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Queer Sense: Language
Anthropologist Daniel Everett tells us, “There can be no culture without language, no language without culture, and no society without both. Language and culture are not a chicken-egg problem; their relationship is more like fire and heat.”
Everett should know a thing or two about language and culture. He did study the language of the Pirahã people of the Amazon basin for several years. He asserts there is no universal language a child knows. A child born in France will have certain switches in his brain flipped and he learns a particular structure style to sentences. The same child born in Japan will have that switch flipped in another direction and grammar becomes Japanese. Everett describes in order for the child to learn a language there must be three elements: “Cognition + Culture + Communication”.
Indeed, it is only humans who have the capacity to craft language representing varied abstract ideals. Our ability to chisel out a sentence using a set parameter of grammatical structure is what makes us humans unique. Animals certainly do not craft language to articulate their thoughts.
Animals possess the ability to communicate certainly. One bee can recruit other bees to harvest food for the hive by completing a variation of dances that communicate how far the food is located. A white tailed deer warns others of a threat by flicking its tail. Two giraffes will press their necks together when they’re attracted to one another. Fireflies glow to attract males. Dolphins produce sounds from their nasal passages to communicate with other dolphins.
Spoken language is a uniquely human ability. Language gives humans the ability to understand concepts. A comprehension of concepts allows us to create new ideas. Ideas and concepts aide in creating culture.
We build cultures based on our ability to use language, and our language is filled with culture.
Chomsky argued that language was hardwired in our brains. He said that homo sapiens automatically develop language because it’s already built into us.
If you ever raised an infant, or observed one, you would be believe this to be true.
The fist weeks of an infant’s life are not extremely eventful. Around eight weeks an infant starts cooing. The infant is creating vowel sounds like ah-ah-ah and oh-oh-oh. By three months an infant responds to her parents’ voice by babbling.
This is different than cooing because the infant is using the tongue and front of the mouth rather than the throat to make sounds. During this time the infant will respond to her parent’s voice and start babbling This is known as reciprocal babbling.
On average, the infant starts speaking her first words around twelve months. By this time she has started to make the connection between an object and sound. She sees a ball and will say, “ba”. By 15 to 18 months, the child will say between 20 to 50 words.
Fast forward and you’re driving your twelve year-old niece to her friends. Your mind hurts as your niece is speedily talking about school.
Chomsky’s notion that language is hardwired in humans has been questioned in recent times. The new theory is that language does not develop automatically. Rather, the ability to learn language is dependent on the interactions in one’s environment.
In other words, on one hand there’s the biological maturation of the brain which is ready to produce language, but the brain needs an environment filled with stimuli rich with words in order to learn a language.
Will a human develop language with no stimuli? The short answer is no.
In the early 1800s, Victor was found near a French village. His date of birth was unknown but it is believed he was about twelve years old. A young physician named the boy Victor and took the boy under his tutelage for five yeas. He wanted to see what Victor cold learn. Victor never developed the ability to speak.
There are other examples besides Victor demonstrating how important the environment is in shaping language. In the twenty first century there have been youths whose exposure lacked humans but was mainly to dogs, wolves or birds. These children did not communicate with any known human language, but communicated in the language of the creatures that raised them.
LANGUAGE SHAPES OUR THOUGHTS
Languages across different countries have inherent structures that automatically convey different meanings. This is true even when we say the same thing. This is not the fault of the speaker either, but the fact that languages over cultures are structured differently.
Let’s use…I am having dinner with my neighbor tonight.
In English, you do not have to mention the neighbor’s sex, but you do have to tell something about the timing of the event. That is, is past tense dined, or are dining, will be dining and so on.
On the other hand, the Chinese language does not specify an exact time because the same verb form can be used for past, present or future actions. This does not mean the Chinese are unable to understand the concept of time. But it does mean they are not obliged to think about timing whenever they describe an action.
Whereas in English you do not need to specify the gender of your neighbor, you do automatically convey the gender when speaking Spanish or French.
Sometimes, we do not even understand how there are entire concepts embedded in language that we take for granted. Take the Australian aboriginal tribe, the Guugu Yimithirr. They do not use words that are egocentric like right or left to give any type of direction.
