November 7, 2005

A few things about "heteronormative."

Here's a Harvard Crimson opinion piece by a student named Travis Kavulla that compares the older term “homophobia,” which makes an accusation of bigotry, and the newer "heteronormative," which protests the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. "Homophobia" is a stronger term, but, as such, it asks for less: stop being hateful toward gay people. "Heteronormative" is less of an insult, but it asks for more:
[O]n college campuses, the quest to end heteronormativity is having some real consequences. Responding to complaints that dorms that house those of the same sex together are heteropresumptive, a handful of liberal arts colleges have taken down those bothersome gender barriers entirely.

And for some years now, BGLTSA has been tilting at windmills to transform Harvard’s “gendered” bathrooms into “gender-neutral spaces.” The argument for the change is that those—and here’s another term to add to our overpopulated lexicon—“identifying” as transgendered feel alienated from gender-specific bathrooms, that they cannot be classified by those silhouetted stick figures, and so require a totalizing change to make them feel comfortable....

Caving willingly to pressure, Wesleyan College’s imprimatur has been accorded to a group that wants to educate professors and incoming freshmen on the use of the transgendered pronoun “ze” and its possessive “hir.”

Perhaps what’s most disconcerting about all of this, however, is not the impact these new terms are having on everyday life or mainstream academia—for most people, overtly or quietly, recognize the gay rights movement’s latter-day silliness.

Rather, it’s the prospect that a community whose goal has so long been “acceptance” is isolating itself and alienating others by creating a separate body of knowledge that only they appear to care about or know. Of those transgender terms, BGLTSA’s Noa Grayevsky ’07 is quoted in last week’s Fifteen Minutes, “People that are either queer or educated on this topic use [‘ze’ and ‘hir’] pretty widely.” And, of course, no one else does.

And the creation of new genders has become a hobby for those on the fringe. Consider Kit Yan, a “gender queer” Hawaiian poet who will be performing tonight at BGLTSA’s invitation. In one poem, after rolling through several dozen “genders”—including appellations like “polyamorous,” “heteroflexible,” and “boydyke”—Yan solemnly declares, “and that’s just the beginning...There may be as many as a million genders / Just floating around, searching for the right person / To snatch them up.”

The ivory tower is the only place where such nonsense can find a home and even as we on campus witness the germination of a new, ever stranger vocabulary, few can imagine taking any of it seriously.

In the world at large, social acceptance and gay marriage seem to be accomplishable (and sometimes, accomplished) goals of the gay rights movement. What fruits can those who are using these new, awkward, polluting words possibly hope to reap?
Kavulla bundles an awful lot of things together, including my longtime concern about gender-neutral bathrooms. (Note: I'm not referring to single-user bathrooms.)

The switch to gender-neutral bathroom changes the conditions of real life for everyone and is unacceptably burdensome to women and, especially, girls. People need to keep their wits about them on this subject, which stands apart from the realm of speech and ideas. By the same token, colleges shouldn't be bullied into abolishing every single-sex dorm.

Speech and ideas are different. It is fine to criticize people who assume everyone is heterosexual. If a man says he has a date and someone refers to the date as female, the assumer can be zinged as "heteronormative." But those who are relentless, grim, and heavy-handed about this deserve some back talk. Everyone doesn't need to think about your issues all the time.

Trying to get people to say "ze" and "hir" is probably only silly. It's not going to happen. Feminists tried something like that long ago and ultimately settled for "Ms." and a lot of "he or she"-ing. But if the "ze" and "hir" crowd start making any actual progress, the rest of us will need to rouse ourselves from complacency and say no.

As for Kit Yan -- poets can say whatever they want. They can play with language, make up words, invite us to think all sorts of things -- true, false, and fantastical. Unless they are stirring up hatred, I'd lay off the poets. Most poets are quite bad and are utterly ignored. If Kit Yan has found an audience, give the poor ... poet a break.

