On Finding a More Useful Word Than “Homophobia”

In my capacity as managing editor for the Catholic channel (and also as the anointed “Mommabear of the New Homophiles”) I am seriously thinking about laying down a decree to Patheos’ Catholic bloggers that the word “homophobia” will no longer be used, unless it describes a truly “phobic” situation.

This comes after watching Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s piece on anti-gay laws in Uganda get waylaid — and made irrelevant — due to people, in comboxes and social media, landing on a variation of “homophobia” and getting stuck there. Readers fixate on the word and then immediately veer off into screeds on its inexactitude, its overuse and the way it acts as a cudgel to principled argument. One member of Facebook wrote, “use the word and I’m out of the conversation.”

Demanding that “exactly the right words be used in every circumstance or all conversation must end” foments a soft tyranny against dialogue — one that’s been seriously detrimental to our nation.

Yet, it seems to me that, beneath their anger, these folks do have a point. How many of us who harbor no “phobia” toward homosexual persons have nevertheless been called “homophobic” — and thus tainted with this often-baseless and recklessly misapplied shorthand for “hateful hater” — simply for suggesting that “tolerance” should be a two-way street, whereby religious consciences are afforded an equal allowance to “be who they are?”

. . .if we lose the ability to respect that people can only go as far as their consciences will allow, we risk becoming mired in a muck of illusion, imagining hate where none exists, equating compelled behavior with authentic love, and losing sight of the fact that traveling together sometimes means that we walk the extra mile on one challenging road, and they walk it on the next. Everyone spares a bit of shoe-leather for the sake of the other. This is how love travels.

It’s also how “tolerance” actually works, but only if the word itself is properly understood and not bastardized to mean “celebrate unreservedly”.

Just as “tolerance” is broadly mis-used, so is “homophobia” and the weight of the word has become a toxic barrier to real understanding. How does one make a case for either tolerance or a full absorption of one’s position if — by immediately using the word “homophobic” — you have made some feel defensive? I once had a very worked-up lesbian (who knew nothing at all about me beyond that I believe churches should be protected from coercion on gay marriage) call me a “bullying homophobe”, and — protected by her Linguistic Shield of Righteousness — she felt justified in ignoring or distorting my words. Her cries of “Bullying Homophobe” meant my argument was moot. Engagement was pointless, because one of us was not debating in good faith.

So, “homophobia” is inexact; it is divisive; it is over-used. Most troublingly for a thoughtful writer, it is a word whose use risks an idea going unread — often by an audience that most needs to ponder it — or getting so bogged-down in ideological cant that its point is lost.

Henceforth, I wonder if people forging good-faith discussions will agree that “homophobia/homophobic/homophobe” are words that must be limited in use and employed only when doing so will invite neither confusion or slander, because the subject of a piece is known to be authentically driven by “phobia”. Writers could be encouraged to bypass the easy shorthand for more arduous (but more exact) phrases, such as “persecution of homosexuals” or “anti-gay” both of which are perfectly suited to this blog post:

This morning, a rally was held in Uganda to celebrate that country’s new and notoriously harsh anti-gay legislation. I was greatly distressed when I found out that the Catholic archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, had participated.

I find this absolutely unconscionable. This should be so easy. A law that punishes homosexual acts with sentences up to life imprisonment, and punishes non-reporting with prison, is plainly unjust and against the Gospel and the Church’s Holy Magisterium.

Exactly so. And Gobry is exactly right that the church must have a clear, unified voice on issues such as these. In the past Lwanga has argued against this law as being “at odds with the core values”, so let us hope for some clarity on his position and participation in this matter.

Clarity of meaning is not just important, it is necessary for justice.

Words have meanings, too, and the ways in which we use them to bring light or to obfuscate also feed what is just and unjust. “Homophobia” (and all of that word’s variants) seems to me to be a word which over-generalizes, blurs distinctions and too-often halts conversations before they even begin. It is one more word used to label people and instantly negate them — to justify a turn away from charitable discourse, silence the timid, and keep our society stalled, bickering and distrustful and hopelessly divided.

There have to be other, better, words out there. What might they be?

And how do we protect their meanings from being distorted or their use misappropriated, so we do not, in a few years, have to revisit the question?

Comments have been closed for Lent, but my question necessitates them being opened, just this once. What are you suggestions? (I will be monitoring so answer seriously or don’t bother.)