We, however, do use egocentric coordinates to express direction – Forward”, “Back”, “Right” and “Left”. You might tell someone lost how to get a restaurant by saying, “Take a left up at the next light and it’s on your right”. The Guugu Yimithirr would never say this as the concepts of right and left do not exist in their language.
They use cardinal coordinates to communicate direction -“North”, “South”, “East”, and “West”.
A researcher televised a youth who recalled falling from his boat into shark infested water. The boy started his story by gesturing with his hands how the boat was rocking from East to West. He continues his describing that the location of the sharks, the boat, and the land he swam towards. Would he convey the same cardinal directions several years later when he retold the story? He did. The researcher recorded the man who was once the youth recalling the same story. The man did not only use the exact same cardinal coordinates in his story, but he gestured with his hands how the boat was rocking “East” and “West”.
We do not need to know cardinal directions to move from location to location. We have the iPhone among many other conveniences. The Guuru Yimithirr tribe must know direction from a young child in order to survive. These people automatically integrate cardinal direction into their speech at very young age.
LANGUAGE & SEXUAL ORIENTATION
What does language have to do with sexual orientation? Maybe a lot.
The word sodomy has been associated with homosexual acts over the centuries. In 1533, Henry VIII signed an anti-sodomy law into law making it a felony that was punishable by death for any person who “commits the detestable and abominable vice of buggery with mankind or beast.” The words “vice”, “abominable”, and “buggery” all point to roots of religion.
The American Assembly passed this law in 1700, An Act Against Incest, Sodomy, and Bestiality and used this language-A person “legally convicted of sodomy or bestiality, shall suffer imprisonment during life and be whipped at the discretion of the magistrates, once every three months during the first year after conviction. And if he be a married man, he shall also suffer castration, and the injured wife shall have a divorce if required.” This law makes it clear that a man who’s married, and engages in sodomy, is considered to be committing a more horrific crime than a man merely engaging in homosexuality. The married man was to suffer castration.
Hungarian journalist, Karl Maria-Kertbeny, campaigned against the sodomy laws in Germany in 1869. He produced pamphlets distributing them to the populace. He created a different language in understanding same-sex attraction by using science as his weapon.
Kertbeny coined the term “homosexual” replacing words that had negative connotations associated with condemnation such as “bugger”, “sodomite”, or “pederast”. Homosexuality, he stated, was innate and he argued therefore it should not be punished legally but treated medically.
For the first time, homosexuality was now seen through a lens of science and began to be seen as a medical issue rather than as immoral albeit, a disorder. It was at least a start.
Fast forward decades and the psychiatric community published the Diagnostic Statistical Manual in 1952. Homosexuality was listed under the title of Sociopathic Personality Disturbance: Sexual Deviation. A book published in 1962 collected data from disturbed men who were homosexual concluding they had severe mental health issues. They used this as evidence to keep homosexuality listed as a mental disorder in the DSM.
Evelyn Hooker changed the rhetoric on homosexuality and mental disorders. She had experts who believed homosexuality was a disorder compare projective results between well-adjusted heterosexual and homosexual men. The subject’s sexual orientation was concealed. The experts found no difference. One expert requested he be given a second chance, but after much diligent work he found no difference.
The language had changed once again. Heterosexuals were not superior in mental health compared to gay people. Gay advocates and people who identify along the gay spectrum avoid the word homosexuality. The word conjures up meanings of “sickness” and “mental problems”. Even to this day in 2015 the word homosexuality is derogatory.
After heated debates and advocacy the mental health disorder Homosexuality was removed in 1973. It was not the end though, the psychiatric community replaced Homosexuality with Ego-Dystonic Homosexuality defined as “A sustained pattern of overt homosexual arousal that is a source of distress.” This diagnosis was finally deleted in 1987 and homosexuality was purported by the psychiatric community as a non-disorder. Any mental health issues a gay person expressed could be better accounted for by the prejudices and discrimination a person faced in his community.
A person in the United States who considers gay identity akin to a disease is an outlier. Yet, there are people who believe homosexuality ought to be treated. Indeed, there’s an organization called National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) that takes the position that they can cure “gayness”. They use a treatment approach called conversion therapy which fosters a person’s internalized shame of being gay and uses it to convert the person to a heterosexual sexual orientation. The research demonstrates that conversion therapy is not only harmful but also ineffective. The American Psychological Association and mental health community have officially denounce all conversion therapies.