UPDATE: Here are links to old posts of mine about gender-neutral bathrooms:
"Common fear" and "severe misunderstandings."
"De-gendering" restrooms."
The single-sex bathroom issue again.
Is this sex discrimination?
"They encircled me in a very menacing and hostile stance."
In search of the right bathroom.


Jacques Cuze said...

Can you expand on why you think that gender neutral bathrooms are especially burdensome to women, especially girls? I am not disagreeing with you, but my experience with restroom lines demonstrates some definite advantages to the situation.

Though you did disclaim it, I am curious as to why building owners will build two side-by-side single user restrooms to put triangles and sticks on the doors. Code? Tradition? Law?

There is also a former Army Base, now art center at teh Marin Headlands Center for the Arts that due I believe to either costs or preservation was not allowed to build a new restroom and had to convert their only restroom to coed. It is the restroom for a former Army mess, and big, and is now used to weddings and art shows and ya know what? Not a big deal.

Also, I take exception to your use of the word "the". The Intarweb community has been trying to promote the spelling-neutral "hte" and "teh" but a nexis-lexis search of your site shows your lack of cooperation.

Ann Althouse said...

I'll do an update linking to all my old posts on the subject of gender-neutral bathrooms. I think I lot of my readers already know why I think what I do. It's about violence against women, a topic lefties used to care about before they moved on to other battlegrounds.

betsybounds said...

Well, I can recall when the proponents of gender-neutral, or come-one-come-all, or whatever you want to call them, bathrooms used the delightfully quaint neurosis-accusation tactic of asking opponents whether they weren't comfortable with their own bodies. If you mind the segregation, you're sick, you see--horrors! I used to respond by saying that I am perfectly comfortable with my body. It's just that I don't want everyone else being comfortable with it, too.

Not that something so mundane matters to these people.

betsybounds said...

Sorry--what I meant to say was that if you WANT the segregation, you're sick.

Goesh said...

Im all for it! I could do some serious ogling. Oops! I thought the stall was empty - sorry! do you women really want to be sitting down on toilet seats that have not been lifted by men in a hurry to pee? You are welcome to the equal opportunity of having to wipe off a toilet seat - at least we don't have to sit down to pee, but you ladies will be wiping the toilet seats twice as often. Remember, many Public rest rooms do not provide those tissues to place over the seat. Yup, you're more than welcome in a busy rest room to get a wad of toilet tissue and wipe off the damn seat that some man has pissed all over because all the other stalls are occupied and you have an urgent need and are pushed for time. You've come a long ways, baby! Remember that cigarette ad that pushed the equality of stupidity? Did I mention those stall doors that don't close and lock? Leave it to perverts to jam those locks, ladies. And you get to experience all the bathroom sounds too! What woman wouldn't want to be in a rest room with a bunch of farting, defecating men???

Parker Smith said...

I've never liked the word 'homophobic'.

I'm looking for a word that implies reasoned disapproval of a personal choice, rather than one that implies fear and hatred.

Jacques Cuze said...

Violence against women is certainly a valid concern in many though not all circumstances.

Jacques Cuze said...

I'm looking for a word that implies reasoned disapproval of a personal choice

I think you're looking for a word that implies accepted public disapproval of someone else's personal choice that doesn't affect me.

The word is "jerk." Try it, you may find it looks good on you.

Palladian said...

Yesterday was dead animal day, today it's gay day!

"People that are either queer or educated on this topic use [‘ze’ and ‘hir’] pretty widely."

While I don't consider myself "queer", I am gay and assume that I have pretty much experienced the gamut of outer-orbit gay identity politics yet I have never heard these "pronouns"; Though I do think you're right that they have no future other than a sad reminder of how dangerous it is to take too many comparative gender studies courses, there is something very creepy about such language tactics. It's perhaps a cliché to cite Orwell's "1984", but I think the comparison to Newspeak is apt: an attempt, however feeble and silly , to render words and concepts meaningless. The other possibility (the more likely one) is equally unpleasant: expecting other people to accept one's own fantasy language and distinctions, to the point that you call them bigots if they don't. I think Kavulla is right to be concerned that the turn away from "acceptance" as a goal of gay rights advocates was a grave mistake.

