Shouldn’t we queer people avoid insults?
I wrote an article yesterday in which I stated that religious people who brand us queer folk as sinners are ass hats. Check it out.
Plenty of people say I shouldn’t say things like that. I should respect sincerely held beliefs, so long as people sincerely hold them.
No. I won’t.
But isn’t that counterproductive? Isn’t it better to treat people civilly and respectfully?
OK, so maybe ass hat isn’t quite le mot juste. Granted. I was trying to make a point.
That’s the right term. And it’s important. And we LGBTQ people must absolutely use it.
Am I pissing you off? I guess you’re not alone. I got thrown off Quora for insisting that one must call a bigot a bigot.
Why must we speak plainly?
First of all, the struggle for full equality for people with minority sexual orientations and gender identities is a complex struggle with certain overarching strategies on many separate fronts.
Those strategies are being implemented by a very wide assortment of tactics.
This isn’t a simple either/or proposition.
Second, homophobe is a social construct, not an insult. You can’t easily talk about something without having words for that something. Homophobe is an important word for an important concept.
We queer people understand that engagement is necessary. Many of us in our personal lives strive to be examples of gracious humanity. In fact, we understand that a significant portion of the destruction of deep-seated antipathy to us was born in the mass, forced outings of the AIDS era of the 1980s and 90s.
Lots of gay men were forced out of the closet because of their diagnoses. Their families and friends learned who they were when they otherwise may never have known it or may never have acknowledged it.
It’s hard to despise people we love.
Now that being out is so much more ordinary, the process continues, and something of a chain reaction continues as well.
So what strategies might encourage the furthering of this kind of process of normalization?
Well, clearly it would be be wonderful if we could bring the image of accepted, ordinary LGBTQ people to people who don’t yet know any of us in real life. This means media, both traditional and newer forms of Internet media.
I probably don’t need to point out examples of where this is happening. You may not know, however, that activists have been explicitly encouraging the process for decades.
That’s a front.
Another front, obviously, is the legal front. Anti-discrimination legislation, decriminalization, same-sex marriage law, etc. Again, there’s probably little need for me to spell that out. The results are all around us.
Engagement and legislation aren’t the only strategies necessary or used, however.
It’s also crucial to raise moral issues and to facilitate talking about them.
We created the word homophobia in its current useage to facilitate that process. It’s intentional. It’s purposeful. It’s engineered.
We need a word equivalent to racist to talk about people who subscribe to irrational belief systems that hurt us.
The word for the concept makes the concept itself more fleshed and real.
Words have power.
If I call you a racist, you feel bad. You know it’s wrong to be a racist. You learned in kindergarten that it’s bad to be mean to people because their skin color is different from yours.
The few avowed racists left in American society are usually careful to keep their views quiet. They know that a certain amount of social ostracization attaches to that label.
You know what that means?
It means they’re less likely to be able to spread their harmful views. People shut them down. The label has power.
We’re doing the same thing with the word homophobe.
We’re working to shut you down before you even get a chance to spread your harmful views.
Not all ideas are equal, you know.
The idea that LGBTQ people aren’t full human beings deserving of full dignity and full complements of equal rights is an immoral idea.
It causes serious harm to intrinsically harmless people for no rational purpose.
It’s as morally wrong and as baseless as racism.
So we have a word to describe it. Homophobia.
That’s not an insult. It’s an observation, and an important one.
Yes, I suppose it’s unpleasant to have one’s values challenged. To have one’s moral shortcomings pointed out.
It’s important, though, nonetheless.
That doesn’t mean that’s the only tactic we use in implementing strategies. It’s not even the most important one.
It is important, though, as part of a broader struggle.
The creation of the concept is altogether necessary, actually. As much as it’s crucial that more and more people accept us as fully equal human beings, it’s as crucial that more and more people morally condemn systems of belief that normalize stigmatizing us.
It’s not either/or.