Bryce Summers wrote a satire called “The Heterosexual Cure: Hope is Here” which mimics language used by NARTH. The Heterosexual Cure letter presents a therapeutic company that promises to convert unhappy heterosexual people to a satisfied, delighted gay. A heterosexual person who happened to read this letter and was offended may have an idea of how a gay person internally reacts when they hear propaganda related to a gay person undergoing conversion therapy.
In modern-day psychotherapy, when a person presents with concerns related to their sexual orientation identity or gender orientation identity the therapist emphasizes language that affirms the person’s identity. The therapist focuses on helping the client find support networks that foster the development of the person’s sexual orientation identity and ensures the person learns to make meaning of their conflicted feelings in a supportive environment.
The American Psychological Association’s takes a definitive stance on whether homosexuality is a disorder saying this:
“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras … Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, [medical and mental health] organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.”
Take note. The word homosexual is used as an adjective. The words used to identify sexual orientation are Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual.
Researchers commonly use the word homosexual as a noun and adjective in their research. The word homosexual can be used in today’s society but it tends to have a negative valence to it.
After all, it’s tied to a century of disease.
“THOSE HOMOSEXUALS”, “THE GAYS”, & AIDS
In the early 1980s gay men were dying by an alarming number. No one knew at first what was causing the deaths. The disease had no name for at first but health specialist saw that it was clearly concentrated in the gay community.
The question of how it was spread was a mystery. Touching hands? Kissing? Being gay?
The Center for Disease Control initially called the AIDS disease GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Homosexuality was now seen as a death sentence. It was associated with a disease that had no cure and caused its victims to wither away to a shadow of their former selves until they died. A homosexual who was out could expect immediate emotional reactions and avoidance. People feared catching the GRID. Have you ever heard you might catch the Gay?
On September 1982, the CDC changed from using the term GRID to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The disease’s name now appropriately reflected the underlying biological syndrome instead of stigmatizing the group associated with the name. AIDS was not a gay man’s disease; rather, it was a disease that was presently affecting the gay population. In 2015, AIDS is understood to be a medical condition that can be contracted from heterosexual and homosexual sexual behaviors.
The AIDS epidemic may have been a disease any person could contract, but in the 1980s it was seen as the “gay” problem. The religious devoted described the AIDS epidemic as a plague that was meant to kill off the homosexuals. Pat Buchanan argued that AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men.” President Ronald Reagan remained mostly silent on the issues AIDS until 1985 when he used the word AIDS for the first time.
The AIDS epidemic undoubtedly fueled fear. In 1988, California failed to pass Proposition 102, which would have required people testing positive for HIV to be reported to the government, and their sexual contacts investigated. A group called PANIC, the Prevent AIDS Now Initiative Committee, actually put a measure on the ballot in California in 1986 that could have led to a quarantine of people with HIV. The group’s slogan was “Spread Panic, Not AIDS.” A Wisconsin minister, Craig Hultgren, came up with the slogan, “Stop AIDS Now — Quarantine Gays.”
Given this climate, naturally, the rhetoric towards gay people was hateful. Catholic Pope John Paul II called gays “evil”. The religious devoted described the AIDS epidemic as a plague that was meant to kill off the homosexuals. Pat Buchanan argued that AIDS was “nature’s revenge on gay men.”
U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina complained from the Senate floor that the U.S. Post Office had appallingly erred when they decided to commemorate the Stone Wall Riots. He cursed everyone with these words: “Bosh and nausea and a pox upon whoever in the postal service made this irrational decision.” Houston Council Member John Goodner said this in 1984: “What they do in their own communities is their business, I suppose, I just don’t want homosexuals working in city jobs where they could be role models for our children.”
It was not known what President Ronald Reagan thought on gays, but it was clear he was not vocal on gay rights. A high level adviser, Martin Anderson says, “I remember Reagan telling us that in Hollywood he knew a lot of gays, and he never had any problem with them.” Maybe so, but you wouldn’t know that from watching any of his speeches.
A psychologist named Paul Cameron published pamphlets that gave “proof” that gay men committed more serial murders, molest more children, and spread more disease. The U.S. Department of Defense in 1982 said that gays were “incompatible” with military service. The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in favor of state laws that criminalized sodomy.