As for the "heteronormative" thing, ick! What a horrible, ugly word. "Homosexual" and "heterosexual" are bad enough: graceless chop-shop combinations of bits of Greek and Latin, holdovers from the heady days of the later 19th century when the mania to quantify the subtlest mysteries of the mind spawned all sorts of cumbersome words for oversimplified and downright false concepts. I also dislike "homophobic" because it's even more meaningless than "homosexual" and "heterosexual". "Homo" without the "sexual" ceases to connote anything other than "same". Add another Greek-derived word, "phobia", and what do you have? Fear of same? Apart from my etymological objections to this word, I dislike it because it assumes the role of a psychological diagnosis, attributing deep, sublimated motives to what could more safely and accurately be described as simple moral disagreement or bigotry.

"Heteronormative" bests all of these words on the etymological-ugly scale, by mashing a Greco-Roman prefix onto a 19th century adjective that itself was tortured out of a French noun describing a carpenter's square. It's the kind of word you pepper over your sloppy midterm paper written for your class in comparative gender studies.

As for what it implies, it's at least a bit more accurate and doesn't rely on imputed psychological problems as "homophobia" does. But what exactly is the problem with the concept? By any estimation, even using Kinsey's high 10% figure (which indicated only partial homosexual orientation), the majority of the population is heterosexual. So assuming "heteronormativity" in human relations is at least a 90% safe bet. Again, I don't expect people to be able to divine my sexuality when they meet me, and I don't expect people to approach me in fear of offending me by making a simple, nonjudgmental assumption that's correct at least 90% of the time. If someone does make the assumption, I politely correct them if it's material to the conversation (or if their assumption is phrased in the form of a question like "have you been dating any girls?"). But I don't have such a delicate constitution that my selfhood is shattered when someone dares to assume that my sexuality is in keeping with the majority of men.

downtownlad said...

Parker has a point. I don't like the word homophobic either. It implies fear, when that's really not what the word is about. A homophobe is someone who disapproves of and hates gay people.

So let's make it easier on ourselves. Let's just stop calling them homophobes and call them what they really are.

Anti-gay Bigots.

Then sit back and smile while they freak out at being called that. Oddly, they have no qualms whatsoever about calling gay people the nastiest names and making judgments on gay people's personal lives, somehow believing that their verbal taunts are perfectly acceptable. Fine. But two can play at that game. But when you taunt them back by calling them bigots, suddenly they act like victims.

I have zero problems with anyone expressing their views. It is good to get one's thoughts out there on the table, so everyone knows where each other stands. Personally, I don't want to be friends with an anti-gay bigot. And I'm sure that Parker doesn't want to be friends with any gay people, nor those who approve of homosexuality. So let's not waste each other's time, shall we?

I agree with Ann though - the use of these terms is just plain silly. We have perfectly acceptable pronouns. He, she, and It. Choose whichever one you want to fit your mood, but please, don't waste your time creating a new one.

Palladian said...

An anecdote about gender-neutral bathrooms:

I was a graduate student in art at a well-known northeastern ivy-league school. My department had its own building, a great early 20th century relic that used to be a metallurgy lab and was only very slightly altered for its later art-studio purpose. Being that the building was designed as a metallurgy lab in the early days of the 20th century, it was safely assumed that there would not need to be a ladies' room. But what to do when it changed into an art school building which would house a mixed-gender department? Since the department was traditionally underfunded, and since it was an art department which was assumed to be populated by free-spirited, free-thinking types, the elegant solution was to do nothing. It would simply be "the restroom". There were two urinals in the corner, shielded by a sholder-high partition, three standard stalls with locking doors, and one large laboratory slop sink. Everybody simply used the restroom and apart from the first uncomfortable times you encountered a colleague of the opposite sex drying their hands, no one gave it much thought. One thing that alleviated potential anxiety was that there was actually another restroom in the building which had originally been the faculty restroom for the metallurgy lab. This restroom was a single-user room with a locking door and so if anyone felt uncomfortable with the communal restroom, they knew they could use the private one. The interesting thing is that most people used the communal room when they had to do number 1 and the private room for number #2, so the bathrooms became segregated not on gender lines, but on biological imperatives. Despite this, I actually agree with Ann in my opposition to gender-neutral bathrooms; keep in mind that art school is an entirely different mode of being than any other social situation so what transpired in my old grad school studio building is in no way applicable to socionormative environments. There was never the danger for women that I suspect would accompany gender-mixed restrooms in the real world. It helped that the women in the department were significantly tougher and scarier than most of the wimpy men, and that almost everyone was usually carrying power tools.

