible that Americans in the First World War heard the British expression and mistakenly thought that “fag work” was a euphemistic reference to a subordinate male performing sexual favors for a male superior.

Amicus
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

(Oh, in my bit, “I don’t get” better as “What’s up with” … it’s not some personal thing)

Throbert McGee
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Homosexual: created by someone incredibly pro-gay in the late 1800′s specifically to make a word that did not confer moral judgment.

Thank you for pointing this out, Loki. Although homosexual is sometimes decried as a “clinical” term that “pathologizes” same-sex attraction, historically it was coined and promoted by 19th-century “Men who had Sex with Men” as a morally non-judgmental alternative to prevailing terms like pederast and sodomite.

And I say: homosexual is “clinical” if you choose to believe that it’s “clinical.” But I personally think it sounds spiffy and futuristic, like nanotech or hologram.

Also, homosexual has the advantage of being direct and to the point; no one could say that it’s a “euphemism” — I mean, the -sex- part is right there in your face, which isn’t true with the coy term “gay.”

(And just to be clear: I’m not saying that we should never call ourselves “gay”, or that everyone should adopt the term “homo(sexual)” because that’s a term I personally like; I’m just saying that “gay” has its own drawbacks, and that it’s silly to have a superstitious aversion to “homosexual”.)

enough already
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

Although English is not my native tongue, I learned the language at a sufficiently young age to be able to both dream and think in her.

English, my own native language and the other few I have more or less mastered through the years all have something in common.

They change. They diminish, they expand, words and grammar and even syntax take on new meaning.

There is something rather ironic in the apparent fact that I, one of the oldest people here, am a great deal more flexible in my use of the language – queer for instance – than many of the younger people posting.

Political correctness and double speak have taken their toll, apparently. It’s no use fighting about the meaning of fag through the ages – I strongly suspect that those who first used the term pejoratively in the US very well knew of the earlier English sense; I’ve also not met anyone in the UK who did not understand the American context.

Let’s do be language snobs if we must, but let’s also realize that we are our own worst enemies. These stupid PC wars are only aiding our enemies…for whom I still lack a term which won’t get me locked up again on this blog and which will serve to distinguish among Christians.

Suggestions?

Shofixti
March 20th, 2011 | LINK

queer IS A REALLY IMPORTANT WORD! Sorry for the caps but I can’t stress enough how any and everyone involved in talking about sex, sexuality and gender need to know this word inside out. (Taking a peek at the ‘queer theory’ entry on wiki – it’s actually quite dense and difficult to unpack, but I will give it a go).

queer is not an identity, it is a critique of identity, it is resistance itself. If someone says “I’m queer” it is used either in blessed ignorance or as a placeholder that rejects the categoriccal, self-evident and trans-historical natures of conventional sexuality.

Sexuality is not what happens inside a person, it is what happens outside of them in language, in their relationship to power and in their ability to bring about representations of their identity.
Constantly employing the GLBTI mega-structure is beneficial in legal fields but eventually you will see more and more how it traps you into the same patterns of power as seen in the ‘hetero’ marginalisation of ‘homo’.

You are going to need queer to unpackage and destabilise the Gay, which makes subjectiviy so invisible. Please don’t dismiss it. queer is not “for those who emotionally need an identity as outsider” it is for everyone who uses language to articulate differences between perceived groups of people.

I encourage you to look deeper into this and to post about the difficulties you face in grasping or using it.

Willie Hewes
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

@Shofixti: if we do look deeper into it, will we start to sound like you?

@Throbert: “But it’s possible that Americans in the First World War heard the British expression and mistakenly thought that “fag work” was a euphemistic reference to a subordinate male performing sexual favors for a male superior.”

It is also possible that senior boys in boarding schools, adolescents trapped in a female-free environment, actually did request sexual favours from their fags. Just saying.

Generally: it’s amazing how differently people respond to the same words, isn’t it? Fag is manly? Gay is effeminate? Queer is resistance? Wow.

And actually, yes, I would call a GOP member a queer man. If he likes men, he’s part of the family, he’s queer. It’s OK, it’s a large family, we got some odd ones. (Just my opinion, of course.)

Mihangel apYrs
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

gay
late 14c., “full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree;” also “wanton, lewd, lascivious” (late 12c. as a surname, Philippus de Gay), from O.Fr. gai “joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert” (12c.; cf. O.Sp. gayo, Port. gaio, It. gajo, probably French loan-words). Ultimate origin disputed; perhaps from Frankish *gahi (cf. O.H.G. wahi “pretty”), though not all etymologists accept this. Meaning “stately and beautiful; splendid and showily dressed” is from early 14c. The word gay by the 1890s had an overall tinge of promiscuity — a gay house was a brothel. The suggestion of immorality in the word can be traced back at least to the 1630s, if not to Chaucer:
But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose.
Slang meaning “homosexual” (adj.) begins to appear in psychological writing late 1940s, evidently picked up from gay slang and not always easily distinguished from the older sense:
After discharge A.Z. lived for some time at home. He was not happy at the farm and went to a Western city where he associated with a homosexual crowd, being “gay,” and wearing female clothes and makeup. He always wished others would make advances to him. ["Rorschach Research Exchange and Journal of Projective Techniques," 1947, p.240]
The association with (male) homosexuality likely got a boost from the term gay cat, used as far back as 1893 in Amer.Eng. for “young hobo,” one who is new on the road, also one who sometimes does jobs.
“A Gay Cat,” said he, “is a loafing laborer, who works maybe a week, gets his wages and vagabonds about hunting for another ‘pick and shovel’ job. Do you want to know where they got their monica (nickname) ‘Gay Cat’? See, Kid, cats sneak about and scratch immediately after chumming with you and then get gay (fresh). That’s why we call them ‘Gay Cats’.” [Leon Ray Livingston ("America's Most Celebrated Tramp"), "Life and Adventures of A-no. 1," 1910]
Quoting a tramp named Frenchy, who might not have known the origin. Gay cats were severely and cruelly abused by “real” tramps and bums, who considered them “an inferior order of beings who begs of and otherwise preys upon the bum — as it were a jackal following up the king of beasts” [Prof. John J. McCook, "Tramps," in "The Public Treatment of Pauperism," 1893], but some accounts report certain older tramps would dominate a gay cat and employ him as a sort of slave. In “Sociology and Social Research” (1932-33) a paragraph on the “gay cat” phenomenon notes, “Homosexual practices are more common than rare in this group,” and gey cat “homosexual boy” is attested in N. Erskine’s 1933 dictionary of “Underworld & Prison Slang” (gey is a Scottish variant of gay).

The “Dictionary of American Slang” reports that gay (adj.) was used by homosexuals, among themselves, in this sense since at least 1920. Rawson ["Wicked Words"] notes a male prostitute using gay in reference to male homosexuals (but also to female prostitutes) in London’s notorious Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889. Ayto ["20th Century Words"] calls attention to the ambiguous use of the word in the 1868 song “The Gay Young Clerk in the Dry Goods Store,” by U.S. female impersonator Will S. Hays, but the word evidently was not popularly felt in this sense by wider society until the 1950s at the earliest.
“Gay” (or “gai”) is now widely used in French, Dutch, Danish, Japanese, Swedish, and Catalan with the same sense as the English. It is coming into use in Germany and among the English-speaking upper classes of many cosmopolitan areas in other countries. [John Boswell, "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality," 1980]
Gay as a noun meaning “a (usually male) homosexual” is attested from 1971; in M.E. it meant “excellent person, noble lady, gallant knight,” also “something gay or bright; an ornament or badge” (c.1400).

So “gay” isn’t exactly a spotless word for us to use. We really need something new that hasn’t got baggage!

Mihangel apYrs
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

oops

sorry, I didn’t realise how long the commentary was! But we live to learn

Matt
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

“@Shofixti: if we do look deeper into it, will we start to sound like you?”

W.H. for the win.

cowboy
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

Just how long will it be when CBS 60 Minutes investigates the “F” word much like their last night’s segment on the “N” word?

And I did note some farmer from California’s Imperial Valley who used the phrase: “Strange”-sex marriage in an Associated Press article.

Michael Smith
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

Timothy. You are absolutely right. Bottom line, “There are seldom any good reasons to use slurs.” Period. But at the same time we do have to consider the intent of the speaker and not be so hyper critical. Thank you for the well-written article.

Timothy Kincaid
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

Becky, yes it was an insensitive word selection.

Throbert McGee
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

It is also possible that senior boys in boarding schools, adolescents trapped in a female-free environment, actually did request sexual favours from their fags. Just saying.

Well, duh.

However, there’s very little evidence that “fag” in the boarding-school sense had homosexual connotations (even as a joke) for British speakers. Notably, in the underground gay culture of the UK, there’s no evidence that British gay men in the early 20th century used “fag” as a codeword for themselves or for gay sex. (If there had been a “running joke” in the UK that fag work in all-male boarding schools sometimes included fellatio, one would expect the slang/codewords of UK gay men to reflect this.)

Instead, the homosexual connotations of “fag” appeared very suddenly on the other side of the Atlantic, right after WWI. That’s why some people surmise that “fag as in homosexual” did not come directly from the British boarding-school slang, but rather arose as an American misunderstanding of the British slang.

Throbert McGee
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

(Taking a peek at the ‘queer theory’ entry on wiki – it’s actually quite dense and difficult to unpack, but I will give it a go).

Indubitably, but maybe not in the sense that you’re thinking of.

You are going to need queer to unpackage and destabilise the Gay, which makes subjectivity so invisible.

EPIC FAIL at “unpacking,” honey.

Timothy Kincaid
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

You have illustrated in one comment better than I ever could exactly what I see as the problem with the word “queer”.

Shofixti
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

@WHewes You may not sound like me, but taking it on board can be humbling and enlightening.

At the very least you should be able to acknowledge that there is a world of theory out there that you may not fully grasp. queer is not about enacting an identity pleasure or fulfilling an emotional need to be different – it is a critique of pleasure and power in identity.

@TMG I don’t mind failing. Timothy Kincaid uses the term “bourgeois capitalist conformist” so I expect that he understands just a little bit about bourgeois subjectivity, desire and involvement in a political economy.

When I say it’s invisible it’s because if I say “I’m gay” and “You’re gay” we are too easily tricked into thinking we have mastery of what that means or that it is Real. When I say “I’m gay” I am really stepping off a bridge and gravity is the force of language falling on my head.

All we will ever know or be able to say about our sexuality comes from outside of us, and it doesn’t come without a cost.

Wintersong
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

I’m going to have to disagree with the writer’s position on “queer.” I identified as a gay man for many years, but was told time and time again by the “gay community” that I had no place among them for two reasons.

First off, several of my lovers and one of my partners are trans men. I have seen the viciousness targeted at them by other gay men first hand. Not to mention that many gay men have told me that you can’t be gay and love a trans man. If forced to choose between people I care about and a community that rejects me, I’ll choose my people every time.

Second off, for nearly the last decade I was in a three person relationship. With the fight for gay marriage raging, many gays and lesbians told us that we owed it to them not call ourselves gay, since we were bad for the movement.

I’ve embraced “queer” as my identity. It covers shades of grey, like my life. I’m primarily attracted to men (including men that the gay world rejects) and on very rare occasions to women. I’m somewhat effeminate, yet carry a gun and ride a motorcycle. I’m not monogamous.

I recently taught a class on queer/LGBT activism at a progressive university, and I think you’ll find that among the younger generation, “queer” has come to have deep and non-offensive meaning to a lot of people, especially those struggling with gender-identity and expression.

I completely understand why many people find the word hurtful and offensive. Some of that is generational, some of it regional. But you’re going to have a very hard time getting the people who’ve embraced its reclamation to give it up.

Shofixti
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

@Wintersong – thanks for sharing that. I am sorry that you were pushed away by gay identity police.

It is sad that marginalising others is often times pleasurable to do simply because it reduces uncertainty and anxiety. That is actually a research interest of mine – if I make it back for some post-grad this year.

