Dr D. on Sex, Homosexuality, Language Usage

A reader, MM, sent a comment criticizing an off-hand, snide remark I had made in my micro-essay, “Sex Advice,” on this blog. I welcome the opportunity MM gives me to take him into the alley and beat him to a pulp. His full comment:

Though usually considered much of a stick-in-the-mud regarding language, and especially neologisms, I must offer a cordial disagreement regarding the word “gender” when used instead of “sex.”

Ordinarily I despise changing the language (you should see, for example, my battles with the ignorami who say “healthy” when they mean “healthful”), but when a change improves and clarifies, then I can not only accept but embrace it.

You are right that “gender” was originally intended for language references — more important in French and other furrin tongues — but since “sex” has become such an important, or at least such an ever-present, part of everyday life, having a separate word, such as “gender,” keeps the meaning clear.

I mean, I have compromised my formerly inviolate principles so that now I even use the word “gay” rather than “homosexual,” after swearing I would never degrade the language in that fashion.

But, after all, “gay” is the polite term, the one preferred by the people to whom it applies.

So, if I can change, linguistically, so can you.

MM’s justification for the widespread substitution of “gender” for “sex”makes sense. I agree that it clarifies. However, it ignores the fact that such a change rarely occurs as a result of a technical-rational process. Such changes, this one in particular, are loaded with sociological and, with political importance. To ignore them is to assent. Winning the substitution of one word for another is like winning an election forever, an election in which the winning party never even ran and the opposition never campaigned. What I am going to say about “gender” applies even better to “gay.”

For the six- hundred years-plus that something like modern English has been in existence, the word sex expressed the distinction between male and female. That would be as in the “male sex,” “the weaker sex,” and “keeping the sexes divided.” It worked well. Hardly anyone got confused between having sex and the above usage. I admit it may have been partly because hardly anyone said, “I am having sex,” but rather, “ I am….(Anglo-Saxonism).”

Before I proceed, don’t get into a naively condescending mode about my assertion that modern English has been in existence for only six-hundred hundred years; consider the following: The English nobility only began speaking English toward the end of the fourteenth century. Before that, England was a bi-lingual country. I know it will make some of you die a little inside but Richard the Lion-Hearted was a French speaker. But I digress.

For all that period, hardly anyone used the word “gender” except grammarians: “he, she,” and sometimes: “mare is the feminine gender of horse.” Rather suddenly, in the late sixties or early seventies, academic feminists, riding shamelessly on the success of the black civil rights movement, decided they wanted a piece of the pie too. In academia, this usually means one’s own department, with a budget, loose travel money, and the right to pretend to be autonomous without too much oversight. They reasoned, that since “Black Studies” departments were cropping up right and left, there could also be…. And there the problem arose that they perceived quickly. They couldn’t very well claim that they wanted their own “Sex Studies Department.” For one thing, all the courses offered by such a department would quickly become over-subscribed. For another thing, most hated sex, the sport, and they had a horror of being mistaken for, say, some sort of sex therapists. So, one of them, more ingenuous than the others, or perhaps more cultured, hit on the idea of demanding “Gender Studies” departments. As the overall level of general culture in academia is mediocre, few noticed the violation of usage. Since it’s poorly a guarded secret that academia does not recruit in the same ponds as the SEALs, for example, those who noticed kept their mouths shut. Here is the rule of thumb: If you oppose anything with a progressive label, in nine out of ten universities, you are labeled a fascist, or worse. Then, your career suffers, you lose your financial ability to send your kids to private school and worse, few will sit with you in the faculty club.

To use the word “gender” when “sex” would be appropriate constitutes a supine acceptance of the massive and successful intellectual fraud that is feminism since the 1970s. It’s so even though such a substitution may clarify matters where little clarification is needed.