I never thought I would write such detailed impressions of a restroom I have known. Maybe I need more coffee.

Tara said...

Response to Goesh.

I don't think that defacating guys are automatically worse than defacating women. I've seen some pretty gross women's bathrooms. Many women also squat above the toilet seat and pee all over it. Lack of consideration isn't limited to men, and human excretory functions are not pretty. Separate bathrooms shouldn't be based on how yuck eek gross men are, but on Ann's legitimate concerns.

Although I agree in general that I don't object to segregated bathrooms, I find it really disgusting that you would think that a non-segrated bathroom makes it okay for you to 'accidentially' prey on women. Your personal responsibility to be a decent human being does not depend on bathroom signage.

Undercover Christian said...

I worked at an office with three single-user bathrooms. Two of them naturally, as in not by markings, became sex-segregated. The other was used for "number 2."

The "men's restroom" was absolutely disgusting compared to the women's.

Obvious safety concerns aside, I wouldn't want to share restrooms with men because men are filthy. (I'm only half kidding.)

vbspurs said...

There's a lot of ground to cover on this thread!

1) The name: heteronormative.

Somebody. Shoot me. Not you.

As a linguist, and someone who is enjoying the heck out of a book called Word Origins - and How We Know Them, I love word construction and their history, their roots, their logic.

Every word we speak, has a root and thereto a LOGIC.

Seeing how our ancestors coined words is endlessly fascinating to me, and I'm sure I'm not the only one on Althouse.

Yet, cruelly ironically, in the present, I find such words as 'heteronormative', as an awkward attempt to coin an awkward word, and nothing more.

Coining terms is a dicey business.

Some are immediately taken up without much problem (blog, blogroll), largely because their inoffensively logical.

Some...flail about in their own weighty mass of ridiculousness.

(The official linguistic term for the lowly word 'prefix' is segmental morpheme...)

This is precisely one of the reasons why military or aeronautic terms are so hilarious.

They take a simple phrase or action, and transform it into something more than what it is:

Extra Vehicular Action v. Spacewalk.


On paper, and IRL, I see 'heteronormative' as yet another clunky word invented for purely agenda-driven linguistic reasons.

I just don't think it'll catch on if left to the people.

But when Academia give it its imprimatur...then who knows what'll happen.

2) Co-ed Loos

Who needs them?

Printemps for one!

This upstart in the French department store scene (founded 1904) went co-ed loo many years ago, with not a French eyelash being batted in complaint.

Just another reason why the French are more sophisticated than Americans, right?

Yes, there's that.

You won't find Harrods mixing the lads with the lasses either, though.

But there are also historical reasons why such things exist in some countries, than others. It's not a question of sophistication -- it's the result of it.

The French State always taxed to use public urinals heavily, so the Mairies later installed these barrel-type open air urinals available for (mostly) men.

You went in, your face, shoulders, and below your knees being kept visible, and peed.

Everyone gawked at you anyway.

Now public urinals, or loos are a matter of course in many countries around the world: not so in the US.

There are some older cities where you still see the oft-dubious public bathrooms, especially on the male side, but they are usually in parks, and other family thoroughfares.