Homo-disto? (to stand apart)
Homo-tracta? (to ponder)
Homo-cerno? (to distinguish, to reckon)

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.thewinedarksea.com/ Melanie B

    Agreed.
    I think it shuts down communication. When I saw Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry
    use it, I thought it was most unfortunate that he hadn’t phrased it
    differently because I knew his greater point was immediately going to be
    lost.
    But as for your final question about finding words whose meanings won’t be distorted so that we won’t have to revisit this discussion in a few years. I don’t think you can. I think it’s the nature of polemic and invective. Really it’s human nature. Words acquire connotations and are appropriated, they shift. You can get rid of mongoloid and replace it with retarded and then you have to replace retarded with handicapped and then differently abled and then… it’s a never-ending regression of language.

    As Eliot says: “Words strain,

    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

    Will not stay still. . . .
    The Word in the desert

    Is most attacked by voices of temptation,”

  • oregon nurse

    I don’t think there is a substitute for homophobic since the purpose of it’s use is to attack/dismiss the person rather than debate their ideas. We shouldn’t be labeling anyone. The GLBT crowd would do well to avoid their own alphabet labels too and engage with others as whole people.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Yoohoo?… It’s Lent, you know?

  • RelapsedCatholic

    I would argue that there is the same dynamic with homophobia and racism. There is homophobia with obvious animus and hate, and there is structural homophobia. The hate-fueled homophobia becomes obvious by the adjectives that the author chooses to use and the slippery slopes they try to create. Structural homophobia is most like what the Church now believes. That there is a definable flaw in the person’s nature that makes them incapable of certain actions, or states of being. To state that a person is capable of experiencing Philia, and Agape, but banned from Eros is to render them unequal and inferior.

    Perhaps a word you might prefer would be hetero-exclusive, hetero-normative, or hetero-supremicist. The term you posed homo-tracta seems to fit most closely what the Church considers its catechism to be, but make no mistake, we have concluded that separate is not equal and we are all better off for it. While the catechism may not be motivated by hatred or animus towards gays and lesbians, it is none-the-less homophobic.

  • MeanLizzie

    I explicitly wrote that I was allowing comments on this one thread.

  • Chris-2-4

    So Relapsed, while the GLBT community may not be motivated by hatred or animus towards Catholics and christians, it is none-the-less anti-catholic.

  • RelapsedCatholic

    Only if they insisted that the church be forced into performing these ceremonies, which undoubtedly some do. Some may hate the Church for how it made them feel about themselves, which I don’t begrudge them. But most I know don’t question the church it’s right to perform whatever marriages it chooses, they simply ask that they have full civil rights. Most LGBTQ people I know are deeply spiritual and most are still Christians hoping that their chosen church recognizes the sanctity of their love.

  • RelapsedCatholic

    From their perspective and mine this is not just an idea, it is the lives and dignity of real people and it’s not up for debate.

  • Melinda Selmys

    I’m not sure that there’s an easy solution here. “Hatred” is a pretty simple word to describe the enactment of direct violence and persecution — but there are a lot of forms of homophobia that are a lot milder. For example, if a chaste, same-sex attracted Catholic is denied employment because “SSA is not compatible with the aims” of a Catholic educational institute that’s not exactly hatred, but it is certainly an unreasonable form of discrimination and discomfort towards gay men. The belief that gays and lesbians need to be treated differently from straight folks because we are essentially mentally ill or unstable isn’t, strictly speaking, “hatred,” the people who think this wouldn’t see themselves as “anti-gay” (is someone who refers schizophrenics for treatment “anti-schizophrenic”?), and they wouldn’t necessarily even support direct persecution. Yet such people do behave in a way that is fearful — not panicky, or even necessarily unkindly, but with a sort of exceptional caution as though you might be a kind of exotic and dangerous alien. This immediate experience of being treated like a potential hazard is a lot more psychologically draining on a day to day basis than is immediately apparent to those who’ve never experienced it — and I think it’s a lot of what’s meant by the term “homophobia.”
    It’s true that sometimes non-homophobic people are accused of homophobia for stupid reasons — but then, non-racist people are also accused of racism for stupid reasons. Sure, people who actually are homophobic but not willing to be self-critical about that are going to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “I’m not listening, I can’t even hear you” as soon as the “h” word appears in public. But on the other hand, I’ve never encountered a genuinely racist person who was willing to entertain the idea that they were racist. We still use the word.

