“Homosexuals” Less Popular than Gays: What’s in a Word?

Earlier this month, a CBS news poll showed that if you ask Americans how they feel about “gay men and lesbians” serving in the military, 70% are in support. But when you ask whether “homosexuals” should be allowed in, the support drops by 5%.

AmericaBlog’s John Aravosis:
Bottom line: Homosexual is a nasty, clinical-sounding word with nasty connotations for far too many Americans. It’s what I’ve argued for years and have been routinely beaten up by some in the gay community who claim I’m nuts: namely, that no one should use this offensive word, and we should correct anyone who does. It now appears I’m not so nuts after all.

The linguistics of gender and sexuality are perhaps murkier now than they’ve ever been — when we launched this website, some Autostraddlers less immersed in gay culture thought the widespread usage of “queer” on the site could be offensive, whereas many of us insisted it was actually the best word of all. Some actually attribute the reclaiming of “queer” to the TV show Queer as Folk.

Whereas for most of the 20th-century, queer was used as “a derogatory term for effeminate gay males who were believed to engage in receptive or passive anal/oral sex with men, and others exhibiting untraditional gender behavior.”

Amongst some lesbians and in particular the African-American lesbian community, the word “dyke” is considered offensive, whereas others wear the term with pride — and even participate in “Dyke Marches.”

Our Editor-in-Chief says that when searching for news stories on Google news, the linguistic disparity is clear — searching for “homosexual” is how you can easily find anti-gay articles, searching for “gay” or “lesbian” garners mainstream, liberal-leaning or gay press. “Queer” is almost never used outside of the gay press.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Check out these news searches from this morning:

At least they talked to Margaret Cho. Alive Sydney reports on straight women and their gay boyfriends. “‘Having a gay BFF – or “hubby”, as I like to call mine – is brilliant because we can gossip about cute boys and clothes as these are topics that interest him too. It’s just nice to have a handsome and well-dressed man on your arm who is not trying to hit on you and who will tell you that you look fabulous with no hidden agenda,’ she says.” Does this irritate the shit out of anyone else? Am I just being too sensitive? I seriously want to know people. I get that it’s great that we’re all so progressive, but when do gay men stop being friends and start becoming fashion accessories? Also I am gay and stylish and not catty and will talk about cute boys with you and will never steal your boyfriend. (@alive sydney)

Okay, so you can pretty much bank on an article about anything LGBT from Fox News not being ‘fair and balanced,’ but they’re still worth looking at, if only to note the subtleties that they use to spin it. Take a look at what they’re calling the anti-discrimination bill. (@fox news)

Avatars And Discrimination “Au writes about a white woman named Erika Thereian who changed her blue-eyed, blonde avatar and for three months modeled “the skin of a staggeringly photorealistic, attractive young African American woman.” During the three months she wore this particular skin, she faced a good deal of racism-including being called racial epithets by strangers in world and even having her own friends distance themselves from her.” (@jezebel)

Put down the ducky. a new study shows that non-smokers have higher IQs than smokers. (@reuters)

Sarah Haskins is back!

(via @jezebel)

Companies are going crazy about the ‘pink dollar,’ and this has one man up in arms.

“Part of the problem with much of the data used by marketers is that it’s voluntarily self-fulfilling. Those who are “out” enough to be identified as gay consumers tend to be those secure enough in their lives and professions to talk about it — in other words, the very same well-educated, high-earning professionals whose habits and preferences end up standing in for those of the entire community. Do market researchers purporting to study gay spending habits place a call to the apartment of the 17-year-old closeted Latino kid who’s bagging groceries in Brooklyn? You tell me.”

Also riddle me this: has everyone forgotten that the “pink dollar” isn’t just supposed to be about dudes? Lesbians seem to face the same hesitation from advertisers that has always faced various marginalized female markets, regardless of our alleged homosexual appeal. (@brandweek)

Did you know that women weren’t allowed to serve on submarines? Me either. It looks like walls in the military are coming down left and right. (@abc news)

Guys, this is just begging to be in a daily fix, but it actually belongs in a+e:

PREGS: Bristol Palin is set to play a teenage mother on The Secret Life of the American Teenager (@gawker)

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  1. UGH. Nothing irritates me so much as the Gay BFF accessory, like it’s something every girl needs just as badly as needing to know how to change a tire or a pair of sexy shoes.

    And these are the same girls that never want to be friends with us because apparently we don’t know anything about fashion or boys except HELLO WE HAVE TWICE AS MANY FEELINGS WE COULD TALK ABOUT.

    And I don’t see the same thing going on with lesbians and straight guys, where like every straight man needs a pocket lesbian to tell him what to do if he can’t change his oil or throw a ball or other stereotypical activities. The only straight guy I know that has a lezbro is my Dad, actually, and he is hardly a representative of the rest of the population because he used to live in the Castro and half of his neighbors thought he was gay until my stepmom moved in anyhow.

    Basically I’m just ranting, but straight girls I want to be your friend too, and I promise not to steal your boyfriend or hit on you all night, AND I can tell you what actually looks hot on you because unlike your gay BFF I also like women.

    • i didn’t think lesbians were a cool thing, but tonight this boy who i was hanging out with for the first time was like, “i’ve never had a lesbian friend before, but i think i might love it” and my boy friend who was there was all, “it revolutionized my life, all guys need awesome gay girl friends.” and it kind of warmed my heart so now i feel conflicted about all the feelings i had about gay boys and straight girls.

  2. re the FOX news article, which is just, well…there’s a lot to say about it…

    I met Kevin Jennings when he was the head of GLSEN, and came to speak at our high school. He was an amazing, very smart man, and I am thrilled he’s part of the Obama Administration.