-peace

enough already
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

Wintersong,
Your experience awakens echoes of my own experiences back in the 1980s and 1990s.

As a gay man who is monogamous (current research finally establishes that this is not the ultimate perversion nor yet a psychosis, rather a minority of men are simply built that way) I was also treated very badly by many gays.

My monogamy was simply a cover up for my ‘insecurity’. My desire for marriage was an artefact of my inability to work through my conflicted desires to be a heterosexual man (as seen by my monogamy) and so on and so forth.

It was very very hateful and nasty at times, goodness – I was even accused of trying to destroy the gay lifestyle through my imposition of my ‘Christian’ (and when I was in Europe, my ‘American’) values. Since I never imposed anything on anyone and my two closest friends were sluts and proud of it….well…anyway, for a large part of the queer world, nothing you do will ever be right.

It sucks. It is part of the divisiveness which our enemies needn’t use against us – we do so so very well, ourselves.

I’ve been active in our politics for decades. My observation has been that, in this decreasing order, one finds people fighting for our rights:
The transgender
Lesbians
Gays

I fail to grasp how your loving a man makes you anything but gay. Whether he is cis-gendered or transgendered, a man’s a man for all of that, to twist the phrase….

Mark F.
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

I really dislike people who insist on using the word “queer” to refer to gay people—despite the fact that many of us HATE the word.

Amicus
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

["Queer" is the ultimate whore. It's the antithesis that never met a thesis it didn't want to f8ck. As a syndrome, it creates synthesis-disabled people.

Just sayin'.]

Amicus
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

(I just said that to be cutsie. I’m not on any kind of a mission against “queer” I don’t think)

andrew
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

ROFL… okay.. I surrender!!

I’ve learned that every word here has a unique, valid, deep-seated meaning to most of us, and there is almost no concordance.

How awesome is that? We are non-monolithic, capable of expressing ourselves, and, by and large, NICE to each other despite all that.

So go out and call yourself whatever you feel like. And be forgiving to your fellow homosexual same-sex queer gay fag ‘mo faggot fruitloop poofters – they can call themselves what they like.

Be careful out there. Pack a sense of humor. And remember to use your ears first – most people don’t have the first clue about the minefield they’re stpping into with this. Context is everything, and ignorance can be fixed. Neither is the same as condescension or hatred. We’ll want to separate one from the other to find our allies and shame our foes !!

chiMaxx
March 22nd, 2011 | LINK

I really dislike people who insist on using the word “gay” to refer to queer people—despite the fact that many of us HATE the word.

Ben in Oakland
March 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Andrew– thank you for some sense.

I’m 60 years old. i came out in 1971. I have variously referred to myself, depending on the audience, as gay, homosexual, queer, fag,’mo, and i’m sure, quite a few others. Apart from that, I’m a pretty normal guy– whatever that means– who happends to be a man-loving man.

for those hwo have met rejectionamong the dientify police– love that– my only advice is to find a different set of people to hang with. And if the identify police are not the people you hang with, then hwy do you care what they have to say?

Loki
March 22nd, 2011 | LINK

And I say: homosexual is “clinical” if you choose to believe that it’s “clinical.”

I like that “homosexual” is clinical. We need clinical words. Every other word comes with specific baggage about who you are and how you should behave. A cold, sterile, clinical word is really the only word choice that offers a person to create their own identity, rather than forcing aspects of identity upon them.

Speaking as an autistic man, with more than one degree in the English language, I have in fact studied Queer Theory, quite in depth. And after studying that theory, it became fairly obvious that the name “queer” in no way reflected anything resembling my experience of life. “Queer” is probably the worst offender in the language, because it is not just taken up by those who already have the queer identity, but they also attempt to force it upon those who do not have such an identity.

Give me clinical any day and let me live my life as I chose.

Shofixti
March 22nd, 2011 | LINK

@Loki, it’s not that “homosexual” is simply and self-evidently a clinical word. I know the power of parsimony in finding words to explain experiences and I have a deep empathy and personal history of using words for these purposes.

Prior to Gay Liberation it was a specific formulation used by a group of people oppressed by a pathologising and a criminalising discourse of sexuality.

It became important to naturalise notions of innate sexual orientation as a political tool of educational and penal reform. This psuedo-scientific process was long and complicated.

Homosexuality wasn’t magically discovered in a pure form, it was constructed out of the necessity of survival. “Homosexual” is a densely political word with possibly unbreakable ties to pathology. It cannot be used as a word that describes difference without also meaning a deviation from priviledge – carrying the burden of a massive power imbalance reaching back to its origin.
Also, it should be instantly clear how problematic it is for those with bisexual experience.

enough already
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

This discussion shows the difficulty we all have in finding language upon which to agree.

How much easier it is for our enemies to take any word, add a twist of hatred to it and use it to attack us.

At this point, it is clear that no matter what term we use, somebody is going to be absolutely livid, furious and ready to split our fragile inter-non-cis-gendered-non-heterosexual-plus-allies-and-questioning-and-queer coalitions over that paticular word.

Is this really productive?

Does it help, for instance, to refuse the dictionary definition of ‘christianist’ because the neologism is from Andrew Sullivan whose politics otherwise are like fingernails on a blackboard to many of us? What about small-’c’ Christian? Any way around the fifteen paragraphs of exceptions and addenda? How many of our enemies do not, however, self-identify as Christians?

No matter what word is chosen, somebody is going to howl and scream and pitch a hissy. Loudly.

The same with queer and homosexual.

I like ‘queer’. I am not overfond of homosexual, though I find the demand of many that I must see the word as permanently tainted more than a bit ethnocentric.

I don’t have any friends, acquaintances or students who self-identify as ‘heterosexual’ when their sexual interest/identity/self-actualization is cross-sex. They ALL call them selves ‘straight’. Except for a few heterosexual men who, when no PC police are around, like to say they’re ‘lesbian’. You can just imagine the rage and angry cries of ‘stone them’ that would produce from the professional LGBTQAA&xyz crowd….

I wonder if we could not just perhaps take a moment to breath and realise that the passion with which we practice our political correctness does nothing to achieve civil and human rights for us?

It’s a little bit like those in our queer world who discount anyone who is a male homosexual of rosy tint. He can’t possibly understand the reality of oppression because of his immutable characteristics.

Sheesh.

I vote for giving it a rest and taking the advice of many above – it’s the tone which makes the word positive or negative more than the word itself. There is no single word which is not going to have a hurtful association for somebody in our communities. It’s time to stop trying to impose double-speak and political correctness on each other and to focus on taking the offensive against our enemies.

enough already
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
You raise the point – “Also, it should be instantly clear how problematic it is for those with bisexual experience.”

Why should a word which is not concerned with bisexuals need to serve to describe them and their experiences?

Sometimes I wonder if we can even harmonize our goals sufficiently to achieve anything, at all.

I demand my full civil and human rights. I demand those same rights for the transgender, for lesbians and gays.

What rights need be demanded for bisexuals on the legal level which are not automatically covered by the right to have either a same sex or cross sex marriage? What rights need be demanded on the legal level apart from recognizing that some of us are cis-gendered male or female, others are trans gendered male or female and yet others recognize themselves as none of the above?

It’s not a rhetorical question and I’d really appreciate it if we could set aside the usual biphobic yada yada yada. What, additionally, is required on the legal level that recognizing homosexual and transgender rights does not also cover?

Donny D.
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

enough already asked:

What, additionally, is required on the legal level that recognizing homosexual and transgender rights does not also cover?

The right to protection against specific discrimination against bisexual people.

So for instance a bisexual employee would have legal protection against discrimination by gay employers as well as straight ones.

There are anti-bisexual gay people as well as anti-bisexual straight people, and we (bisexual people) should be able to have recourse in the face of their discriminatory acts.

Put another way, we shouldn’t have to claim a straight person’s bigotry is against our homosexuality if that straight person doesn’t discriminate against exclusively homosexual people but specifically discriminates against us. Likewise, we shouldn’t be disarmed in the face of a gay person’s discriminatory acts because we couldn’t claim s/he was discriminating against us because of our homosexuality.

Donny D.
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Priya Lynn wrote:

David Malcom said “Believe it or not, I could still be a gay man even if all the trans people got in a rocket ship and flew off to Mars.”.

In the context you used it I’m not sure what you meant by that sentence but its hard to imagine a meaning that isn’t pretty offensive.

I strongly concur.

enough already
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Donny D.
Well, ENDA would cover that.
I hadn’t considered that posibility.
A valid point.
I don’t discriminate against bisexual students, although my personal experiences of bisexual men, as well as those of all my close gay friends, have been absolutely negative and abusive.

As for the comment about still being gay regardless of whether others are around. I don’t find it offensive. I am puzzled as to how anyone could, unless, frankly, they are trying hard to be offended by just about anything.

cbjames
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Thank you for this post. It’s the kind of thoughtful stuff I’ve come to value on Box Turtle Bulletin.

I work in a suburban middle school in the San Francisco Bay Area and can only say that anyone who’ll defend the use of the terms listed above just doesn’t have much of a clue what it’s like out here. There may be a defense of them, you may be right, but why would you spend your time defending language that causes so much pain to so many even a place as accepting as the Bay Area?

If you don’t have bigger fish to fry than that, you need to get a bigger boat.

BTW: In our house, whoever uses the word Nazi first always loses the argument.

enough already
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

cbjames,
I must be dense – but which words or phrases do you object to? It strikes me that virtually every single current US American term for us queers is listed at one point or another – from my “queer community” to that horrible alphabet soup of LGBT2QA&xyz which makes me want to go out and do something really politically incorrect.

If none of the terms pleases you, what do you suggest? Until such time as we are recognized as fully human and our full civil rights restored in the US, there is genuine need for the homosexuals and the transgender to fight.

Anna
March 23rd, 2011 | LINK

I agree with Timothy Kincaid about “queer” not really working as an umbrella term, and feel the same about the use of “genderqueer” as an umbrella term for those of us with nonbinary gender identities, because though we are unaccepted now, we oughtn’t be, and I refuse to behave like that nonacceptance is tolerable.

Shofixti
March 24th, 2011 | LINK

@enough already: Great points, thanks!

“Why should a word which is not concerned with bisexuals need to serve to describe them and their experiences?”

First of all I will say that experiences, identities and rights can be thought of seperate from each other. You do not need an identity as homo- or bi- sexual to have same and opposite sex experiences.

Now in terms of rights, do you think that acquiring marriage equality, repealling DADT, and installing anti-discrimination laws requires there to be ‘actual’ ‘real’ homosexuals defined as a distinctly seperate category from bisexauls? (Especially when, as you say, bisexuals stand to gain too from all these laws?)

The problem with ‘homosexual’ is that it makes us think that there must therefore be a right way to be homosexual and pursuant to that it may also be a good thing to marginalise those who fail to enact this correctly (bisexuals). This is an illusion. One thing Queer offers us is a way to think of identity as ‘not a label’ and ‘not a norm’.

Queer sees the sameness of gay and bisexual according to the fact that they both share an incredibly problematic relationship with representing difference in sexuality without power inequalities. One such inequality is ‘who gets to speak’ and ‘who has to listen’.

In fact, if it becomes impossible to represent difference without the dual forces of naturalisation and marginalisation, then Queer rejects this project. Queer does not do this by blocking ‘its’ ears and not participating – but by constantly agitating at deployments of identity, politicising the act of identity itself.
Conventional sexual identities are inequality. As you say above – LGBT handles this inequality poorly, by tacking on another letter, (I)ntersex, every time someone has a grievance (e.g. in New Zealand we have (T)akatapui and (F)a’afafine letters added to ours).

If power inequalities were not present there would be nothing inside ‘homosexual’ that we had to protect from ‘bisexuals’. Identities like these create the possibilty for bad words, for offence, for outrage – all such useless distractions searching for a word that fits, that we can agree on.