We in the Anglosphere had a much less intrusive and "helpful" State and local government, who didn't tax public urinals until the mid-1860s, if memory serves. (That's why in the UK one still says, I'm going to spend a penny). Some countries never did.

So public urination and everything that implies, barely covering one's body, was always accepted, even encouraged for tax-raising reasons.

So it's not that big of a leap from that open-air barrel, to co-ed loos.

History always explains.

(3) Women squat on toilets and leave pee dollops (I hate that too, BTW) because their mothers always enjoined them:

"Don't sit on the toilet seat!! You'll get...GERMS!".

Basically, they meant crabs, but they were too ladylike to say that.

But sorry; men are, by far, the more piggy of the two in questions of toilet behaviour.

Mind you, if I really need to go, I'll use any bathroom, even the men's one.

Somehow, unlike women, that's not considered invading their space.

It's making their day.


peter hoh said...

Palladian wrote: so what transpired in my old grad school studio building is in no way applicable to socionormative environments.

Socionormative. My new favorite word. Can't wait to accuse my wife of being socionormative when she comes home from work and asks me why I haven't made dinner already.

Goesh said...

I would never jam a bathroom lock, even if shapely women were going to be using the same stall! It would take a most dedicated and scientific lecher to be able to predict at what point a woman would be rising up from the toilet seat with her pants down, and upon flinging open the door, lamenting the slovenly janitors for allowing such flimsy stall doors to be in operation. And another horrid thought has entered my mind. What of the weenie-waggers that might start up their unique form of shock and awe once women started using the same bathroom? Hmmm? There is no law says a man (weenie-wagger) must zip it up while facing the wall, is there?? The road that transcends the philosophical and practical is often covered in fecal matter.

vbspurs said...

Screw Socionormative. I can't wait to use weenie-wagger!


Palladian said...

peter hoh: I decided to coin that, since it's obviously ok to just jam together unrelated roots and prefixes and such to make clunky, meaningless academic words. Try it with your favorite words today:





Jacques Cuze said...

But sorry; men are, by far, the more piggy of the two in questions of toilet behaviour

Data please.

Undercover Christian said...

Data please.

Please visit five gas stations. Inspect both the restroom for women and the restroom for men.

Next visit two department stores. Inspect the restrooms for both sexes.

Next visit four bars or clubs. Again, inspect the restrooms.

Care to place a wager on which sex would have the messiest restrooms?

brylin said...

Whatever happened to the term "Brights" as offered by The New York Times to describe atheists?

Icepick said...

Like Victoria said, there's a lot to cover in this! So I'm going to ignore almost all of it and comment on two points.

First, I've been out of college for a few years now. What the hell dies the 'A' stand for in BGLTSA? And sometimes I also see a Q appended to the end. What are these mysterious new genders?

Second, to address Alex Harrison's last comment, I used to have a job where I got to clean public restrooms very regularly. The women's restrooms were ALWAYS scarier and nastier! (This was in a grocery store.) In the men's restrooms, there were usually only two issues to deal with: bad aim (you know what I'm sayin'), and an inability to throw paper towels in the waste can. (This was probably due to bad aim again, compounded with laziness. All men play basketball with every available trashcan.) But there are all KINDS of nightmares above and beyond that in a women's restroom. I will not elaborate. Your experience may vary, but that's been mine.

Goesh said...

Nope - I don't want my grandaughters going to a football game where a bunch of drunken male fans will be using the same bathroom. Are you out of your freakin' minds? Weeping Jesus! What a sad day that Grandpa would have to accompany his grandaughters into a bathroom at a stadium carrying a baseball bat!

brylin said...

And perhaps it is relevant to note UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakeoff's 2004 advice to Democrats.

madcat said...


I'm pretty certain that the "SA" stands for student association... just another benign typical name for a student group, really.

Undercover Christian said...

Icepick's comment.

Oooo, the grocery store. That's a wild card. It brings out a special crowd. Those women's restrooms are awful. For the sake of the men, bathrooms shouldn't be unisex at grocery stores.

tiggeril said...