    Also, REQUIRED READING: “Becoming Visible” by Kevin Jennings. It’s dated now, but it was used as the textbook in my high school’s Gay and Lesbian History Class. Read it for your history, kids! ;-)

  3. ‘The linguistics of gender and sexuality’ sounds like it would be my favorite class ever. It’s just so interesting how different words make people feel drastically different things…and how everyone’s opinion is different. I love the word queer & I’ve never identified as ‘lesbian’ simply because I hate that word…which logically probably makes no sense, but I just can’t get down with that word.

    • I totally feel the same way when people ask me I am just say “yea I like girls” Thats the way i came out to my parents.

      • yea it seems alot easier to explain ‘this is what i like’ as opposed to ‘this is the word I’m defined as’

        • i like “gay” because it’s an adjective so it’s part of me and not what i am. [i know some people use “lesbian” as an adj. but come on. ew.]

  4. “Any complaints about the hot pink color on our ‘Technostraddle’ page can be directed to yourmom[at]autostraddle.com” WIN!
    Please tell your mom that I love the hot pink (and other colours).

  5. I would attend that class SO HARD. Funny, I have no problem with the word “lesbian” but I’ve noticed I almost never use it to describe myself. I usually use “gay,” part of my one woman campaign to reclaim it as a unisex word. Fun fact: the oldest printed recording of “gay” meaning “homosexual” is from Gertrude Stein, and she was using it to refer to girls. Therefore I like to think that gay is really our word and we’re just loaning it to the boys.

  6. So glad you guys posted about the gay vs homosexual terminology! In my psych/sexual orientation class people keep talking about their homosexual family members or prefacing things with “I’m not a homosexual but…” and I try so hard not to cringe. It’s just so medical/is often used offensively, and I really wanted to ask if everyone could please stop saying that!

  7. I can’t hear “homosexual” and not think about Tasha’s “homosexual conduct” from The L Word.

  8. WTF, Joshua Rhett Miller at Fox “news”…?!!

    I’m spitting and sputtering with rage and frustration and I’m so sorry that I can’t make this funny and witty for ya’ll. I have sooo many FEELINGS on this…it’s always been one of my “soapboxes.”

    I encounter this almost every day in my job and explain to teens why they shouldn’t use the word “gay” as a derogatory term and why “that’s gay” is off limits as a put down.

    Teenagers face the bullies in their schools, if they were able to convince themselves to go that day at all, enduring the taunts, suffering the physical and emotional abuse because they are gay or simply perceived to be gay (some haven’t even figured it out yet – I mean, c’mon, they’re teens – at that age, which way is up?!).

    I work to make my library a safe “third space” (the idea being that home and school are the other two). If a federal law is what it takes to make schools safer for students, then DO IT! Rights and freedoms have limits, usually when they start to infringe upon other peoples’ rights and freedoms.

    I really really really want to tell Neal “[this] could be interpreted far too broadly” McCluskey and Mat “there are other serious matters for Americans to be concerned with right now” Staver to shut the hell up. Let err on the side of keeping children and teenagers safe and alive, m’kay? Thanks.

    *gets off soapbox and puts it in the corner for next time*

    Currently reading:
    “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School,” by C. J. Pascoe

    Personal past and relevant favorite:
    “Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws,” by Kate Bornstein, with a foreward by Sara Quin

  9. Kind of a tangent, but I saw this rad documentary on Gilbert and George, and it was interesting to see their use of the word “queer” in their early artwork, and how they were really some of the forerunners in re-purposing the word, and transforming it into something empowering rather than pejorative.

    But yeah, I agree that “homosexual” does tend to have really cold, clinical and somewhat cringey connotations to it. And you rarely hear straight people refer to themselves as “heterosexual”. Also, I find it interesting that there’s not really an equivalent synonym ie. “gay”/”lesbian”/”straight” for bisexuals. Hmm. Oh, labels shmabels.

  10. Interesting study on the word ‘homosexual’, how the polls dropped.

    I think queer is a great word because it’s an umbrella term, I like it. Although I don’t use it much.

    A lot of the girls I know consider ‘dyke’ to be derogatory, or worse, it’s fine for them to use it but not okay for straight people too. (Like with the n-word). I hate that. I refrain from using the work ‘dyke’ and the n-word too.

    Oh, man that’s so true! The h8ers use the term ‘homosexual’ where the supporters say ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’. Yo… he’s right. I’m starting not to like this word, bro.

  11. For anyone interested in the linguistics of gender and sexuality, I’d recommend looking at the works of linguist George Lakoff. He’s written extensively about the importance of language choice in political matters and how the linguistic framing of issues can influence public support.

    In his earlier works, he argued that progressives were failing because they let conservatives set the framework of arguments (for example, accepting without question the term “pro-life” for years before starting to shift to “anti-choice”). Looking at the homosexual/gay/queer pages, I’m guessing you’d also see a correlation with protect marriage/same-sex marriage/marriage equality. To me, this indicates that we’ve gotten much better about framing. Who could really argue against marriage equality, using those words?

    Anyhow – he’s written many book, but “Don’t Think of An Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate” is a great, succinct overview of his ideas.

  12. An actual conversation I had with my best friend
    She says: “I haven’t watched Will and Grace in ages”
    I say: “uh huh”
    She says: “God, I wish I had a gay BFF”
    I say: “uh huh”
    I say: “Wait! I’m your BFF, I’m gay, I’m your gay BFF”
    She says: “No silly, I mean like a fab gay BFF”
    Me: *tear*

    My friends are jerks

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