By making this inequality-in-representation the aspect that aligns us all, the real fight is made visible, our every use of sexual identity labels becomes a political exercise. Any actions to marginalise other identities marks us squarely as using the power of the heterodoxy – it make us more like them, oppressors!

enough already
March 25th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
You raise so many interesting questions and points!

I like ‘queer’ and I like ‘queer communities’.

One of the greatest problems we face among ourselves is that there are no words which are acceptable to everybody.

I could happily live with ‘homosexual, cis- and trans and queer-gendered’ as the four terms to sum up the entire non-heterosexual, non-born male in a male, non-born female in a female body spectrum of people.

Many of us can, however, not.

There is a similar problem with the right choice of words for our enemies. Christianist is the best, but, well – we’ve been through all of this countless times.

There are two separate aspects to our fight for freedom which, I think, often lead to such internal divisiveness that we are unable to counter our enemies.

There is the purely legal and the theoretical arena of abandoning old structures of male-female, gay,straight.
They need not stand in conflict with each other, yet they do.

Right now, today, I am in Germany. I am legally married, I am fully human. Next week, we will be in the US. Legal strangers, sub-human, stripped of our civil rights.

That is a matter of fact. This is the practical aspect of our fight for freedom, the first half of the two separate flags under which we fight.

Now, for me, living between two countries, the matter of most importance is not a profound discussion of freeing us from the old ballast of identities and roles. It is achieving legal human status, it is having my civil rights restored. As long as my husband can be taken from me in an emergency by a hateful Christian, my focus is not going to stray too far into the question of embracing non-homosexual identities for men who willingly, repeatedly have sex with other men.

Throughout the history of all revolutions, there has been this tension, this dynamic. We need both groups – those of us who focus intently on achieving our freedom and those who think two or three steps apart, of an entirely different perspective on the human experience.

I think this is where much of the enormous rage, fury, anger and intolerance comes into our queer community discussions – here and throughout our mutual activities.

Your perspectives interest me. It is a mindset which foreign to me – not because I reject your thoughts, but because my sex life from my earliest dreams is immutably homosexual. I can, be concatenation extrapolate the existence of heterosexuality.

If one wants to have multiple sex partners, then one isn’t building a monogamous two-person marriage. That’s my goal. If one voluntarily has sex with other men, one is having gay sex. If one voluntarily has sex with women, one is having straight sex.
If you fall in love and have an exclusive relationship with someone of the same sex, you may continue to identify as bisexual, but your relationship is gay. Ditto if it’s with someone of the opposite sex.

I feel differently about gender. I can’t imagine anything more abhorrent than to be forced to conform to a physical ideal which is not in harmony with reality. There is no black and white to human gender. I reject the Kinsey scale, utterly. In terms of gender, however, I see no black and white. My personal physical identity falls well within the range of ‘male’. My color accuity, hearing and sense of smell put me well into the ‘female’ range…I see shades of aquamarine, for instance and can put together a meal in my head because I can “smell” the recipes ingredients as they come together.

This all is not to be too personal nor is it to invite the inevitable attacks which will now follow. It is to explain my version of reality. With you, I can work. With someone who won’t accept me until I submit to their double-plus demand I bend my will to their definition of ‘freedom’, I can not work.

Regardless – once we have achieved our freedom, I would like to learn more about your concepts of identities as removed from real actions.

Shofixti
March 26th, 2011 | LINK

@enough already

That’s quite a bit to respond to, perhaps it is more the start of a verbal conversation than a forum post. I’ll give it a shot.

Facing the problem of finding an applicable word, you can either keep on this crusade but it will be like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters trying to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper. The alternative is to abandon categorisation as a goal. Typically if we look to science to give us definitions then we carry the burden of an overbearing empiricism.

I also feel the same way about ‘enemies’. Using a word like christianist may serve to abbreviate the longer ‘fundamentalist evangelical christian’ but it also creates an imaginary sense of uniformity across a diverse range of people whose theologies may not have interacted directly in decades.

I think it also misdirects our attention when we call to mind a christianist – what does it make you think of? It makes me think of a person whose devotion to a falsely militaristic and capitalist Jesus makes a virtue out of any discrimination necessary to uphold a penis-in-vagina social morality.

But isn’t the true mark of a christianist their relationship to language and its inability to represent differences without also creating power imbalances? Christian fundamentalism is just one symptom of this inequality. Everytime we say gay and homosexual, we are teaching them that yes, there really is a boogey-man out there and you should be afraid. The best word for ‘them’ is one that directly calls out the weakness of their empiricist moralist regime.

In terms of your dual aspects theory – yes, those who engage on the legal front do so within the boundaries of a tradition where the most familiar term of difference is racial. This causes a centring of identity that models racial formations and this is done for political efficacy, not necessarily for the value of ‘gay liberation’ to the internal psyche of a man or woman.

Unfortunately this cultural formation is familiar to everyone (we all know what ‘white man’ means for example) – and it produces the low lying fruit of a self-evidently gay identity, while the Queer knowledges of the academy are a little further up and often limit access to those without a bourgeois education (and this would be my biggest criticism of it).

What I say is actually not in conflict with your original experiences of sexual fantasy, as the pattern of my fantasy is the same. Did you ever try to insert the female form into your thoughts and wonder why it didn’t fit, why this pervasive pattern of male+female you could witness out in the world was not mirrored inside of you? Such thoughts show our emergence as a sexual agent – one who is inscribed upon by external forces and is tasked with interpreting a world of power and performance.

Simply because this ‘outside language’ overwhelming privileges the cis- and hetero – we should reject naming ourselves in a way that is complicit with their system of categorisation, of binaries, of colonisation, innate difference and slavery.

I agree with you about gender, mostly. As a male I find that my mind is very bi-lateral (left and right brained) and diffuse in processing (textures, memories, emotions, expectations) that do not fit within a masculine sense->act paradigm. I can’t merely summon my own ego without facing its actions with a deep empathy that is troubling.

Cheers.

Timothy Kincaid
March 26th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

The presumptions you place on people based on your perceptions of their privilege v. marginalization status reflect more of your own personal assignment of group-based morality than they do reality.

You do realize this, don’t you?

Shofixti
March 26th, 2011 | LINK

@Timothy Kincaid

I applaud you for coming this far down in the comments.

What presumption am I placing on anyone?

I think I might understand – you want to be able to use the words ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ however you want, to mean what you want, and achieve what you want wherever you want it?

Let me just rephrase how I have read what you have written, say you are a “feminist woman” and I am a “post-feminist woman”:
“Shofixti, the presumptions you place on men and women based on your perceptions of their gendered privilege v. marginalisation status reflect more you own personal assessments than reality.”
Surely in this scenario it might become clear that people’s use of gender identity words may not be completely seperated or free from gender power imbalances in the real world?

It may be that my framing comes off as too confrontational. If you do read these responses you will see a couple of different posters giving a testimony of how they have faced marginalisation withtin the gay community. Isn’t that “reality”? That was all I needed to respond to.

I would very much like to hear what the reality is that I am not seeing. Thanks mate.

enough already
March 26th, 2011 | LINK

It’s quite late here and I have learned not to post in foreign languages when I am sleepy.

So, very briefly, thank you Shofixti for your thoughtful response. I’ll try to respond soon, when I can better focus my thoughts.

I do grasp, at least on a functional level, your approach.

There is much value in learning from this, I don’t dismiss it – I was shocked as a child to learn that most people don’t dream in color, can’t put together smells and textures in their heads and see nothing where I see shades of blue. I don’t dismiss the deconstruction of language.

That said – in Europe, my husband and I have civil and human rights.
In the US, we do not.

When he became ill and had to be taken to the hospital emergency room a while back, we were fortunate that the admitting doctor was a lesbian. I was able to stay with him and was kept fully in the loop.

When, a bit further back, something similar happened to me, we had the great misfortune that a Christian relation got to the hospital first. All our expensively drawn up and notarized documents and powers of attorney were ignored at a crucial moment – I had been flown to the nearest hospital, a catholic teaching hospital.

My Christian family in the US have already informed us that they will fight us tooth and nail over our parents’ estate – my parents recognize our marriage.

If either of us were to die tomorrow, the Americans would not recognize our relationship and the survivor would have to pay such a heavy tax burden, everything we have built up over the years would be gone.

And so on, and so on.

There is a vast difference between the safety of civilized countries such as where we are today (but not next week) and places where we are legally sub-human and stripped of our rights.

We are under attack. They are our enemies. Let us have our rights first restored, let us be regarded as fully human and then I shall enjoy the luxury of deconstruction and abstraction. Until then, I shall never, ever forget nor yet forgive the sight of my husband being drug from my side by security officers.

This is reality. It is not subject to armchair philosophical speculation. Until our enemies have been defeated, we shall not be free.

So – I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh. I’m tired and thinking in German while writing in English.

I do grasp your concepts…ask, though – why should I let my enemies continue to strip me of my rights, subject me to sub-human status? GAY,Inc. has tried the playing nice and being sweet and reasonable and submissive and apologizing for asking to sit on the far stoop of the veranda. It has brought us nothing.

Shofixti
March 26th, 2011 | LINK

In addition, I have just read this article and most of the comments posted thereafter:

http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/gender_bending_let_me_count_the_ways/

In as much as marriage equality is a gender based issue and not predicated by a sexual orientation – it is important to see how the “majority” deal with notions that challenge the male/female hegemony.

Can you not see ‘dripping’ from their words a deliberate ignorance that denies the problematic representation of a gender binary? All they allow themselves to see is a simple, functioning, moral, gender binary world – to learn about any other state of being is to risk too much.

Exceptions to the rule (the intersexed, the bisexual, the transgendered) teach us about the ridiculousness of the rule (or identity category) itself.

enough already
March 27th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I see ignorance and arrogance and fear when it comes to the enormous resistance to accepting that humans don’t fit into a purely “100% male or 100% female” system.

It is nonsense, pure nonsense to demand otherwise. Yes, we all begin our fetal development with the female body. But after the first six weeks or so, we are going to be individuals with a mixture of anatomical expressions.

Often, the anatomy lines up with the reality of who we are and we grow up in the body which reflects reality.

Sometimes, the anatomy is not in alignment with reality. This is where the child needs to have enormously good luck to be raised by parents whose knowledge of biology is from a period later than the early middle-ages.

Not to mention the luck of avoiding a scalpel wielding christianist doctor who ‘removes’ the ‘problem’…or sews it shut.

Back when Negroes were still 3/5 human in the US, the new laws acknowledging their essential humanity and removing all the hateful sub-humanizing legislation were the only defence they had. The mindset of their oppressors didn’t change overnight in 1863, nor yet in 1865 nor in 1892, nor, as anyone who spends time in the US can easily see, have many to this day accepted them as us. The laws, however, protect them and in a society where people actually will let a child go hungry, that protection is needed.

I’m not crazy about adding yet another three letters to the absurd alphabet soup of LGBT2QA&xzy. The GLBT and LGBT (not to mention the ‘B’ in the short order sandwich) already caused more divisiveness than it any theoretical inclusiveness.

Sadly, in legislation, every single variation in the range of our realities must be anchored or those Christians who hate us will attack. For everyday use, I think ‘queer’ is pretty much OK, but if someone can come up with something better, no problem. Just, please the gods, NOT LGBTQQIA and counting.

Timothy Kincaid
March 28th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

It isn’t that I want to use words “however I want”. It is, rather, that I want to communicate and try to use words that express my ideas and views on a subject.

So I tend towards words that are commonly understood. And I find that applying levels of assumptions based on race, gender, cis v. trans status, etc. leaves language so burdened that any communication ends up labored and dense and as unreadable as – well – queer theory. :)

Nor do I find value in assigning worth based on someone’s privilege or marginalization. In my opinion, it tends to leave one finding insult and injury where none exists.

Which is why I think “queer” is not a term that fits well with the majority of gay people. Most of us – other than the fact that we are same-sex attracted – can be assigned into one or another camp of privileged oppressive evil person, along with everyone else who is just living their lives.