  • Elaine S.

    On a somewhat related topic, I personally would recommend using the term “same-sex civil marriage” in place of “gay marriage” for two reasons:

    1. It makes clear that it is the civil (not religious) institution of marriage that is being opened to same-sex couples. Some strongly religious persons will insist that same-sex unions never be referred to as “marriages” at all, or will add “so-called” or scare quotes to the term “same-sex marriage”, but I think that’s being a bit overly pedantic. Like it or not, marriage is a civil/legal institution as well as a religious and cultural one and if a state or nation opens civil marriage to same-sex couples then that has to be acknowledged.

    2. One need not be gay to enter a same-sex civil marriage. “Gay” in its most narrow definition refers specifically to a male homosexual subculture and a distinction is routinely made between gays (male) and lesbians (female). Furthermore, it’s possible that two men or two women who are not homosexual or who do not identify with the gay/lesbian culture, could enter a civil marriage strictly for legal reasons (just as some opposite-sex couples have occasionally done).

  • Lee Johnson

    I agree that “homophobe” is a ridiculous term. It was designed to take the issue of mental illness and remove it from homosexuals and place it on anyone who doesn’t accept homosexuality and a homosexual political agenda.

    There is no substitute word for it except “normal” and “discerning.”

  • rechill

    Isn’t it odd that a mere 42 years ago (and for centuries before that), homosexuality was defined as a mental disorder in the diagnostic manual for psychiatry and now, because someone may be repulsed by such sexual behavior or the glorification of same, now it is they that have a phobia? I find that rather odd.

  • Evan Dickinson

    “That there is a definable flaw in the person’s nature that makes them
    incapable of certain actions, or states of being. To state that a person
    is capable of experiencing Philia, and Agape, but banned from Eros is
    to render them unequal and inferior.”

    What? This is what homosexuals assert: that there is something that makes them incapable of certain actions or states of being.

    But you are saying they are “banned from eros”. Are you saying they are banned from it by god, incapable of it, or being prevented from it by the church?

  • P Mike

    There is not such thing as “structural homophobia.” On the other hand, “there is a definable flaw in the person’s nature that makes them incapable of certain actions, or states of being” — “sin.” Please note, I am not personally saying homosexuality is sin, but would point out that the New Testament does. Like the New Testament says about lying, drunkenness, sex out side of marriage (including infidelity and pre-marital), and host of other practices that are socially acceptable. the Church does not hate or hold animus towards those that practice homosexuality, but it does not condone (in fact disapproves of sin in general) the practice. Homo-practice-disapproval is accutare, if a bit unwieldy.

  • dabhidh

    It’s not just inexact and divisive, it’s plainly dishonest. It seems to describe the only “phobia” that is also an actual character lapse on the part of the sufferer. Can you imagine people treating people with any ACTUAL phobia as bad people who need to be denied access to polite society? The only reason that the word, “phobia” was injected into the term is so that people can use it to imply that the targets of the epithet are somehow mentally ill. So either the word is completely dishonest (in addition to being etymologically meaningless) or its use declares that mental illness is deserving of scorn. Either way its use is irresponsible and indefensible.

  • Steve in Greensboro

    I’m not sure there is a need for a replacement term for “homophobia”.
    Using words like “homophobic” (or “racist”, “sexist”, “ageist”, “ableist”, etc.) is part of the Marxist project to segregate us into competing groups and engender hate between and among these groups, in order establish the Total State as the arbiter amongst the groups.
    Words like “bigot” or “intolerant” are good enough for me. I try not to judge other people too harshly before I know more about them. And if people judge me too harshly, I probably don’t need to know them anyway.
    But, what distinguishes me from a Marxist is that I do not need them sent to a re-education camp.

  • Shawn Smith

    Whatever word you use, you are aware that the LGBTQXFRY crowd will never use it, and will not permit anyone even remotely friendly to them to use it, right? They have a word that does exactly what they want already, viz. end debate by declaring their opponents not merely wrong, but completely outside the bounds of decency. A “homophobe,” by their lights, is not someone who is merely wrong, but someone with a mental illness which needs treatment (or perhaps re-education).

    I congratulate your attempt at precision here, but as far as affecting the terms of debate, it won’t go very far.

  • Sven2547

    Your ongoing insistence that all homosexuals are liars, and that homosexuals are incapable of love, are why you are considered a bigot.