President Barack Obama vacillated on the language of gay marriage for several years. He said he was undecided in 1998 when asked about whether gay marriage should be legalized. He would later favor domestic-partnerships and civil-unions in 2004. He would be quoted in 2008 saying, “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.”
President Obama’s language in 2012 became equivocally un-ambivalent, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Theodore Olson, a renown Republican conservative and whose career goes back to Assistant Attorney General for Ronald Reagan made an argument to Supreme Court to overrule Proposition 8, a proposition that said only a man and woman could marry.
Mr. Olson presented this- “I do not believe that the United States Supreme Court could rule that all of those laws prohibiting marriage are suddenly constitutional after all these individuals have gotten married and their rights have changed and their families are living under a regime in which they do have full constitutional rights. To have that snatched away, it seems to me, would be inhuman; it would be cruel; and it would be inconsistent with what the Supreme Court has said about these issues in the cases that it has rendered.”
PHRASES & WORDS: SEXUAL ORIENTATION
We can go beyond the quotes and language used by societal models but look at specific phrases.
Sometimes we can use words that have nothing to do with sexual orientation and manage to strike an emotional chord. That’s what a teacher did it Utah when he attempted to teach his students about homophomes.
Homophomes are words that sound the same but mean different things such as heal-heel; meat-meet; know-no. Tim Torkildson posted a blog on homophomes describing their meaning. Tim later received an email from his supervisor that stated, “I’m letting you go because I can’t trust you. This blog about homophones was the last straw. Now our school is going to be associated with homosexuality.”
In the realm of fundamental Christianity you will likely hear the ambivalent words, “Hate the sin not sinner”. Christian conversion camps focus on fostering an idea that it’s okay to be gay just as long you never act on your behaviors.
One commonly heard phrase is “In the Closet” referring to a person who is covert about one’s sexual orientation. This phrase came about in the 1960s. The word closet conjures up a small place where we store our clothes. It keeps our life both organized and uncluttered. It is not a sociable place and living in a closet would be isolating.
When we were children we knew two favorite hiding spots for monsters is
A.) Under the Bed, or B.) The Closet.
The phrase COMING OUT has been with the gay community for years. The majority of people undoubtedly believe the phrase came out to describe the process of coming out of the closet, but this is not true.
In pre-war World War II coming out in the gay community meant a gay man being formally referred to the underground clubs and organizations inside the gay community. During this time there were enormous debutante and masquerade balls that looked similar to balls held by heterosexuals. The balls were regularly held in New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, and Baltimore. A person was not coming out gay to a friend and family, rather, he was joining into a society of peers who were all gay.
In today’s world, coming out refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual people disclosing their sexual orientation to a friend, teacher, parent, family member, co-worker, etc. The underlying emotions for coming out for a gay person can be fear, dread, and distress. The person worries he will be rejected when he comes out. Their distress is validated as it’s supported by data. Twenty percent of homeless youth are LGBT identified; however, only ten percent of youths identify as LGBT.
The word Queer was once derogatory. The Oxford Dictionary definition offers this for a definition, “Strange, odd, peculiar, eccentric, in appearance or character. Also, of questionable character, suspicious, dubious,” or, “homosexual. Hence, of things: pertaining to homosexuals or homosexuality.” By the twentieth century the word queer was used in terms of being non-normative.
The word gay started to be used in the 1920s and it was considered a safe word as the word also meant lightheartedness, and pleasantness. The word gay replaced queer until the 1990s when queer saw a rebirth. One reason was the limitations of using labels gay and lesbian referred to only one sexual orientation type, whereas, queer could refer to a wider spectrum. An organization called Queer Nation was formed in New York City in the early 1990s to help fight against homophobia being entrenched in AIDS activism and foster more visibility for lesbian and gay people. The word queer grew in popularity among the LGBT community.
The word “Straight” is commonly used to identify a heterosexual person.
What connotation does the word straight actually have? If you deviate from a set course, and take a turn, then you made a deviation from your path. If we were doing a sobriety test then we would be seeing if you could walk a straight line. Guess what happens if you can’t walk that line?
In the realm of history there is much symbolism tied to the word straight. In the 16th century, the term straight was equivalent to an honest business dealing. In Christian history, someone who is righteous is the one who takes the straight path. In fact, the term “orthodox” is Greek for “straight path”.