Shofixti
March 28th, 2011 | LINK

@Timothy Kincaid – thanks.

I wonder if you can simply accept me as saying that wherever we use words for sexualities that are commonly understood that there will always be people who are commonly misunderstood.

Has anyone ever cringed inside after saying “Yes, I’m gay.” Because you see instantly ideas confirmed in the asker’s mind that don’t relate to you, don’t define you and don’t explain how problematic and unsatisfactory that question and answer are?

Queer might say that we are even creating a category of misunderstood people by the very use of those words.

As we try to trade information and common knowledge we are offering something to social conservatives – the idea that they too can refer to other sexualities in a simple, clear, universal way. Think of what happens when we put commonly understood words into the vernacular of Fox News, or NOM or the Westboro kin – is language so harmless now?

I don’t think that I am presenting ‘levels of assumptions’ based on a variety of identities, but I am trying to draw attention to the argument that the best words for us are ones that don’t create an imaginary uniformity, but instead highlight the problems of representing difference in a language whose major stakeholders are religion, government and media.

I also don’t think that I am assigning ‘worth’ based on your position of power or marginalisation – but if you think you can have power without marginalisation then I would become quite suspicious. These qualities do not make one evil, but the may make one complicit.

And in this I think I have to agree with you that Queer does not fit the “majority” because who the majority is is not only defined by white gay cis-male middle or upper class people but it is also policed and ardently defended by them. Would you have called this article ‘language wars’ if there wasn’t a territory of privilege to defend?

I will say again, it doesn’t make you evil – it just makes the third world, the uneducated, the poor, the colonised have to speak our language because we veto other voices.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population

enough already
March 28th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
Your ability to think on an entirely different plane than I do is wonderful.
First, we need people who think outside of my us against them box.
Second, you make me think.

Now, if I understand you correctly, you don’t want us to use any words because no words will serve. Is that right?

Timothy,
This is one of the most productive conversations I have read here in some time. Would it be possible to provide a link to it so it doesn’t fall off the home page?

As to the “queer and not queer” debate, I see your point. I also note that my students – all 20 or more years younger than me – who fall into the non-cis-gendered, non-heterosexual sphere do use that term, increasingly.

I think I’ll stick with queer until somebody can provide a better term. Or until Shofixti can break through my dense skull and show me how I can better defeat our enemies, those Christians who hate us and who have stripped us of our human and civil rights.

Timothy Kincaid
March 28th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

Yes, I agree that words have limitations. Each of us read into what we hear based on our own experiences. And, as we see in the thread above, for each term that seems to work there will be exceptions that make such a term less than universal.

But I fear that this is the limit of our agreement.

1. I do not believe that those who oppose civil equality, like NOM, benefit from language which identifies the targets of their efforts. Rather, they would prefer a language that makes nameless, faceless and invisible those most impacted by what they do.

2. Westboro Baptist agrees with you. They too include all people who reject sexual dichotomy and gender hegemony under one unified term, along with those who share their politics and worldview. They happen to use “fags” rather than “queer” but the meaning is virtually identical.

3. I do not break the world along lines of privilege and marginalization. Not only does that have no reflection on my life whatsoever (my friends, where I live, where I play, whom I work with) but in general I have found that it is extremely rare that “the third world, the uneducated, the poor, the colonised” see themselves as sharing identity with gay folk.

4. I do not believe that the best words are those which seek not to communicate meaning but rather to highlight political positions.

5. As an accountant, I think that “majority” means majority.

6. I do not consider white gay cis-male middle or upper class people to be suspect or assume that they are more likely to be complicit to evil.

6. There is nothing noble about being marginalized or anything ignoble about being privileged. The only values that can be ascribed are based in how one responds.

7. The use of the term “language wars” does not imply “a territory of privilege to defend.” It simply recognizes that people are warring over the “right” word to use and what should be banned.

Shofixti
March 30th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks TK, that helps me a lot.
In fact, far more than I like to Queer talk – I value intellectual empathy. More important than being understood I want to gain an academic or rational sense of a person’s subjectivity and an emotional appreciation of their attachment to meaning within the various discourses they live in.

I think now that what I have said to you might be as impractical as saying your columns are marginalising the rows on your spreadsheet.
I have read your article again and I find it to be a story about a man who has a deeply personal, social and political connection to words. But on top of that you have a system of maintenance and correctness, of self-awareness over how you allow language to be used – and perhaps an identity that is named rewarded by fulfilling the various criteria of a “word nazi”.

I don’t desire to change you, but perhaps we could touch on the outsider vs conformist theme that is present in your depiction of Queer. Theorists from the early nineties argue that it is gay liberation and the production of stable gay and lesbian identities that frame knowledge in a way easily mobilised for exclusionary and sepratist enterprises ie. NOM has a coherent group, the ‘gay agenda’ to rail against and lesbian sepratists have a distinct feeling of cohesion that fosters such an outcome.

Queer on the other hand confuses those categories, it replaces the politics of
identity for one that focuses on mechanisms that naturalise difference. In the eighties post-feminism began to disrupt ‘women’ as a coherent category and post-colonial discourses also began to fragment what we think of as ‘race’. In this – Queer is not a solitary idea, and is a little behind the times, but one that is informed by several academic movements.

Queer’s task is not to be an all-new-and-improved umbrella term for all the things the religious right does not like (but I won’t go further into this right now).

@Enough Already: It’s not that I don’t want you to use those words, but I want to break off from gay and homosexual the idea that they describe something that is cohesive, universal and something that ‘has always existed throughout history’.

@Timothy Kincaid
Rather than argue the points one to seven above, I would like to ask a few things for my own personal clarity:

1) Once a word has been adapted to harm, hurt, control or marginalise people (eg. faggot) is there ever a path that it can take to break the negative connotation or is it forever doomed to bear the yoke of hatred?

2) What is the most important feature of gay identity? Is it, for those who apply the word to themselves, a word that describes:

a) a pattern of sexual response within the body, such as pupil dilation or penile tumescence, based on exposure to a gendered stimulus.

b) a pattern of sexual fantasy preference for sex acts with a gendered partner.

c) a distinct class of people across the globe who share a naturally occuring identity.

d) the political goals that need to be achieved to create equality, based on the country you live in.

e) the products, services and media you should consume in order to remain an exmplary member of this group.

f) something else. . ?

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Timothy Kincaid
March 30th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

I appreciate your presentation of the views of queer theorists and your polite responses to what I’m sure must be frustrating positions. I find the views of queer theorists to be interesting, but we have very different suppositions, presumptions, and observations on reality. They lead me to conclusions far from those reached by queer theorists.

To answer your questions:

1. Yes, some words can be redeemed. I think the path is by separating the external non-essential pejorative connotations, rather than adopt them. If we treat “faggot” as though it had no connotations or meaning other than “person who experiences same-sex attraction” eventually that is what it would mean.

We don’t. So it won’t.

2. I think that the most important part of gay identity, at this point in time, is how it impacts the inherent distinctions that direct our lives.

a) yes, “gay” will for many of us dictate to whom we give our heart and with whom we can find sexual completion. Sure it’s a bit arbitrary, but it matters in non-negotiable ways.

Some attributes have more impact. Eye color seldom matters in a non-negotiable way, but being left-handed matters when it comes to buying scissors.

“Queer” simply can’t fulfill that identity role, be it expressed as an umbrella term or be it conceptualized as post-identity.

b) I think that sufficient research has established that sexual attraction is on such a base level that it can’t be categorized as fantasy or act-based. Orientation is not fetishist.

(these are notions on which queer theory and reorientation seem to have shared perspective)

c) Interestingly, on a global sense, gay is not always an identity. Transgender is even less globally agreed upon. Some find this to be preferable in that it limits exclusion. I find that it limits abilities, options, and answers to uncertainties.

But I do believe that community is important. While we can often (and increasingly so) find community in those who share political, geographic, or interest-based commonalities, because same-sex attraction as a primary instinct is share by such a small percentage of the population, it is necessary that some conglomeration of those who share this experience be available.

d) how we are externally impacted by our sexuality is also important to my appreciation for identity. For so long as laws and social consequences place importance those who are experience and/or act on same-sex attraction then an identity that addresses same-sex attraction matters. However, as the social/religious/legal issues are often less about “gay” and more about “not following our rules”, queer (the umbrella sense) could work in this context. But at present, it simply isn’t adequately distinct to either discuss law etc. or to feel the connection of “hey they’re talking about me.” (In this instance it really is an identity based on oppression, but necessarily so.)

e) As for being an exemplary member of the gay clan… well, I’ve probably been publicly informed that I’m not “really gay” far more than our friend above. I’ve not been particularly compliant when it comes to political views or ideas and some of our community’s self-appointed leaders have not always smiled on my diverging from the accepted views. (but now that the gay community is significantly more assimilated and has adopted a number of social conventions that were anathema a few decades back, I don’t stand out as much).

Yet, as with any identity, “gay” has a distinct culture that is not inherent to one’s attraction but which can be enjoyed. If your friends watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, you may enjoy doing so yourself if for no other reason that anticipation of what they will have to say. This is less “gay” than it is a human instinct – we dance the dance of our clan.

f) I’m sure there are others.

Perhaps one that has been discussed but not exactly in this way, is (for me) the comfort that comes with “belonging”. I think we all need to have the emotional sense that we understand ourselves and that there are others who get us too – they are from our clan, our cave.

And I think that is one area where post-identity theory fails. Should we all some day be post-gay, we will still look for our “kind” and find some subset of the world that we can go to for shelter. “Bowlers” aren’t just people who bowl.

We could draw the line in some different place and “my people” could have an entirely different composition. But it will be defined somewhere.

I find my people in gay, you find yours in queer. And yes, I do mean in both word and in theory.

enough already
March 31st, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti wrote:
@Enough Already: It’s not that I don’t want you to use those words, but I want to break off from gay and homosexual the idea that they describe something that is cohesive, universal and something that ‘has always existed throughout history’.

Well, I suppose it all depends on context. And purpose. I may be incapable of understanding your mindset. I hope to grasp your meaning.

Personally, I don’t see the terms “gay” or “homosexual” in other than the legal and biological sense. The fact that there are gay men of good education and above average intelligence who actually vote Republican in the US is, a priori, all the evidence we need to see that there are many aspect to the queer community apart from and ancillary to our biology and legal status as sub-human.

What, though, is your goal? What mindset do you wish me to take on? I see the biology of homosexual existence throughout the mammalian world. I note that properly conducted studies show an evolutionary advantage to our existence. That is fact, why cease recognizing fact as fact?

Sorry to be so dense, but you’ve hit an accountant with Timothy and a prof. in a natural sciences department with me….

Now, “gay”, yes, that is a neologism which was expressly meant to distance us from pejorative terms. If it doesn’t suit the current linguistic mindset, fine – but, again…OK, you don’t want me to give up words, you do want me to divorce them from their historical context…back to the question: To what end?

One side note – there would be pushback against us in the US regardless of what words we chose. The hatred of those Christians who attack us is based on their terror that their masculine superiority will be destroyed if one man can penetrate another man’s body in love, not war.

Timothy Kincaid
March 31st, 2011 | LINK

EA,

I’ll make a feeble attempt to speak for Queer here. I may get it wrong, but if so then Shofixti’s clarification will educate both of us.

The concept behind post-gay (or post-anything) is that identities come packed with assumptions and connotations and definitions that don’t well fit a good many of those who so define themselves. These definitions apply self-limitations that otherwise might not be present.

For example, if you did not know what “gay” was or that you were “gay” then you might be open to other options. You might live differently. You might live other than socially constructed terms demand of you.

It isn’t the word “gay” that is the issue, any other word would equally push you into dating men. Post-gay wants you to step away from the definition altogether.

I agree that some notions are socially constructed concepts that stand for arbitrary and – at heart – meaningless distinctions. What is an “American” other than accident of birth and life of indoctrination into a set of beliefs and cultures.