  • Herb Borkland

    A pleasure to encounter another reader of Four Quartets. Your point is well taken.

  • George A Chien

    Slightly off topic, but: where do we find PEG’s blog? It doesn’t show among all the others on the Catholic channel.

  • MeanLizzie

    Thanks for asking. That page must is being reconfigured today. He can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inebriateme/

  • Sven2547

    What made you think I’m homosexual (I’m not, by the way)? What have I ever said or done that is “bigoted” against heterosexual folk? This is just idle name-calling.

  • Sven2547

    “Hetero-supremacist” is probably the most accurate phrasing. It represents a continued effort to codify, in law and culture, the alleged supremacy of heterosexual relationships.

  • Lee Johnson

    You won’t be here to look back. You will be long forgotten. So there will be no laughter or gloating that you will hear, just eternal non-being for you.

  • oregon nurse

    Alleged? It’s the reason any of us are here!! Be glad your parents weren’t gay. Sometimes I despair when I realize how often comments like this actually pass for logic or some sort of wisdom these days. It’s the Newspeak and doublethink of 1984 transported to 2014. Time for that book to become popular again since I think the message has been lost.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    So, as a Catholic, you support a church that has contributed over the centuries to the persecution, execution, beating, harassment, ostracisation, torture, humiliation, and oppression of the LGBT community.

    You have contributed to a vast criminal organisation that has devoted itself to destroying their lives, families, health, and homes.

    And now, you are acting oppressed and misunderstood because you don’t like the words by which your actions are described.

    No.

    You don’t get to do that.

    No.

    You don’t get to tell people what words they get to use to describe your actions. You don’t get to tell people what words they get to use to describe your church.

    When someone is oppressed, by your words, your actions, how you talk to them, how you refer to them, what you think of them, you don’t get to dictate how they respond to that.

    You are afraid of that word. You are afraid of it because of all that it means and implies.

    It’s because of that fear that yes, you are homophobic.

  • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

    Please list every re-education camp built by gays to treat Christians.

    Now list every re-education camp built by Christians to treat gays.

  • mtwzzyzx

    Heteronormative, heteronormativist. Holding that heterosexuality is the norm and necessary to the propagation of the species, and that homosexuality is a variant sexual orientation (as value neutral a description as I could think of).

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    As was your entrance into the discussion, I’m just turning everything you’ve written on its head. It is, after all, both Troll Tuesday AND April Fools.

    But thanks for suggesting an edit that would at least make the point better.

  • SemperWhy

    I don’t think that’s her intent. The idea is to find a useful, more precise word and start using it. At some point, the LGTBOMGWTFBBQ crowd will notice it and either wonder what she’s talking about, or start using it in their attacks. Either way, the more appropriate word gets traction (hopefully) and enters the lexicon.

    I believe her intent is to persuade people who agree with her to find & use the word. The rest will come about.

  • SemperWhy

    You didn’t notice all your comments showing up for the rest of us, eh?

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    But it isn’t- labeling yourself (as I have been forced to) is horribly undignified and damaging to one’s own dignity- it removes one from the sphere and common brotherhood of humanity and makes one into the hated other.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I’ll entertain the idea that I’m racist, because I am. I’m also horribly culturalist and consider there to be only one right way to live.

    Fear of the other is ingrained in our DNA at a very deep level, and all adding labels to people will do is divide people.

    For proof, I suggest you examine the racism that exists between Korea and Japan, or between Sweden and Norway. Genetic subgroups that outsiders can’t even tell apart.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    The trouble being that “sanctity of love” between human beings requires that 9 months later you give it a name- and many heterosexuals never achieve that.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Nobody ever said they had to label themselves.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    I’ll accept that term. I am most certainly a hetero-supremacist.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Yep, that too. I’m very much a heterophile- right down to a love of the very tiny human beings that the process creates.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Yes we are. The culture war is over. Time for the culture insurgency.

  • mitchd

    Kind of hard to ignore it when its shoved down our throats 24/7. Non-religious people like to “discriminate” against people of faith by not permitting religious practice or speech in the public square. They like to say, you are free to practice your religion in your home and church. Well, how about homosexuals keep their sexual preference in their home as well and keep it out the public square, keep it out of the news, keep it out of our schools. A gay athlete comes out and its wall-to-wall coverage – he/she is a hero. An athlete who is Christian is mocked. What utter hypocrisy. I don’t think anyone is obsessed over gay people except gay people.

