Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Words, words, words.

I wrote the following in response to Ben Finzel's article in Echelon, "Say What? - Eight Words and Phrases to Avoid in LGBT Communications". But I'm not picking on Ben, nor do I disagree with most of the points he made. His post simply acted as an attractor around which thoughts coalesced that I've been wanting to blog about anyway.

The only real problem I have with the article is this point:
Homosexual – as I’ve written before, the term “homosexual” is often used by anti-gay people and organizations to refer to our community with an “accepted” term. In fact, the term has been so abused that its usage now seems more clinical than contemporary and it is, to most people, a way to slyly denigrate our community. By referring to “the homosexual community” or the “homosexual agenda,” anti-gay people and organizations attempt to make LGBT people sound like some odd/strange/uncomfortable “other” that is neither good nor acceptable.
I don't like the idea of allowing our opponents to dictate our behavior simply by their use of a word. It seems to me untenably (not to mention embarrassingly) sycophantic to run around with a magic marker, striking a term from our Allowed Word List just because the other side used it.

Beyond that, I have a problem that's more a reflection of my own experiences than of Ben's intent: I worry about how this list will be used. I worry about self-righteous LGBT activists waving their approved wording list in the faces of middle America and, in doing so, harming the cause. Here's why.

I already wrote about the unpleasantly truncated conversation I had about abortion in the Cornell dorm. To summarize: I expressed an opinion that deviated from the liberal talking points du jour, and the obstreperous feminist with whom I was speaking verbally squashed me before I could even get to the point that I agreed with her. Here are some other examples along the same lines.

For a while I was in a group called Racial Awareness Pilot Project. I'm not sure that I have the perspective to say why RAPP fizzled, but from my point of view it had a lot to do with the unfortunate combination of angry black people and guilty white people. I had to have been the guiltiest white person there, and I swallowed the party line that was fed to me. I'd start a sentence about black men's complexion, and the angriest black person would say "Dont say that!" I'd start a sentence about girls and she'd cut me off with the admonition "women!". And I stood corrected, chastened like a good little PC white boy. I didn't have the wherewithal to shout "Can we stop arguing about fucking semantics and talk about something relevant?!" I wish I had.

After college I dated a woman whose feminist fulminations were just part of her broad arsenal of techniques for browbeating anyone within reach. Once we were watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and I made a joke about the gratuitous spandex boob shot. Well, I didn't hear the end of that one for a while. Somehow I was now responsible for girls growing up with low self-esteem. Never mind that my joke was actually poking fun at the very objectification that she disliked. I had noticed a woman's breasts, so I had to be verbally subdued.

Once I was reading in bed with this same woman. I was making my way through the first issue of Dirty Pair: Fatal But Not Serious, a fantastic American-manga comic by Adam Warren. In it, an anti-genetic-upgrade terrorist calls our genetically upgraded protagonist a "miscegenated whore". My bedmate saw this and began berating me, doing her level best to force me to stop reading with the force of her invective. Never mind that the character was a bad guy who was clearly saying bad things. I was looking at a word she didn't like, so I had to be verbally subdued.

I'm not as stupid and gullible as I used to be. I don't parrot back every bit of PC lingo I hear. On the contrary, the pleasure I take in being politically incorrect arises directly from my anger at myself for being stupid enough to let those self-satisfied PC mind-controllers get away with their bullshit. But it's all relative. I'm still somewhat of a pushover. If you're strident enough you'll probably get me to toe your party line - at least until I get a chance to think it through, at which point you've lost me. But even if you don't lose me, ask yourself what you've gained. Aside from the sense of self-righteous satisfaction you got from lording it over some lefty white guy with an overdeveloped guilt complex, you've blunted your purpose by one-upping a person who probably agreed with you in the first place. And not for nothin', you've pulled the emergency brake on the conversation before it could move past semantics. Congratulations.

We often ask questions like "Why do religious zealots focus on the bits of Leviticus that condemn homosexuals, while ignoring the bits about shellfish and menstruating women?". These are rhetorical questions designed to puff ourselves up with our own moral immaculateness. To that question, the obvious answer is "They're not truly concerned about carrying out scriptural doctrines; they're using the Bible to justify a preexisting hatred." I submit that the answer to the following question is just as obvious.
Why do liberals constantly tell people what words they should and shouldn't use?
I think that the equally obvious answer is "Because they like feeling morally superior. They like winning arguments. They like feeling the surge of power that comes from getting someone to go along with what they say."

Note that "things that help the cause at all" appears nowhere in the preceding list. That is because browbeating folks about the words they choose is counter-productive. It represents the exercise of vital powers not along lines of excellence, but along paths of least resistance, and such a life will not afford you scope. I say this from firsthand experience. All that browbeating ever did to me was make me give up the attempt to engage. Every time, I walked away muttering "Well fuck it, if I can't say a goddamn word right then what's the point?"

Please, please, please let's not argue semantics. When we do that, we never reach the dialectical main course. Instead we're stuck forever at onanistic brain salad surgery.


  1. Hugh,
    Thanks for this blog post. To the readers, credit on our article is given to Ben Finzel of FH OutFront.


  2. I was thinking that I should revise that first paragraph to mention Ben's name, so I just did so. Thanks.