What makes Republicans take one position on, say, wind generated energy while Democrats take another? It isn’t that all members of both parties studied the issue and applied their underlying principles. Rather, a form of group-think took over.

However, I think that sexual attraction and our response to it are too primal to be dismissed as socially constructed artificial identities. Lady Gaga, yes. Identifying as “liberal”, yes. But “finding males (or females) attractive” is rooted very very deep, is at least partly biological in origin, and seems to be resistant to all of the efforts that Exodus can throw at it.

Cultural baggage can be adopted or abandoned. But not the core identity of knowing your place in the sexual landscape. (Even though I fought it, I recall the sense of peace in thinking, “OH!!, that explains what I feel and why others seem to feel differently”)

However, (and here Shofixti may wish to correct me) Queer goes further than post-gay.

Queer, rather than being a sexual identity is a worldview. It is an approach that sees relationships and interrelationships in terms of power and subjugation.

In queer’s view, Religion, Government, and Media are power conglomerates that work hand in hand to keep power in the hands of few. Language is a tool they use towards that goal.

If RGM can convince us to think of ourselves in a box, they can control us through the expectations, assumptions, and values assigned to that box. The boxes victimize not only the sexual outlaw but the office worker and the housewife, each of which is driven to do as they are told in order to hold up the power structure.

Queer is the counter-RGM seeking to overturn the boxes.

Without discussing the merits of that political ideology, I find that it does not naturally flow from one’s same-sex attraction. The issues are separate.

Ironically, the perspective is contradictory. If one’s recognition of one’s sexual attraction dictates that they be defined at outside the power structure and thus must be dedicated to breaking down privilege on behalf of the marginalized, then they are living in a box with a whole pile of presumptions, aren’t they?

enough already
April 1st, 2011 | LINK

Timothy, thank you. I hope Shofixti responds!

I’m not an American, though family circumstances have led to my splitting my time between the US and Europe for years, now.

Having Republican, fundamentalist Christians in the American family has immunized me as effectively against US “exceptionalism” as the Eurovision Song Contest helps prevent me from slipping into the arrogant “Europe has culture, American has fast food” mentality.

To that extent, at least, I grasp the defining oneself into a box (rather like painting oneself into a corner, but with even less cognizance of the fact) aspect of the argument.

Being not the brightest bear, that is also the point where I get stuck. I am gay. I am immutably gay. There is no means by which I can be made open to or desirous of becoming romantically, sexually attracted to women.

Nor is it possible to alter the many established characteristics of a gay man’s anatomy (our brains are far more similar to those of heterosexual women, for instance) by simply refusing me a word for who I am.

To suggest that my love for my husband, my sexual desire for him is mutable if one forces me to abandon words is absurd.

Now, if we are talking about non-immutable aspects of a person, sure, I see the point. If I say to myself: I can’t wear pink, only women wear pink, then I am placing women, me and the color into a box. By not defining the range of colors open to me through male-female, I am open to other possibilities.

As for queer identity, the day we got equal rights in my country, I left the whole Befreiungs movement. I don’t get along with separatist lesbians, can’t stand Marxist economics, and was thoroughly sick and tired of being told I was too conventional because my husband was my monogamous, lover and mate for nearly 20 years before we could legally marry.

I return to fighting for human status and full civil rights because we, increasingly live in the US.

For whatever reason, “queer” – like “black communities” – has become a word which even the most unpleasant to work with members of our freedom movement don’t get all upset about. Give me a word which both lesbian separatists and gay but Christians and non-gender-defining people can agree on and I’ll switch to that word, immediately and happily.

To the extent “post gay” references pink clothes, I’m all for it. The extent “post gay” demands I ignore biological reality, it wanders into the very dangerously false avenues of the NLP branch of psychology, the ex-gay therapy of those Christians who hate us and the failed Socialist Man concepts of the past century.

Shofixti
April 3rd, 2011 | LINK

Hi guys, after Timothy’s last direct reply to me I smiled and thought what a healthy place to leave things. I do have to laugh, nervously – at how dark and ominous my words sound when they are repeated back to me.

I am not an expert, I am only trying to make sense of the world. In saying that you may need to read Queer Theory or other books on this topic to get the bits I am missing.

Queer. Hmmm.
Rather than “queer identity” being (noun- noun) it is really (verb- noun). It might be easier for you to visualise if queer was the barbeque and identity was the steak – or queer as a carwash, and identity the car. Queer is a process, an idea, applied to an identity or institution or text – without the object on which to apply it, queer would have a vastly different shape.

Its goal isn’t to smash or destroy language in its entirety – although the activist arm of queer might make is seem that way. That would be foolish – queer theorists accept that we can never be completely unconstructed or free from language. If gay is something that always strives to have a centre, a norm and a visibility then queer acts upon this to de-centre, to contradict normativity and to disorient visibility.

Heterosexuality is just as if not moreso a target than homosexuality is for queering – but I have yet to find a message board where “straight” people discuss this concept.

Just like you, I experience a convincing, magnetic, undeniable and seemingly immutable attraction. I can remember back when my mind and body began to change and react to these primal shapes of man. I agree that it is biological in origin and manifests independently of language inside of us. No word has the intrinsic power to make you get an erection the first time a man holds your hand.

But I wonder if, now as adults, our patterns of sexual response have becomed refined by the environment. I remember going home with a guy who I thought was reasonably good looking – but when he was rude to the taxi driver I felt all attraction leech out of me like a bucket with a hole in it and ruled out sex. I assume that Timothy may feel this way should an attractive man bleat out innappropriate labels. And EA, even though you are married, would you feel a drop in arousal for a man who was casually dismissive of the basic premises of the natural sciences?

What does it say about sexuality that we can be visually stimulated by the sight a man but lose interest if we sense something that lowers his status relative to our contemporary cultural (i.e. learned) norms?

EM, I think that as you are bi-lingual, that the way you see gay and homosexual might already be sufficiently denaturalised if you view them as tools within a legal apparatus.

When you talk about a gay man’s neuroanatomy – it’s not that I completely disagree with you, it’s only that I believe this mantra “The difference within (a population) is greater than the difference between”.

That is the differences in brains across all ‘gays’ is likely far more varied than the average differences between gay and straight. It is a mode of thinking that prioritises norms over limits. For example, if the most masculine woman on Earth is much more masculine than the average man, then what merit is there in characterising women as not masculine?

I don’t really talk about post-gay, it seems a bit artificial and odd – like colourblind racsim is to the discussion of race. I’m not sure how present this idea is in academia. On the other hand structuralism and post-structuralism are both concepts much more closely interlinked.

Basically structuralism deals with the question of how can we see power and ideology coded into the world around us. What is the power of gay identity? How can we read between the lines of a political advertisement? Is there a sub-text to this film? How does one gender assert dominance within language?

Whereas post-structuralism is where it starts to get complicated. Instead of the word ‘GAY’ being our attempt to invoke the concept of ‘gay’ people or politics, post-structurlaists or queer theoriest see the word itself as what defines the reality of gay. Gay/lesbian, homo/hetero are therefore politicised as not being natural, they are representational.

To show you how this might be done I will borrow from Timothy’s post above:

[Gay, rather than actually being about a sexual identity is a worldview. It is an approach that sees the deployment of 'naturalised identity states' as a crucial part of exercising power and establishing legitimacy.

In gay’s view, Religion, Government, and Media are power conglomerates that work can be convinced, via LGBTQI lobbying, to open up and let them in. Mobilising sexual identity as a passport into being a "protected class" is one tool they use towards first gaining sympathy and then gaining equality.]

Hmmm, I think maybe the argument really boils down to that if:
Sexuality is clear, self-evident and immutable then there is only so much you can think or say about it – but if;
Sexuality is an externally defined and acquired idea that ushers the subject into a world of sexual and gendered representations – then far more can be thought, said an done on the topic and power is more easily de-centralised.

EM – does that last paragraph help to show what might be gained from using queer as a critique of identity? It’s not that identity is bad or wrong in and of itself but that is used day in and day out to justify other things – mostly the privilege of one group and the marginalisation of another (sorry to be repetitive, I need new words).

My brain literally hurts right now :D
Let me know if I can address one of these points again for you.

enough already
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I really appreciate that. You’re right, it’s best to let it go for the moment.

One little story from my life.

Not too many years after Socrates put down the bowl of hemlock, I, like all freshmen, was required to take my first hours in philosophy.

Our prof, with the usual disdain for freshmen, paired each of us with a graduate student of philosophy. He asked us to “prove” our existence to our partner.

I tried the usual – knowing both Latin and German and having a bit of Greek, and having read extensively, I thought I might make headway beginning with the accepted observations of the natural sciences. At least those a 17 year old knew.

Nothing.

I realised at that point that there were no words I could use which he would accept.

So I leaned over and bit him. Hard.

He yelped! Asked why the hell I did that for! Shook his arm (which doesn’t help and what a silly, atavistic thing to do!) and generally made quite a lot of noise.

I answered that he had a very vivid imagination – he was even projecting tooth marks onto his arm! Stood quite firmly on my principle that, if I didn’t exist to him, then he could not have been bitten by me and, really – not to be rude or anything like that, but did he often imagine such things?

Well, we compromised. I took several semesters of logic in the maths. section and the phil. department let me count them as the required philosophy credits. For some reason that prof. refused to work with me again.

Although monogamous, I am of course sexually aroused by the right scent, the right timbre of voice, a guy with a nice build. And, yes, a jerk turns me off really fast. Just, I don’t have sex with any guy who turns me on except my husband…and I leave the jerk be, though I certainly understand how a cat’s mind works.

On a personal level, I guess I’m just not built such that I can grasp your concepts. I see no way that a language using sentient being can avoid the use of language to express abstract concepts.

A theory which is based on taking the known and destroying it for the sake of making you unhappy and miserable strikes me as useful for sowing confusion and dissent and even more useful for agit-prop against our enemies, those Christians who hate us.

I was forced into several months of psychological counselling at middle-school to “make” me conform to heterosexual behavior one year when I did a year abroad in the US.

The best efforts of the psychologists – including “treatments” which today are frowned upon failed. They did their best to break me and I survived, still trés gay. But a bit wiser.
Your approach strikes me as springing from the same well. Best intentions, of course. All in the interests of improving the species, naturally. Rooting out the weak and silly sentimental, all for species vigour, really.

Just – you can tell me a rose ain’t a rose as much as you like. You can tell me I didn’t just prick my thumb on it’s thorns or I don’t have it’s peppery scent in my nose ’till the cows come home. You can say the relaxed happy feeling I have smelling it is illusion.

But it’s still a nice smelling rose, I’m still happy and I’ve still got a bloody finger.

Thanks for your efforts at explaining. I didn’t get the dadaists, either. I do, however, gladly take pages from their book when dealing with those Christians who hate us and I will read more of this technique to see how to attack them best with it.

enough already
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
A friend wrote me this afternoon that this was, perhaps to severe a judgement call on my part.

I don’t know – obviously, as you don’t really want to continue the dialogue it is important not to conclude at a place which gives the impression I’m trying to get in the last word.

What is important to me, is that one of the most hateful things the American shrinks kept trying on me was to tell me “You only tell yourself you aren’t interested in girls. Just tell yourself you are, and you soon will find you are.”

It left me with an enormous scepticism and absolute distrust of anyone who tries to change people through NLP or any other psychological method – and this queer identity is focussed on just that.

So – no need to respond if you don’t want to, just a bit of explanation – both for why I totally reject queer identity the more I learn of it and why, the more I learn of it, the more I wonder if similar agitprop can’t be used to attack those Christians who hate us.

Shofixti
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Hi EA – can you explain to me why arousal should determine a person’s identity?

I think I know how you will answer – that sexual response shows us how we are or are not catered to by legal statuses such as marriage, especially trans-nationally. Also, that scientific research hints at some anatomical differences which indicate a physical kind of norm. These are great answers because it already begins to show us how entwined identity is with discursive producers such as courts and governments and universities.

