We all know the obvious ones, they don’t really warrant repeating, but I’ll give you two examples: Faggot. Dyke.
These two terms are never thrown accidentally, or by the arm of good intent, they are malicious, sharp slurs that, while many in the gay community have reclaimed as their own, are almost always deeply offensive. Obviously.
HOWEVER, the arm of good intent sometimes tosses out other terms that hit harder than they were ever meant to. When I hear the person that spoke it, typed it, tweeted it, I try to gently correct them, but then, I watch a deluge of heartfelt apologies come crashing in. Mistakes happen, but this seems to have gone too far! I imagine in these moments, somewhere out there, behind some screen, there is a lot of cringing and sighing and hands knocking heads. A lot of unnecessary guilt.
But listen, I get how tricky these conversations can be. Often, a word might just be the easier one to use in questions about the LGBTQ community as it quickly cuts to the chase of your ask. In a lot of ways, some words make more sense.
(Good example, Rachel Held Evans got some pushback on one post in which she used the term “homosexual relationships” opposed to same-sex romantic relationships. Rachel pointed out that she was primarily discussing orientation, where she uses both heterosexual and homosexual descriptors, and she didn’t use the term LGBTQ [rightly so] because this conversation wasn’t about Transgender people. Rachel went in and carefully edited the piece, so as not to distract from the conversation.)
Some might call mine and others’ offense to these terms (better said, the context in which they’re used) as overly-sensitive or censoring every conversation with Political Correctness, but the truth is, the terms make the conversation difficult. See, when you drop one (often, without knowing), my mind takes a detour from whatever conversation we’re having toward the pungent odor that that term brings in. It places you in a position of distrust, suggests a lack of concern on your part, be it fair or not.
But most of you, I know are trusting and considerate, and you just don’t know the harm of these small, but volatile social tacts. So I want to invite you to explore a few common ones. I hope you appreciate this!
Let’s start with…
Peggy Campolo, wife of Tony Campolo and gay rights advocate, once said,
“Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we live drastically different lifestyles.”
Her point? Gay people aren’t living into a lifestyle anymore than straight people are. We’re intricate and varied, human beings with jobs and families and, for a lot of us, a faith in Christ our hearts have been dyed in.
Typically, “lifestyle” has been used to suggest that being gay is a picked out identity, similar to choosing to become a Vegan or a Republican or a Chair Maker. It has been used for political reasons, arguing that gay people are not a class of individuals, but a bunch of straight folks suddenly choosing to be gay.
It seems so absurd now, but the word still has really sharp edges, an awful smell and would be best to be barred from this conversation.
(Also offensive, Sexual Preference)
I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with this descriptor, not because it’s not true of my sexual orientation, but because it feels as if I am being labeled in some lab somewhere, like an exotic frog.
For many, this word drums up the long dark history of clinical diagnoses of homosexuality as a mental disorder, which have been refuted now by the entire medical community. Even deeper, due to it’s clinical connection, this word was used by anti-gay people to stir fear into communities about the diseased homosexuals. It played into crude images of animalistic, depraved people that didn’t have any moral code or boundaries. It was used to stoke hatred.
Again, totally true in describing exclusive same-sex attraction, but inappropriate, offensive to use in reference to gay people.
As I explained above, homosexual isn’t a good word to refer to someone as, not because it isn’t true about their orientation, but because it drags a long history of abuse and detracts from the conversation.
Speaking of someone as an admitted homosexual is a double whammy. It perpetuates shame, that being gay should somehow be kept secret, or, on the flip side, something you should admit to others about, as if everyone is entitled to this part of your life. BAD TERM!
(Also offensive, Avowed Homosexual)
Very much the same as the above term, but slightly different. It boils the entire love, relationship, family of gay couples to what goes on in the bedroom. This has a history of use by anti-gay people to subtract love and meaning to intimate relationships, and instead play into the deviant, sex-crazy narrative.
I want you all to know that here, I am a very gracious person. We hold a small LGBTQ group at my church, one where people come and share their stories, and often, a straight newcomer will use a term that I will later explain to them was probably the wrong choice. They usually do something like this:
And I’ll lean in, throw a hand on their shoulder, simply say: “Grace.” They came because they wanted to learn. I showed up because I wanted to share. Out there on social media, people are trying to interact, trying to keep up, trying to educate themselves and humble themselves and take the necessary steps to loving their neighbor. These words detract from that, even if it is unintentional, they sort of ruin conversations. But there is always grace to go around, you can certainly expect that from me.
To check out other terms to watch out for, along with suggested words to substitute, check out the GLAAD Media Guide. It’s a great resource that helped me put together this post!