Friday, January 1, 2010

It’s 2010: Time to Toss out the Old Lingo

by guest commentator, Rachel Pepper

As we know well in the LGBT community, words have the power to unite, disgust, divide, empower, inform, and inspire us. There is a shared lingo among many LGBT folks that give us a source of strength, pride, and humor. On the flip side of this, there are also many words that can and have been both used against us and to describe us in ways that hurt.

[photo credit: torisan3500]

At C+E, part of our job is to promote our community in print. We always strive for the best language to both honor our clients and get others excited about them, too. This makes us especially sensitive about how our words are perceived, and also how others write about LGBT issues.

This got us thinking about words and phrases that we’ve seen over the years, and that we’d prefer just go away. Outdated words. Snide words. Words that the media has regularly used, but shouldn’t anymore. You probably have your own list, and we’d like to hear them. But as we launch into a new year, here are some terms that we could do without in 2010. So say goodbye to incorrect terminology, outdated lingo, offensive ideas, and inaccurate acronyms. And hello to a year where we’re treated—and treat others--with compassion, caring, and consciousness.

Incorrect terminology

“AIDS patient”
AIDS forever changed our community, its culture, and language. However, this term, first used in the epidemic’s beginning, has yet to fade away. The idea of the helpless, un-empowered patient doesn’t jive with the reality of how our community courageously took on AIDS. The LGBT press and other more enlightened media have continually used the phrase “person with AIDS” or “person with HIV” instead, and it’s way past time that this became the standard phrase.

Offensive ideas

Ok, let’s be clear. Sexuality and even gender are fluid, and we don’t all have to fall at one end or the other of any spectrum. But the evidence is clear that people cannot be “converted” from an innate gay sexual orientation to a straight one. Even the major medical organizations admit this now. So who are these people who claim they can “convert” gays? Usually evangelical Christians who believe that people choose to be gay (and therefore can change), and who believe that being gay is so evil that choosing not to be gay is the only path to happiness and ultimately salvation. As the recent debacle over Uganda’s proposed anti-gay laws in part inspired by Richard Cohen, author of the "sexual reorientation" manual Coming Out Straight, shows, often those claiming to be experts on these matters are religious bigots with no formal therapy training, and certainly no license to actually practice psychiatry. Some are actually people who have struggled mightily with internalized homophobia or traumatic experiences of being gay themselves, and have even gone through “reparative therapy” to try to lose their own same-sex attractions. It’s a dangerous issue, and can only lead to unhappiness and more bigotry.

Inaccurate acronyms

“Act Up”
This year, let’s banish inaccurate acronyms. It’s amazing how many times in the media acronyms for activist groups are misspelled or used incorrectly. Since its inception, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power—referred to from the beginning simply and powerfully as ACT UP has been cited in newspaper articles as “Act Up.” No, people, it’s an acronym. This is just something that people writing about the gay press should know, or find out if they’re going to cover us. Disappointedly, the groundbreaking activist group is often referred to incorrectly even in well-written stories by reporters obviously knowledgeable about LGBT issues. Why can’t our history be such that our stories are told well, by those who really get it? At Cause+Effect, we do get it, and we promise to get the story right.

Outdated lingo

Using appropriate language and terminology is a must for respectful coverage of the LGBT community. And language is far from static. So why has the term “hermaphrodite” stuck around for so long? Originally a term born from Greek mythology, and used for scientific purpses since, it has consistently been used to refer to organisms that can change sex or possess both male and female sex characteristics or reproductive capacities. It has also been used to describe people born with “ambiguous genitalia,” living lives of secrecy and shame. That means it’s time to toss out the word hermaphrodite, and both educate ourselves about conditions of intersex, and adapt to this new phrase that we will increasingly see in the upcoming year.

“Fag hag”
Sure, we may all feel we know one, or even be one ourselves. And the idea behind having a term for straight women who flock to gay men isn’t so bad in and of itself. But isn’t it time to rid our culture and vocabulary of the term fag hag? It’s misogynistic and implies that there’s something inherently wrong with women who love gay men. Recently other terms such as “fairy fly” have popped up to take its place, but this isn’t great either. By all accounts, the term fag hag may soon disappear into oblivion: even a supportive national pro-gay organization comprised mostly of self-professed fag-hags, “SWISH-Straight Women in Support of Homos,” is changing its name to include more types of people in its membership. Since it seems even the fag hags themselves are tired of this term, let’s drop it, at once, in 2010.


Anonymous said...

Wow, very well said! It is a shame that these terms and ideas are still used, but you're right; we should start off the new year right. I especially appreciated the section on "Conversion". Gender and sexuality is a fluid thing; Kinsey had it right.

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