This next quote is to touch on the connotations that come from Timothy’s use of Queer, as not all power is repressive:

Foucault (1979)
“In defining the effects of power by repression, one accepts a pure juridical conception of that power; one identifies power with a law that says no; it has above all the force of an interdict.

Now, I believe that this is a wholly negative, narrow and skeletal conception of power which has been curiously shared. If power was never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but say no, do you really believe that we should manage to obey it?

What gives power its hold, what makes it accepted, is quite simply the fact that it does not simply weigh like a force which says no, but that it runs through, and it produces, things, it induces pleasure, it forms knowledge, it produces discourse; it must be considered as a productive network which runs through the entire social body much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression.”

Queer doesn’t want to take away exclusive same sexed attraction from you. Queer wants to look at how “identity” is a product of pleasure, knowledge and discourse. Simply being “gay” seems to make all those questions irrelevant as gay is a force of sepratism-or-assimilation.

Queer doesn’t even deny that you experience youself as a gay man and your husband as a gay man. It is not about changing you, but about changing some of the assumptions with how we communicate.

“All gay people are …
All gay people should …
All gay people need …
If I feel a certain way I must be gay.”

Statements like these become nonsensical in queer rhetoric. I am not trying to close off our discussion – I just don’t want to be the only voice that speaks on this topic.

EM, you say “I totally reject queer identity” but I can only understand this as meaning “I totally reject the project of queering identity”. It is not about stripping power from you, but instead queer enables you to access a discourse on sexuality that is endlessly prolific and multivalent. And yes, absolutely, queer is a tool to disassemble the rhetoric of the religious right:

“All straight people do not have gay sex.
All straight people should get married or stay celibate.
All straight marriages are under attack by marriage equality.
Straight children are vulnerable to the coercion of the Gay agenda.
Homosexuality is a sin.
If everyone was gay there would be no more human race.”

All of that becomes nonsense too.
But, if there are people who begin to reject the natrualised state of heterosexuality, yet they do not feel same sexed attraction – what does the gay liberation movement offer them? If it is forbidden to be gay and not have gay-pride – how do we recognise, understand or integrate seemingly straight people who do not exhibit straight-pride? We tell them that the only way they can stand with us is to be ‘gay affirming’. But what if they don’t want to simply exchange one normativity (hetero) for another normativity (homo)? Then perhaps we have silenced another ally in the name of gay inclusion.

There are so many things I would like to quote to you but it would be thousands of words by the end. I think I have one that might help summarise:

Jagose (1996)
“The recent critique of identity politics – both inside and outside lesbian and gay circles – has not arisen simply because the reification of any single identity is felt to be exclusionary.

It has occurred because, within post-structuralism, the very notion of identity as a coherent and abiding sense of self is perceived as a cultural fantasy rather than a demonstrable fact.

Objections to the emphasis on identity in lesbian and gay politics were based intially on the fact that the foundational category of any identity politics inevitably exludes potential subjects in the name of representation.

Clearly, lesbian and gay identity politics that merely replicate race and class oppression are inadequate. Yet identity politics cannot be recovered simply by a scrupulous attention to the axes of difference.

For as post-structuralism also demonstrates, identity politics are eviscerated not only by the differences beteween subjects but the irresolvable differences within each subject.
‘Theories of multiple identities fail to challenge effectively the traditional metaphysical understanding of identity as unity’.”

enough already
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I’ll have to get back to you on this – I don’t want to shoot from the hip and it’s 11.30 in the evening and I still have three papers to grade (and, yes, I leave the worst to last, you’d think I’d learn) so I can return them tomorrow morning.

But I will read your comment and try hard to respond well.

One area I am not sure we can ever find any agreement on is the question of destroying one’s identity. That was the attempt of those Christians who hate us towards me as a 14 year old. They failed because I do know (and I knew then) who I am. Identity does exist.

Can you perhaps elaborate on why destroying my identity as a gay man is so important to you while I read your cogent comments and try hard to find any reasoning ability, at all in my students’ work.

Oh, and yes, I do rather tend to believe the scientifically documented research of the hard sciences (almost wrote “real”) over those of the “soft” social sciences. I didn’t want to give up Pluto as a planet, but did, at once, when it turned out not to be one.
It would, however, give me enormous pleasure to structure a verbal survey which showed that gay men with green eyes, freckles, red hair and 10 year old Volvos are sexier than Ben Cohen. Probably have the verbal skills to pull it off, too – and definitely the IT skills to skew it, no matter how it came out.
I am taking your arguments seriously – you’re intelligent and that weighs strongly against the (so far total) nonsense I’ve read on queer indentity.
Thanks.

Timothy Kincaid
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

shofixti

You ask some good questions.

Indeed, “gay” does not mean that all males are attractive or even that physically attractive men remain desirable. Attraction is a funny thing. And though it plays within parameters, it is not solely defined by gender but includes a whole host of other valuations – many evolutionary – that look to other traits. (And isn’t it funny when anti-gays that are both physically and psychologically repulsive are afraid that gay men are going to attack them in the shower).

And yet, gender does have veto power. Which, when taken with scientific research, leaves me believing that sexual orientation is – at least in some people – clear, self-evident and immutable (while sexuality, of course, has nuance, variation, and more than a little whimsy).

I also found interesting your observations as to how gay identity does assert itself as a means of breaking through barriers. They certainly have merit and I hadn’t thought of that exact perspective before.

As for Queer’s belief about gay assumptions, I’ll admit that I’m perplexed. I may have given the impression that I lack nuance, but I am not one to take a “all gay people…” approach to anything. And I know few who do. Even Ann Coulter has the gays she likes and the ones she doesn’t and if Coulter can see “gay” as informative but not cookie-cutter defining, then I think that the concept is not been interpreted narrowly.

But all in all, this conversation has been valuable to me.

True, it has convinced me even further that I and Queer Theory have almost no shared premises (especially that identity is a cultural fiction), shared beliefs (especially those about language defining reality), shared perspectives (especially the dichotomy between privilege and marginalization), or shared goals (especially those which relate to structure).

But it has helped clarify the terms of the belief system. And I need not agree with you to listen to your views and give them consideration.

Panthera
April 4th, 2011 | LINK

I really have to agree with you Timothy, this is the first time anyone from the soft sciences side of our queer community has actually tried to talk to me instead of snarling at me for daring to be happily male, gay, married to my husband and not feeling the least bit guilty about it.
That alone, gives you major points in my book, Shofixti.
It also, unfortunately, reflects one major conflict I have to be careful to not create: Because the majority of folks from your corner are so nasty, I tend to discount everything from armchair academia heavily.

That said, I am having a major problem, one of commensurable standards, between reality and this “you talked yourself into thinking you had an identity, you have none, not really” approach of queer theory.
The data is hard, I’m gay on a biological level and there is no way to change that. One might succeed in overlaying it through torture as those Christians who hate us do with electroshock therapy for instance, but even those Christian torturers who hate us now admit that’s the most they can achieve – their victims remain gay.

Though, given my reactions to attempts to destroy my identity in the past, I suspect they’d have to destroy me utterly – they couldn’t break me back then and I still have the scare (physical burns) to show for it.

And that is a question I wish you could address – if this system is right, then surely it must be possible to destroy one’s “identity” as gay and talk someone into being not gay. Yet, it isn’t. Even with the most advanced tools and torture methods psychology has at its disposal.

The best those Christians who hate us can achieve is to create suicidal, unhappy people who then marry heterosexuals (shudder), breed (double icky-poo) then abandon their hetero partners and (usually) their kids, making everybody unhappy when they simply can’t pretend anymore.

So where’s the validity of queer theory? What function can it serve, other than to attempt to make people miserable?

Shofixti
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks Panthera,
I am heartened by your feedback. Perhaps I am as fortunate as I am unfortunate that I don’t really have any queer friends. I studied the topic a few years ago – but all I have done is sit in my room alone, read message boards, and think. After a time I found I had come to many of the same conclusions that I had read and forgotten about.

Let’s entertain the idea that there is a line between arousal (dilated pupils, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, and the engagement of areas below the belt) and identity (that people ought to have a declarable gender and sexuality).

If we think of language and the world as a golden treasure trove of wealth, then as we ‘come out’ as visibly gay we might notice that we have a comparably slim inheritance of this wealth from those who are hetero-gendered and hetero-sexual.

Is the gay community then comprised of members who join together with the parts of ourselves that become aroused, or do we gain entry to this community based upon a collective disenfranchisement within the system?

I wonder if I can begin to answer you and tease out these meanings again for Timothy. The first time I ever considered applying the word ‘gay’ to myself was while reading a Christian book indoctrinating me with an ex-gay philosophy. I lived out the next decade as a virgin and an ex-gay, with no exposure to the gay community.

I want to take note at this point that it is a politic of identity that provides the necessary ideas, words, behaviours and representations for ex-gay theories to exist and it is heterosexual power that catalyses this into the ‘Exodus(es)’ of today.

Gay liberation’s response to Ex-Gay is that it must be wrong because it is in direct contravention of the self-evidently real ‘gay’. It’s organisations must be destroyed as they are dangerous and it’s staff may be harassed and hounded as they are harmful aggressors.

Anyway – back to my story, I was not successful in shifting arousal even an inch. I eventually began to date and after a while became sexually active. I had attended a church and a home group for around a decade also and the first time I used the word ‘gay’ to describe myself it all fell quickly to pieces.

Although I had always been me and had participated for so many years, it was the representation of a gay identity that was the true threat. I lost my status within a representational matrix (ie. was excluded by the straights) on account of language. And it hurt inside of me for a whole year.

It is not Queer that seeks to destroy sex and arousal or even the identities that we use when we interact physically with another. I think you could say that I had come face to face with a very centred and exacting formulation of heterosexual privilege. I was later told that even saying I was gay was abusive as I had traumatised one of these fragile Christians.

Queer asks whether within Gay identity, gay liberation, the gay community, gay politics and gay media we might encounter a similar rigidity, a similar organising force. If homosexuality is a binary facsimilie of heterosexuality then there is potential for the same currents to flow.

As I lived as a gay man I enjoyed the rightness of how it felt. I could experience recognition from my peers, I could talk about things that I had kept hidden. But I also experienced confusion, how did these transgendered people fit in with our gay and lesbian coffee group?

More personally I was frustrated by another binary – that of the Top and Bottom. It seemed pretty obvious to me that some aspects of homo-sex might take some learning and I didn’t think it valid to simply say that “Top” was self-evidently their identity. This was confirmed later in life as these men renegotiated the assumptions of masculinity, power and pleasure. They changed, incorporating new behaviours and new identities into sex. Where was their innate gay self in all of this? Was bottoming simply a latent part of their immutable identity or was it a product of participation within a system that could bestow agency through representing multiple sexual positions?

Do you think that a ‘gay’ male who lives their entire life as only a Top, believing this to be reality – is an authentically real homosexual, right, wrong, confused or other?

– to be continued.

enough already
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I think it’s easiest to cut and paste from your last post – you have written several important things. I’m awful at (brackets), so I’ll try the — sign to preface my comments, instead. Seems to be gaining slow ascendency in the blog world, anyway.

I am heartened by your feedback. Perhaps I am as fortunate as I am unfortunate that I don’t really have any queer friends. I studied the topic a few years ago – but all I have done is sit in my room alone, read message boards, and think. After a time I found I had come to many of the same conclusions that I had read and forgotten about.

—You’re smarter than I am – I don’t know that I could have learned that way. Except for that one horrible, horrible year in a country I had previously – and still, now, very much like, I grew up with several gay and lesbian friends around me.

Our culture permits experimentation and I think that’s why, when a western European says “I’m not gay” the standard answer of “you are only saying those words out of cultural conditioning” may well be answered with, “er, um, well, no – my oldest and still best friend topped me and then I topped him and then we tried 69 and we still jerk each other off when we go fishing, but, well – it was OK to release the tension, but when a woman touches me, I explode and when a guy touches me, it’s one step above a robot. So, no – it ain’t the words, it’s reality.
And ditto for the other way round, ‘cept, I never tried with girls ’cause boys were too much fun for me when I was a boy and girls didn’t do it for me and then, when I was older, they really didn’t do it for me. And now you’d have to drug and hog tie me and even then, well, good luck with that.
This is important and very different to the US experience – from what I’ve learned through the years, American kids aren’t permitted to learn anything about their own natural sexual selves until they are in their late teens or early 20s.