Whatever happened to the term "Brights" as offered by The New York Times to describe atheists?

Ugh! I used to be a regular visitor to James Randi's website, but eventually gave up because his use of "Brights" bugged me so much. I'm an atheist myself, but I don't automatically assume that a religious person is a complete doofus.

Wade_Garrett said...

In my own experience, gay identity politics on college campuses are entirely detached from reality. Understandably, a lot of people are repressed, or otherwise afraid of coming out of the closet when they are in high school. Some of them, when they get to college, overcompensate by demanding that professors use words like "ze" and "hir." Another word I see used is "boi," presumably to mean a gay male under a certain age. I think that all of those pronouns are silly. I ran into them a lot in college, but none of my gay law school friends (or pre-law school-job friends) used them.

At Yale, all of the dormitories are co-ed, though the freshman dorms are segregated by floor. For everybody else, the floors are co-ed, though the bathrooms are small and are located between every other suite. That is, you don't go to a large bathroom at the end of the hall, you and your roommates share a bathroom with the room next door to you. Since sophomores, juniors and seniors get to choose who they live with, and who they live next to, one can get any sort of bathroom arrangement they prefer.

I shared a bathroom with women every year after my freshman year. The first couple of times you see someone of the other sex coming out of the shower in just a towel, it throws you a little bit. After a couple of weeks, everybody was acting like brother and sister and you never thought twice about it. Coming as I was from a single-sex Catholic high school, the co-ed dorms and bathrooms really did a lot to help me adjust to living with women, to learn that they weren't just the pretty little things that you see all dressed up at formals, but that they brush their teeth with their hair all a mess at 7:30 in the morning just like everybody else. For me, the co-ed bathrooms were a positive thing.

Mike said...

FWIW, the word "boi" isn't really age-related -- there are two general categories of use: older men use it to describe themselves, men typically proud of their youthful vigor or ability to connect with a younger generation (or something); younger men use it because they don't like the word "guy", which sounds too heteronormative (whoops!), or the word "man", because it implies being older, or the word "boy", because that's just, well, pederast-y. ;)

At least that's the usage pattern I've been able to work out. Really, though, the words people use to describe themselves can be very revealing. I for one try to avoid men who describe themselves as "bois", regardless of how old they are.

Icepick said...

In response to MadCat: [Slaps forehead] Doh!

I was thinking the S went with the T for Trans-Sexual. But the T is Transgendered, isn't it? Well, thanks for smacking me with the clue bat.

madcat said...

Icepick -

NP (and trans* can be either). IMHO and FWIW, yes, acronyms can be a pain, and often just make us go, "WTF"? TTFN. :):)

Simon said...

Identiy politics has always been pretty silly, but if this doesn't qualify as jumping the shark, I'm not sure what does. How preposterously silly are these narcissistic attention-seekers going to get?

P. Froward said...

What problem will allegedly be solved by unisex bathrooms? Who is being harmed, and how?

Simon said...

Incidentally, I was reading something the other day and foudn the term "LGBTQ." What's especially moronic about this is that there is no need for all this lexicographic silliness; there is already a word which encompasses male and female people attracted to the same or both sexes: "homosexual." But since the community is determined to turn that word into a perjorative (since that way, perhaps, they can claim to be persecuted simply because the rest of the world doesn't use the nomenclature of their choice), they have to invent this absurd self-referential language, a whimsical solution to an imagined problem.

As others have commented, wasn't the goal to be accepted by society as just a normal part of society? Forming your own little segregated subculture doesn't just not achieve that, it's moving in completely the opposite direction. You can be integrated, or give up your subcultural pretensions. Pick one.

And for crying out loud, for the people who actually think all this stuff matters - stop deluding yourselves that your sexuality makes you interesting or different or risque - it doesn't, it's just very normal, and excedingly tedious.

Simon said...

" What problem will allegedly be solved by unisex bathrooms? Who is being harmed, and how?"

