Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Musings of a Novitiate Ally, Part 5: What's a Word Between Jonahs?

In my entries So You Think Gay Sex Is Weird? and Shower Thoughts I used the word "unusual" in reference to gay sex. From a purely annotative standpoint it was an apt descriptor. I know that, all too often, connotations carry the day, but that's not my problem. People who want to fight about semantics will find a way to do so. I'm not going to hold my breath for the sake of their hypersensitive feathers. On the contrary, I rather enjoy the thought of ruffling them.

And yet.

Y'see, I talk a good game. But the thought of conflict, of offending people, still bothers me. So, although I had no intention of changing my wording, I kept worrying that I'd lose readers who took offense at my use of the word "unusual". This came to a head during a morning walk. My more demure self was once again insisting "But people do have negative associations with words like 'unusual'!"... and then I stopped, dumbfounded.

People have negative associations with the word "unusual".

We are insane creatures.

The word "unusual" should have no more potential for negative connotations than words like "lateral" or "clockwise" or "rectangular". It should be clinical in its descriptiveness. But we're not clinical, are we? We are meat. We dance to the tune of blood and hormones while singing of our rationality. We act on our emotional reactions and retroactively construct logical frameworks to support those acts. If you face it square on, though, no construct can disguise our irrationality. Any race that snarls at the unusual is a race of animals.

And this is what stopped me in my tracks. I already saw arguing over semantics as a waste of time. After that thought hit me, I saw it as an absurdity of cosmic proportions. It brings to my mind the picture of two lost hikers taking shelter in a cave. While starting a fire they notice a nasty smell. Then the firelight reveals two remarkably uniform and pointed rows of white stones edging the top and bottom of the cave entrance. Our hikers look closely and find that the stench is coming from bits of rotting meat stuck between the stones. They proceed to argue about whether they should just go to sleep, or take the trouble to remove the source of the offending smell.

Stand outside that "cave". Look at the two bickering buffoons. If we waste time arguing over semantics, we are them. We are progressives standing in the steel-trap jaws of an intrinsically irrational human society. Any second it's liable to snap closed and swallow us in a wave of conservatism. We need to stop messing around and focus on the presence of the jaws.

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