Let’s entertain the idea that there is a line between arousal (dilated pupils, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, and the engagement of areas below the belt) and identity (that people ought to have a declarable gender and sexuality).

If we think of language and the world as a golden treasure trove of wealth, then as we ‘come out’ as visibly gay we might notice that we have a comparably slim inheritance of this wealth from those who are hetero-gendered and hetero-sexual.

—Well, yes, there’s like eight or nine of them for one of us. Whether you’re a lion or a wolf or a dolphin or a human being, we’re surrounded by breeders. Now, we’re flexible, thank goodness and we make outstanding parents. Still, their task is to make babies, our task is to provide the physical security, education, sciences, arts,hunting, leadership and babysitting which, together, lead to more of the breeder’s babies surviving. No surprise there, compare our roles in the aquatic mammalian world, our roles in lion prides and wolf packs and the professions in which we are quite often to be found. Those professions frequently profit from the anatomy of the female brain (which we gay men have). We are available to all people, not just to our own young.
It is also no coincidence that, when women are permitted culturally to do what they want to professionally, they often excel at the same professions as do gay men. Now that those Christians who hate us are losing ground, you see more positive cultural associations with us.

Is the gay community then comprised of members who join together with the parts of ourselves that become aroused, or do we gain entry to this community based upon a collective disenfranchisement within the system?

—OK, that is where your queer theory just plain runs into reality and, instead of acknowledging it, pretends it isn’t there.

Some years back, a very sweet young man fell in love with me. It took me a while to notice. First, I am in love with my husband. Second, I am that most exclusive of all the variations (except there’s now data to show it’s biological, too), I’m monogamous.

Anyway, my husband suggested I take him to a local gay and bisexual evening. This was in the US, by the way. There, he could meet a nice young man. Or two. Or three.

Well, we arrived early, sat down and the director of the LGBTQA (SRSLY!) Center came over, sat down next to me, put his arm around my waist, his body hard up next to mine and asked if I was gay. Yup, a test to make sure somebody unknown wasn’t trying to infiltrate them – something those Christians who hate us do all the time, apparently.
I eased around and kissed him, open mouth and put my best into it. His toes curled, so I guess I passed the test.

So that’s your answer – no. If you aren’t gay, you can find acceptance in our circles. Some heterosexual men do. Some heterosexual women do – and get called horrid names for it, which I don’t understand – but at some point, you’re either gay or you’re not and that is just plain one of those real things which queer theory pretends aren’t there.

In fact I wonder if I can begin to answer you and tease out these meanings again for Timothy. The first time I ever considered applying the word ‘gay’ to myself was while reading a Christian book indoctrinating me with an ex-gay philosophy. I lived out the next decade as a virgin and an ex-gay, with no exposure to the gay community.

—I regret this. How horrible! I had parents who loved me as I was, friends who had not interest in trying to make me anything or anyone but who I was and I am quite sure that is how I survived those Christians who hate us. You weren’t as fortunate.

I want to take note at this point that it is a politic of identity that provides the necessary ideas, words, behaviours and representations for ex-gay theories to exist and it is heterosexual power that catalyses this into the ‘Exodus(es)’ of today.

—I do understand your point here. We can agree on much use of language without my endorsing queer theory. Actually, though, those Christians who hate us would still torture and beat and maim and kill and separate us at every opportunity, even if we had another name. I’ve said before, I reject utterly the nonsense that a sentient being does not use language to describe abstracts.

Gay liberation’s response to Ex-Gay is that it must be wrong because it is in direct contravention of the self-evidently real ‘gay’. It’s organisations must be destroyed as they are dangerous and it’s staff may be harassed and hounded as they are harmful aggressors.

—Hmm. Suffice to say, gay liberation is not only an armchair discussion among queer theorists who have never been roped to a chair and beaten for their refusal to deny who they are. Had they been, they wouldn’t spout such absurd nonsense.
Simple harassment and hounding is not what I provide financial and logistic assistance for. We go right up to the very absolute legal limits (staying on the legal side) in outing, disgracing, debunking and destroying (preferably on TV, especially when we can get it on local FOX) the lives of those Christians who hate us.
The depth of my fury is bound only by legal proscriptions. Which is a good thing, considering what those Christians who hate us did to me. Forgive and forget? Let’s just say I, if somebody suggests burying the hatchet, my response is and remains: In whose head?

Anyway – back to my story, I was not successful in shifting arousal even an inch. I eventually began to date and after a while became sexually active. I had attended a church and a home group for around a decade also and the first time I used the word ‘gay’ to describe myself it all fell quickly to pieces.

Although I had always been me and had participated for so many years, it was the representation of a gay identity that was the true threat. I lost my status within a representational matrix (ie. was excluded by the straights) on account of language. And it hurt inside of me for a whole year.

—All I can say is that I am sorry you had to go through this. The use of the “identity” would not, however, have been possible if you were not yourself, though, no?
Again, I am not disagreeing with you on language qua language. My disagreement with queer theory (and the more I research it, the sillier it turns out to be) is simply that it’s a post hoc ergo propter hoc type of reasoning. One which takes a proposition, holds it up as real, pretends it isn’t real, then attacks it for not being real.

It is not Queer that seeks to destroy sex and arousal or even the identities that we use when we interact physically with another. I think you could say that I had come face to face with a very centred and exacting formulation of heterosexual privilege. I was later told that even saying I was gay was abusive as I had traumatised one of these fragile Christians.

—Oh,sure I don’t doubt it. Those Christians who hate us can’t stand the light of day, so hearing the truth makes them want to hurt you. And they do, especially if you are from within their hateful community.

Queer asks whether within Gay identity, gay liberation, the gay community, gay politics and gay media we might encounter a similar rigidity, a similar organising force. If homosexuality is a binary facsimilie of heterosexuality then there is potential for the same currents to flow.

—Of course there are many who demand all be gay as they are. The stereotyped lumber jacket, 501s, mustachios trimmed with a millimeter rule, exact right shade of handkerchief in the exact proper pocket is reality. But that is not all gay reality. And this is where queer theory throws the baby out with the bath water. The roots of this field come from lesbian separatists who hate men, especially gay men with a passion. If those gay men are white skinned, born to economic or social privilege and are willing to fight hard for the civil rights of all, then clearly, we must be destroyed.

As I lived as a gay man I enjoyed the rightness of how it felt. I could experience recognition from my peers, I could talk about things that I had kept hidden. But I also experienced confusion, how did these transgendered people fit in with our gay and lesbian coffee group?

—Good question. I personally have transgendered colleagues and the occasional intersexed student (it is illegal here to assign an anatomical gender until the child is old enough to make an adult, reasoned choice. Or not, if they prefer). They tend to associate primarily with gay men and lesbian women and other transgendered and intersexed people who are not tied down by demands that other people be just like them.
Yes, you’ve hit a major problem our freedom movement has. It can not, however, be resolved through the gay male hating tactics underlying queer theory.
Proper education, on the other hand will resolve the matter. I’ve noticed over the last several years that my students no longer find the topic foreign. In the end, though – the fabulous gene (satire, dahlings, irony, I know there is no one specific gene) sorts for sexuality, not intelligence nor yet humanity. And that is, ultimately, the weakness of political correctness, NLP, queer theory and all the other concepts which maintain that you just have to force somebody to speak differently and they will be different.

More personally I was frustrated by another binary – that of the Top and Bottom. It seemed pretty obvious to me that some aspects of homo-sex might take some learning and I didn’t think it valid to simply say that “Top” was self-evidently their identity. This was confirmed later in life as these men renegotiated the assumptions of masculinity, power and pleasure. They changed, incorporating new behaviours and new identities into sex. Where was their innate gay self in all of this? Was bottoming simply a latent part of their immutable identity or was it a product of participation within a system that could bestow agency through representing multiple sexual positions?

—Now, here, again, we have some overlaps. I’m well over six foot, built like a brick, er-, outhouse and, despite my academic publications and titles, most folks when I do a visiting semester an an American university think I’m in the sports department, probably football or boxing.

And I’m a bottom. Total, complete utter bottom. Oh, yeah, I’ll top my husband if he begs enough (the old joke about the masochist and the sadist applies:
M: Hit me! Hit me! Hit me!
S: No, no, no.)

but I’m just so naturally a bottom that that’s all she wrote. Unless he buys me something sparkly in gold and green. Diamonds don’t go with freckles. Just kidding. Sort of.

I can’t walk in heels (and they aren’t easy to find in US size 14D) and even the biggest cocktail glass doesn’t make my hands look small…but when I’m not doing butch drag, dahling, Judy Garland’s purse simply issues forth from my lips.

So, yeah I know all about power and dominance and male ego games. F- them. Be you. Who cares? My husband loves me, I love him and it’s nobody’s business what we do in bed. Or in the car. Or in the forest. Ignore those stupid men and find some who aren’t invested in playing ‘male’. This is one area where we do, as I said agree. Just, a theory of semantics designed by separatist lesbians who hate gay men is not the appropriate means of dealing with it.

Do you think that a ‘gay’ male who lives their entire life as only a Top, believing this to be reality – is an authentically real homosexual, right, wrong, confused or other?

—Hmm, well, I don’t know. Some are real tops, some are lying to themselves, some are versatile but cheating themselves of real fun. They remain, however homosexual regardless of how they live their lives. The two realities are not mutually exclusive.

Goodness, that was rambling. I do appreciate your efforts to explain things to me. Queer theory strikes me as a failed attempt to address the very real inequalities within our freedom movement.

By all means, yes do continue if you have the time.

enough already
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I tried to respond to you – but for some reason, my attempted post gets eaten by this site.
Maybe they will be so kind as to let us know why.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

enough already,

It was caught in the spam filter, probably because of its length.

And can you please use a consistent screenname. I think it probably was an accident (and I think it clear enough that Panthera is also you), but in the future please try to keep it consistent. Thanks.

enough already
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Hi Timothy,
Thanks. Sorry. I got tired of the typos so used a real keyboard on a real computer.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

I think that we are now at a point where we are talking in different directions.

It seems to me that your sole focus – that which every discussion returns to – is the privilege/marginalized dichotomy. That is an area in which we disagree and thus there is little of value for me in continuing that discussion.

But I appreciate your latest comment. It is quite illuminating. Your experience at Exodus provides a context in which the bases for a number of your premises and assertions become more fully understood.

I had hinted in previous comments that your rejections of identity were shared by a segment of the anti-gay conservatives. To be more specific, the two cornerstones of the ex-gay movement are the rejection of a gay identity, and a black and white behavior-based characterization of what being gay means.

I don’t wish to go to much further down this path as it will, I believe, become very personal very quickly and I don’t want to open wounds.

But let me simply say that while I suspect that you believe that you have rejected Exodus’ thinking and teaching, it seems to me as though you have instead fully embraced and politicized all of their premises.

Shofixti
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks Timothy –
I thought that I might be talking to the same person under a different name. Oh, and it wasn’t Exodus itself, just another parallel programme I guess – lasting less than a year.

I think that one of the effects of identity politics is a heightened sense of in or out, enemy or friend, right or wrong. It is not that I or Queer reject identity as to ban it or burn it. But imagine identity as a gymnast on the balance beam – she sommersaults and lands again slightly off centre. She shudders, tips, her leg extends out to the side to grasp onto gravity – but, oh. You watch and you get that clammy feeling on your fingers. That is where Queer is, at the tipping point, at uncertainty.

Timothy, may I ask that you please comment at least once more. I understand that centredness or privilege and marginalisation or resistance are not concepts that hold water for you. But I am desperate to know how or why this is and how you see, primarily a gay liberation movement operating. While I am very theory focused in how I view things I can accept more concrete examples too.