Oh, that's easy - "people who don't like to self-identify as one gender or the other," or "people who don't feel specifically a member of either gender."

In short: pretentious people and people in need of serious psychological help. If you're confused about which gender you are, there's a pretty easy test I can reccomend to solve the problem.

Falsely conflating a serious psychological affliction with sexual orientation - "LGBTQ" - does terrific harm. I agree with Tammy Bruce: stop validating these poor people's psychosis out of a misguided desire to "let people express themselves," and get them the help they desparately need. Which is a psychologist, not a surgeon.

Jacques Cuze said...

What problem will allegedly be solved by unisex bathrooms?

How to most efficiently serve a waiting population with minimal waiting times as well as minimal variance in waiting times while simultaneously minimizing construction costs and required floor space. Otherwise known as the stadium effect

Parker Smith said...

quxxo -

I think you're looking for a word that implies accepted public disapproval of someone else's personal choice that doesn't affect me.

The word is "jerk." Try it, you may find it looks good on you.

Nope - not a good fit, I think. I thought the thread was about words, and not about leaping to conclusions (although the gender designation of bathroom stuff is interesting, too).

I just mean to suggest that using a term that, in common use, has come to conflate fear, hatred, and bigotry in a single package, along with stigmatizing the person being accused of it, tends to work against rational discussion and meaningful debate.

This, of course, would not apply if you feel there is no legitimate basis for differences of opinion on this topic, and that the conflation mentioned above is both appropriate and useful.

I apologize if I offered you any offense - I know this is a sensitive topic for just about everyone.

P. Froward said...

quxxo: So where's the market demand for your particular solution?

I'm reminded of smoking bans in bars: The people who advocated it claimed that there was demand, but the bar owners said that if they did it voluntarily, the customers went elsewhere. That was true: "unilateral" smoking bans in bars were tried, and the market rejected them consistently. So it was a very subtle and nuanced kind of demand, I guess. The kind of thing that people have to be forced to want. For their own good. Of course.

Elizabeth said...

The transgender issue comes to the mainstream, bringing with it its language and rules and angst. And we've not even gotten a handle on it yet in the "gay community" whatever you want that to mean.

There's a women's music festival every year in Michigan, and for a decade at least, the hot issue has been where one lines up per the fest's policy on admission: women born women only (except for children up to age 12). On the one hand, I'm pretty amazed by any man who has his equipment removed and become Estelle, and so I wasn't happy with the policy. But it's more complex; some TGs do only the estrogen part, and leave the meat and veg attached. So, none of that in the communal showers, please.

And now, the big hooha is about F2M transgender, about which I have terribly mixed feelings overall. There is a big increase in the number of young women doing sex reassignment surgery (mostly above the waist; it's much more dangerous and costly to do genital surgery for female to male than the other way around). I suspect -- sorry, here comes the lingo -- that there's a serious wave of internal misogyny driving this fad. And, at a women's festival, I don't want to deal with a lot of bois hopped up on testosterone and going through a second adolescence.

The upshot is, there is no single point of view among gay people on the issues of gender, language, public accommodations, and so on. The gay community is a matrix, not a homogenous set of view. And at some point, I think gender identify diverges from sexual orientation as a category.

Tony said...

If the "stick figures" are confusing, maybe we should change them to pictures of a penis or a vagina. Look between your legs and match the picture.

P. Froward said...

Simon: Even if they are goofy, what's it to you?

Undercover Christian said...

I also think it's strange to lump homosexual/gay/lesbian/queer people together with transexuals/transgender people. I think these two groups are enormously different.

All this talk about what word is best to describe people who are attracted to people of the same sex is headache inducing. Since when is "homosexual" offensive? Three of my best friends have been gay men and none of them ever told me not to say "homosexual."

Here, let's make it easy. How about we smash all the words together?


Elizabeth said...


Are you aware that there are people for whom a quick look between the legs doesn't answer that question?

downtownlad said...