Language is a powerful tool. We use it daily in speaking about LGBT issues and rarely take a moment to step back and consider the impact phrases and words we are use affect the mind.
Sure, I could tell you I am no longer a lesbian or that I am no longer attracted to women and I am straight, or I could even tell you the moon is made of cheese. I could tell you many things, but the moon will still not be made of cheese, and I will still not be attracted to men.
— Cristina Marrero
I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out and stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.
— Harvey Milk
I am reminded of a colleague who reiterated “all my homosexual patients are quite sick” – to which I finally replied “so are all my heterosexual patients”.
— Ernest van den Haag, psychotherapist
When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.
— Epitaph of Vietnam War Veteran Leonard P. Matlovich, 1988
Language: LGBT Symbols
The pink triangle was used by the Nazis in World War II era to classify gay men. The Nazis used a color coding system to classify different prisoners in concentration camps that included yellow for Jews, black for anti-socials, brown for Gypsies, red for political prisoners, and purple for Jehovah’s Witness. The pink triangle identified gay men and it was used to identify pedophiles and rapists.
The Nazis abuse of gay men in the concentration camps included inhumane experimentation, torture, and mass extermination. When the war ended and prisoners were released from concentration camps many men wearing the pink triangle were re-incarcerated by the victors.
In the 1980s, the organization called ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) chose to use to use the pink triangle as its sign. They inverted it to signify a fight back against intolerance.
Interlocking Female & Male Symbols
The interlocking male symbols have been representative of gay men since the 1970s as well. The singular symbol represents the astrological sign of Mars.
A Kansan by the name of Gilbert Baker served in the Army and was stationed in San Francisco during the start of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. After Baker was discharged from the military he remained in the city becoming friends with Harvey Milk. He later designed the first rainbow flag in 1978. He decorated the original with eight stripes to represent the following: pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.
The 1979 Pride Parade Committee adopted the flag soon after the assassination of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official.
The transgender pride symbol incorporates a cross at its bottom, forming the symbol of Venus, an arrow in the upper right corner to form the symbol of Mars, and a crossed arrow in the upper left corner which combines the two. International Foundation for Gender Education credits these individuals for the design: Nancy Nangeroni, Holly Boswell, and Wendy Pierce.
The crescent moons originated from Germany. The German founders wanted to come up a symbol that was unique from the pink triangle.
The Ancient Greeks placed lambdas on shields of Spartan warriors who were often paired with younger men in battle. The rationale was that the warrior would fight more fiercely knowing his lover may be killed.
The lambda was first chosen as a gay symbol in 1970 when it was adopted by the New York Gay Activists Alliance.
The labrys is a double edge axe commonly used by matriarchal societies as both a weapon and harvesting tool. Today the labrys is a symbol of strength and self-sufficiency.
MORE LGBT SYMBOLS:
A university hockey team got naked in a stand against homophobia in sport: Symbolism in the flesh
Words & The Power They Have
Gay versus Homosexual
The word homosexual has a history tag to it that once meant diseased or psychologically/ emotionally disordered. The word homosexual is often offensive to many LGB people and it’s suggested people refrain from using it.
Sexual Orientation versus Sexual Preferences
The term “sexual preference” suggests that the lesbian, gay or bisexual is wholly choosing a same-one’s sexual orientation. Anti-gay advocates use this language when arguing for therapy programs aimed at curing gay’s people. Sexual orientation is the appropriate term to use when describing a person’s physical and emotional attractions to another person.
Relationship versus Homosexual Relations
Homosexual relations calls attentions to sexual behaviors and discounts intimacy and partnership. Same-sex couples prefer people referred to their partnership with the same terminology as you would use for heterosexual couples. No one says John and Mary have “straight relations” but we say John and Mary are in a relationship.
Gay Lives versus Gay lifestyles
The word lifestyle has its own connotation frequently used in conjunction with health. Thus, the better lifestyle you lead the healthier you are. Given this context, the phrase “gay lifestyle” is often used by prejudicial people to denigrate lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals suggesting that LGBT people’s orientation is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured”.
Gay Slang and More
The Decline and Fall of the‘H’ Word: For Many Gays and Lesbians, the Term ‘Homosexual’ is Flinch-Worthy
Bad Words of the Past