This is what would benefit me, as when I try by myself to adapt to this idea – instanly my brain spits out a retort. And if it’s easier for you, you could pick one of these to readjust for me.

Where this dichotomy or struggle does not exist then:
*One religion would not proselytise another.
*The imperium would not colonise the savages.
*The aristocracy would not control the proletariat.
*White man would not enslave black man.
*Man would not domesticate woman.
*Girls would not be mutilated.
*Scientists would not electro-shock homosexuals.
*Gays could be Republicans without reprisal.
*No one would have any more-or-less cause to fear for their safety when walking down the street.

Thanks, I look forward to it.

Timothy Kincaid
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

I will try to answer you honestly and directly. Please, if I speak offensively, don’t take offense. I am trying to communicate, not shut you down.

It is a mistake to think that people who identify as being gay engage in identity politics. Nor do gay people necessarily operate within a ‘gay liberation’ movement.

These are concepts and notions that evolve out of theorists seeking to compartmentalize and describe what they don’t understand. They provide a way of seeing that which does not conform to theory as though it does.

And Queer Theory, more than most, seems to adapt language so as to remove meaning and deflect analysis and divert thought rather than address the concepts and ideas that language helps express.

I have a challenge for you. You don’t have to do this for us, but when you get a moment, get a piece of paper and – without using a single term or piece of Queer jargon or special phrase – write out what it is that you believe. In clear English. Then take a look and ask yourself if you really believe it.

I would like to address one of your examples, but I am hindered by vocabulary. You and I seem not to share the same understanding of what words mean – I am using them conventionally, but that seems not be be what you intend.

I suspect that “readjust” and “imperium” and “domesticate” and “reprisal” and “colonize” all have specialized meanings to Queer that would not be addressed by any attempts on my part. But even aside from that problem, I am at a loss as to what you see in terms of the privilege/marginalization dichotomy.

What, for example, does that have to do with gay Republicans?

I fear that we are so far apart here that we lack the tools to communicate. I further fear that Queer likes it that way.

Shofixti
April 5th, 2011 | LINK

Thanks TK,

I am very edified by your responses. I do consider you to be a political, ideological and identity activist solely by virtue of being part of this blog. But for the sake of rhetoric, I too will refer to the hypothetical person who identifies as gay. In a moment.

Answer: I believe in love that is active in the search of meaning. Empathy is the primary tool of this pursuit with reason in the secondary position. To correctly empathise I think one needs some sort of access to another’s subjectivity (not merely their subjective thoughts and feelings).

But if you don’t critically believe that there is such a thing as subjectivity – then I will say that I don’t think “GAY” is a productive word for the outsider who wishes to understand me or you. It doesn’t answer any questions and only defines you in relation-to/separation-from the hetero observer.

-

Returning to the person who identifies as gay: If I pool from EA’s and TK’s responses then what appears to qualify as gay identity is just a feeling, or a recognition of a pattern of sexual response in your body. Once aware of this, the person should then conclude, this is my identity – gay. Case closed.

However, what is not necessary is to have sex, or operate in any way associated with a gay liberation movement.

I will elaborate on that as to mean that to be authentically gay you do not need friends within the gay community, you do not have to set foot inside a gay club, you do not have to be educated about gay health, you don’t have to buy a single trinket of gay culture, you do not need to have knowledge about the gay rights stances of your politicians nor vote accordingly, you do not have to stop going to church, you do not have to think or care about any other gay person on Earth, you do not have to watch Will & Grace.

You do not have to do anything.

Then what is so important about this category of identity? What imbues it with such power to define? What makes it cohesive and universal? Why ought we to use it?

-

I love your paragraph two responses ago beginning with: [True, it has convinced me even further that I and Queer Theory have almost no shared premises . . .] It is a great work of succinct meaning.

Not only does it become apparent that Queer Theory and post-structuralist approaches to identity have little to no explanatory value to you, but you go further – I think maybe too far.

Power, gender, hegemony, imperialism, marginalisation – these are all entry-level tools of a structuralist cultural criticism that every seventeen year old media studies student will begin to use. I do not say this as an act of intellectual snobbery – but I say this because your discussed formulation of ‘gay identity’ is one that appears to be at very-high-risk of writing off lesbian feminism (not the same thing as queer theory) as unnecessary or not-included for the sake of gay clarity.

One of the first ideas I touched on was that the project of naturalising sexuality as a ‘real’ part of ‘reality’ contains the possibility that the needs and wants of white-male “homosexuality” might trump or speak over the top of all other “homosexualities”.

I would like to quote someone, just to liven the mood up, from a quote in this book (Butler is a queer theorist).

Warner (1992)
“Radicalesbians began their manifesto ‘What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion’. If Butler could be persuaded to regard the question ‘What is a lesbian?’ as one worth answering, she might respond that ‘a lesbian is the incoherence of gender binarism and heterosexuality condensed to the point of parody’.”

It’s funny to me because it gives a glimpse at both sides of the coin at once, the structuralist and post-structuralist approaches to identity.

-

I listened to one of the ‘Queer & Queerer’ podcasts recently where one of the speakers, a gay man, talked about having sex with a transgendered person – this person being a man in the body of a woman. He recognised a psychic masculinity to this person that he could connect with that was unlike any woman he had met.

How do you feel about this story? The part of me that remembers how to be cohesive-and-gay was saying ‘That’s not right!’ but the rest of me was intrigued and I have pondered this event several times since hearing about it. Who hasn’t, for a moment, been attracted to a butch or boyish lesbian for a moment before recognising signs of gender?

enough already
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,
I hesitate to speak here, you and Timothy share a common language which is foreign to me. Still, my ego is big enough for me to overcome my hesitation.

Each of us here is unique. We all have different backgrounds, interests, reasons for being involved in this blog – and many more.

Personally, I find this good. Maybe you don’t, maybe you do. I don’t know. I can’t know – which is one reason I like finding out how other people view things.

You raise a lot of very important and interesting questions and I think most of them can be classified under the rubric of “power relationships”.

These questions are important to me. I don’t much care to live in a world in which one group of people has power over another group for no other reason than the possession or lack of immutable characteristics.

At the same time, I have the distinct impression that many of these discussion are a result of too much energy which has nothing to push against. Sort of like when you’re car has one wheel stuck and the other is spinning around madly, but not getting anywhere.

Our freedom movement is not advancing at a pace I’d like to see, especially in Africa and the Islamic world. Nor are we doing much more than holding (barely) to our gains in the US through a few puny laws and administrative actions which, while maintaining our sub-human status, grant us a few minor privileges. A bit like our dog. The cat runs the place, she is a god, after all. The dog gets to sleep in our bed during the day IF she doesn’t whine in the morning to follow the kids next door to school and then come back home, alone, crossing the interstate (shudder). That’s about the level of privilege we are granted in the US right now. Behave ourselves and don’t speak out of turn and massa will let us set on the stoop (in the far corner, behind the columns) and rest a spell before we finish the evening work. The threat – whine and no bed and TV, er, sorry, the threat, get uppity and we’ll take away your temporary ability to visit your husband or wife in the hospital where they lay dying is constantly present.

There is a place and a need for theory in freedom fighting. There are, however, many of us gays who actually do know who we are and are comfortable with being 100% homosexual. I will not speak for them, but I have no transgender friends who, if offered the choice, would ever go back to living in the wrong anatomy. None. Zero.

One minor note to lighten the matter. I was in a pretty rough gay bar about 25 years ago with a straight friend. He found himself attracted to a cute guy. Smaller than him, but some very nice assets and a cute three day beard. He danced with “him”, they talked a bit and, looking at him I suddenly saw the light bulb go on over his head! “He” was a woman in boy drag! I can’t use the proper term here on this blog for what she was doing -and doing well.

Well, they had a great time together.

Now, that is immutable sexuality. I can find a woman who’s hitting the secondary sexual characteristics hard attractive – but when push comes to shove, my orientation is to men. That’s the whole joy of genderf…whoops, I mean of boy and girl drag.

Please don’t dismiss us because we don’t see the world through your eyes. I had my nose broken and was splashed with blood by those Christians who hate us back in the 1970s, marching for a woman’s right to chose. There is more to being a gay activist than only in your face protests. There is also more than armchair theory. We need both.

Oh – and I do use the word “gay” because, as a cis-gendered male who has never had a rise in his Levi’s towards a woman, yet the touch of my husbands hand on my neck can lead to popped shirt buttons in three seconds… that’s the word for me. Some theorists demand we only speak for ourselves.

Timothy Kincaid
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

Shofixti,

I think our effort to communicate has proven ineffective. Enough Already is mistaken. we do not share a common language.

enough already
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy,
I meant that quite literally. Your conversation is shaped to a great extent by the English language.
By “your”, I mean his and yours.

Which is but one example of how English may be misleading.

I don’t understand Shofixti in quite a few areas. To be honest, I have at least as much trouble understanding your position on Christians.

But I’ve more or less found a way to work with you – sorta, kinda, because what you say here is really valuable.
Especially because, although I don’t agree with some of your positions, I surely do appreciate that your contribution to making the Uganda “kill the gays bill” public materially averted (for now) a massacre.

That alone earns you my respect.

Shofixti is, for me, the first person from the lesbian separatist, white cis-male gay men are the root of all evil faction of our queer community who seems sane and competent. He doesn’t lie in wait to entrap, his questions are clearly honestly meant, if colored by the language of this particular linguistic structure.

Then again, so are mine and so are yours – I shudder every time I right “those Christians who hate us” because that implies a minority when my personal choice would be more “with the exception of that fraction of 1% of Christians who don’t hate us.”

But those are among the many rules to play on your blog, so I follow them as honestly as I can.

This is, by the way, the primary difference between us queers and our enemies, those Christians who hate us. Who would have ever thought that the Mormons, the Southern Baptists and the Catholics could set aside their sectarian battles to join forces to destroy us? And yet they have.

We, on the other hand, are near incapable of working together because, gasp, it’s all just playing the “man’s” game.

If I can learn to work with people like you and Shofixti, then I increase the chances of all of us achieving freedom. Oh, not in the sense Shofixti desires it, but let’s face it – on the Maslow scale, we’re still fighting for the right to live.

Shofixti
April 6th, 2011 | LINK

EA
Thanks. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. You show up on my radar. You see the causal link between identity and activism, politics and theories. You make ample room for difference, for parody, for performance, for moments when it’s good to march to the beat – and other times where its good be your own drummer.

I took ‘gay’ and ran with it for a few years, I tried to milk it for meaning for purpose for identity but I found it to be a barren teat. If there’s something inside of it that I’m missing – please tell me, so far I haven’t been given a workable answer here.

I never became more ‘me’ by having a gay identity and as I am sensitive and contemplative I became confused and disatisfied by the current (same-ness) and counter-current (difference) of what gay means. It means both at the same time. “I am gay” means I’m different, “I am gay” means I’m the same. It is a contradiction. But it is a contradiction that can do a lot of good policy work on removing discrimination from work and marriage – that is to move from a legally marginal position to a legally assimilated one.

TK
Thank you, too. I am as confused as you by the end of this. From your original writing I get a sense of an intelligent passion for language, words and identity. There is subtlety to the way that intention affects meaning, how language changes atmospheres, creates outcomes and importantly how other organisations weight in and seek to restrict or punish others for language.

You say GLAAD went too far, but you seem to reject the notion that GLAAD’s position can be framed in terms of centring the meaning of the word ‘fag’, because of an investment in cohesive identity, and marginalising those who would use it how they want to.

Also too there is comedy. And in suggesting we not take offence, you’re saything that things aren’t always exactly how we experience them – that meaning might take a little bit of patience and reflection.

I don’t know how we got from there to here. If we are capable of not, as two English speakers, sharing a common language – then doesn’t that make the role of a word-Nazi, in commenting on another’s use of language, a little less authoratative?

Thanks for engaging me this far.

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