I'm offended by the use of the word "homosexual". Just do a search of it on Google news, and all you will find are news organizations that are extremely anti-gay, such as Christian web sites, the Washington Times, etc.

Straight people call themselves "straight". Nobody says "I'm heterosexual". So if they can choose to be called straight, we can choose to be called gay.

Using the word homosexual as a noun is really no different than using the word kike, nigger, etc. It is a word that is meant to offend.

lindsey said...

It is fine to criticize people who assume everyone is heterosexual. If a man says he has a date and someone refers to the date as female, the assumer can be zinged as "heteronormative."

I'm a little confused here. Define "norm". If you have a large group of brunettes and one blonde, isn't the norm in hair color brunette even though there's a blonde? In other words, among the general population where most people are hetero (and don't have mysterious genitals that defy description), isn't the norm hetero? When people are heteronormative, aren't they just acknowledging reality? Isn't the "norm" in terms of human behavior whatever most people in a group are doing? So it's completely normal and acceptable to assume that most people you're going to meet are hetero because they will be.

Also, after reading this stuff, I'm of the opinion higher education can make you crazy and maybe some of this stuff should be abolished.

Palladian said...

I'm offended by the word "lad". Oh, and also the words "broccoli", "crepuscular" and "Wankel rotary engine". Therefore if you say them, you will be branded an extreme bigot and sent to the Dianne Feinstein Center for Offensive Person Rehabilitation.

But seriously, you can't expect everyone to conform to your emotive proscriptions of certain words you find offensive. You can't seriously claim that calling someone a homosexual is the same as calling someone nigger.

As I said above, I dislike the word "homosexual" for other reasons. But I don't really like the synonyms for it either. I don't think "gay" is any more descriptive or less offensive that "homosexual" or "queer" or any of the others. I've come to believe that the reason there's not good words for the various sexual orientations ("straight" included) is that the whole concept of sexual orientation as a primary mode of being and identity is a fundamentally flawed and empty concept to begin with. I'd rather stick to "human" and "man" and "Evan" as descriptions for myself and leave the details to speak for themselves.

Simon said...

"I'm offended by the use of the word 'homosexual'."

I like pudding.

"Straight people call themselves 'straight'. Nobody says "I'm heterosexual".

I don't refer to myself in terminology which related to my sexuality, period. It's irrelevant, and frankly, I don't much care whether other people refer to me as straight, heterosexual or whatever. Believe me, if you think that "homosexual" is the epithet of choice of homophobes, you're leading a sheltered life. Focus on something interesting or relevant - like changing people's minds about what they think about gay people.

lindsey said...

Frankly, it seems like an attempt to make themselves appear more populous than they are. Afterall, if you take ten random men off the street, isn't it reasonable to assume that at least 9 out of ten or even all are straight?

lindsey said...

And what happens when the person is offended by your presumption of not knowing whether their date is male or female? What a way to offend your boss!

Undercover Christian said...

Using the word homosexual as a noun is really no different than using the word kike, nigger, etc. It is a word that is meant to offend.

You're kidding? Right?

As Simon said:
if you think that "homosexual" is the epithet of choice of homophobes, you're leading a sheltered life

Yes, very.

It's not meant to offend. I've always seen homosexual used as the more formal terminology, just like heterosexual.

chuck b. said...

I like "homosexual". It sounds kinda nasty and still resonates with subversive, unnatural, twisted behaviour. I'm homosexual. I like to sodomize men. I like to be sodomized by men. It's great. I love that something so simple bothers (some) people so much. Some people need to be bothered, they really do.

And I like heteronormative much better than the word they used when I was in college: Heterosexist. Bleh!

Knemon said...

"Using the word homosexual as a noun is really no different than using the word kike, nigger, etc. It is a word that is meant to offend."

Muh? Some people might use it that way, but others don't. My best friend, who is gay, and also a homosexual, uses the words more or less interchangeably. Is he meaning to offend himself? Is he self-hating? Or is he simply not a whining fool?

Tony said...


What else could there be? Do we have a third sex I don't know about?