  • Renee

    Should we cancel “Paternity Court”, because it implies that individuals have a mother and a father? Maybe the state should stop tracking down men for child support or stop funding Responsibly Fatherhood programs. Children don’t need their kin, it implies family structure is about their needs.

  • Rudy

    How about “normalcy”?

  • Victor

    (((On Finding a More Useful Word Than “Homophobia”)))
    How about going down to talk to peter.
    Forget “IT” Anchoress cause there’s more than one word there and…………………
    END YA SAY sinner vic? BE NICE! DON’T BE LIKE THAT NOW!
    SORRY FOLKS (LOL!?)

  • Shawn Smith

    “it’s not up for debate.”

    It’s kind of funny how many causes dear to leftists are “not up for debate.” It seems like their favorite line. If you disagree with them, you are not merely wrong, but evil, and discussion is simply not an option. They are right. Their opponents are oppressors. The end.

    If leftists had their way, there would never be any debate, ever, just the nodding of heads and an occasional muffled scream from Room 101.

  • CSmith

    And…com box closed. Yoikes!

  • Shawn Smith

    Oh, Atheist, they don’t exist . . . yet. But unless things turn aside from the way they’ve been going, they’re coming. It’s already illegal in Canada & significant chunks of Europe to say anything negative about homosexuality. It is apparently currently a matter of legal debate whether it is legally allowable in America for a business owner to decline to participate in a homosexual “wedding”. I know you want to pretend you’re on the side of freedom & live-and-let-live, but you’re not. You’re on the side that is fanatically devoted to squelching ideas it doesn’t like and destroying anyone who thinks them.

  • http://batman-news.com ADG

    “list every re-education camp built by gays to treat Christians”
    Perhaps much of the U.S. public school system and universities?

  • Victor

    You’ve got to forgive Theodore Seeber Sven cause like me, he’s in mental pain and I’m sure that it would not matter even if we changed the word “Homophobia” to another word.

    Long story short, I stuck UP for many of these people in the past and now it seems to have back fired in Canada. I don’t know if this above man is a Canadian but as one who has seen lobbyist take advantage of our kindness is hard to take. I got so UPSET when same-sex-marriage was passed in Canada that I wrote to our now “Prime Minister” when he was about 38% down in poles because at the time, he was the only party at the time who was arguing that marriage was between a man and a woman. Anyway I wrote him saying in so many words that if there was really a GOD in Heaven, he would be our next “Prime Minister” and he wrote me back thanking me for my letter and he’s still our Prime Minister and I’ve been out of politic since then.
    Believe it or not, I did get hell from someone I cared for after he/she heard about it, saying stuff like, how dare you try claiming that you elected this man.

    Anchoress as “The Holy Spirit” is my witness, “I” am telling “The Truth” when I say that I’ve never ever claimed that I knowingly elected him.

    http://www.realwomenofcanada.ca/publications/analysis-reports/canadians-deceived-on-same-sex-marriage-issue/
    God Bless Peace

  • TapestryGarden

    Did you all go out to find a bird’s nest?

    You completely miss the point. In the “bad old days” people simply did not feel compelled to discuss, make public, or identify themselves by what they do with their genitalia. Enter the professional gay activist cohort and thus we are all now treated to public declarations, demands that we “honor” same sex activity that by definition is both abnormal (biologically speaking I don’t even bother to bring up theology) and not equivalent to male female sexual bonding. Service providers are sued, school curricula are changed, demands that religious beliefs must be ignored so as not to “offend” the gay or Lesbian or whatever of the 57 genders that are supposedly now applicable.

    Homosexuality is disordered, abnormal and unhealthy behavior just as other behaviors such as drug addiction, alcoholism, gluttony, self abuse etc etc etc. Only those with same sex attraction feel compelled to demand that those engaged in normal, ordered and healthy behavior subvert their normal inclinations and accept if not proclaim the wonders of same sex activity.

    Again what you do with your genitals is of no concern to me. You’re welcome to have at it and deal with the consequences. Just don’t expect me to find it anything worth hearing about or experiencing.

  • USKensington

    Please list any “re-education camp” built by Christians to treat gays that isn’t voluntary.

  • Shawn Smith

    Leftists hate home schooling and school choice so much because, since they have significantly fewer children than conservatives, they need public schooling to act as a reverse cuckoo’s egg, steal our children from us.


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