The word “gay” is even more loaded, of course. MM states that after all, it’s the “polite term.” In general, I am all for politeness, but not at any price. I don’t always call people what they want to be called. I don’t especially, if I sniff a covert intent to market evil ideas or evil acts. Thus, if violent jihadists I met at an all-soda cocktail party requested that I call them “saints” I would not comply. I don’t even use the conventional title “Reverend” when I refer to Catholic priests, these days. Finally, there is the touchy and immensely interesting empirical question of whether homosexuals want to be known as “gay” at all. The last question is not rhetorical, as we shall see.

First, MM’s linguistic insolence forces me through a detour on etymology, the origin of words. (I hate it when others force me to act like a pedantic little professor.) “Homosexual” is formed after the Greek root “homo” and the Latin suffix for sex (the activity or the proclivity. See above.) “Homo” means “same,” as in “homogeneous,” made of the same substance. A homosexual is someone who is attracted to his or her own sex, man to men, woman to women. (Thus, to call someone “homophobe,” is to accuse him of hating his own kind, say, cops who hate cops, a bus driver who hates other bus drivers, even a man who hates men, even homosexual men who hate heterosexual men.  Wrap your mind around this one, MM! But, I digress again.)

The word “homosexual” is new. It appeared in European languages around the turn of the 19th century. Before that, male homosexuals were called “sodomites,” which is presumptuous and nastily over-informed about their actual practices, as well as vague. Besides, it assigns to male homosexuals an unearned monopoly. Females homosexuals did not exist back then, I guess, because there was no name for them except perhaps “Lesbian,” inhabitants of the charming island of Lesbos, in Greece. (To this day, heterosexual male inhabitants of the island insist on calling themselves “Lesbians,” a practice some American tourists find disorienting. But I digress again.)

It seems to me, following MM’s comment, that “gay” is only the “polite term” if “homosexual” is impolite. But it’s a neutral word with the immense merit of being precise and descriptive. Only the prejudiced, the narrow-minded, the repressive can find it insulting. That would be, of course the large number of Americans who think homosexuality is religiously prohibited or against nature.

I, for one am neither disgusted nor shocked by the practice. I don’t want to enter here into a theological argument but it is suspect you could not find any clear condemnation of homosexuality in the Old Testament. You would find several in Saint Paul, that successful cult founder and pillager of the Christic message. As for the un-naturalness of homosexuality, follow me: Widespread homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom tells us again that Mother Nature is one playful bitch! It’s the same Mother Nature that put teats on bulls and paints threatening eye shapes on the wings of slight butterflies. Mother Nature was thinking: You never know; it might turn out to be useful sometime. There is even a tentative but attractive evolutionary explanation for the commonness of homosexuality among humans. (Another time, if you ask.)

Throughout the fifties and the sixties, homosexual organizations such as the Matachine Society of San Francisco, were making good progress in reducing the routine, often violent police persecution of homosexuals. (In case you suspect I am a homosexual myself because I am so well informed: No, I am not; at least I don’t think so. I could be a late bloomer; you never know.)

I don’t know exactly when the word “gay” appeared. It was in common usage in the late sixties. It looked then like an innocent and even charming, whimsical piece of public relations: Homosexuals had a good life, they partied a lot; they were merry (gay); nothing to hate there. Then, the AIDS epidemic happened, and male homosexuals started dying and the whimsy became a swindle. One’s friend’s, one’s lover’s funeral is not a party. It’s not merry, it’s not gay.

After that, the word became a defiant banner in the hands of homosexual activists whose sins against basic intellectual honesty are numerous, the most grievous, sins by omission. Here is an incomplete list:

Gay activists have not spoken clearly to condemn the specific sexual practices that entail a high risk of death. They have acted as if they were more interested in theoretical sexual freedom than in life itself. Instead, they have pursued diligently the fallacious line that “anyone can get AIDS.” Really? What do you think is the probability of catching the HIV virus for a promiscuous American man who has intercourse with many promiscuous American women and who never, never shoots foreign substances into his veins, and who has not had a blood transfusion? Read this again, break it into parts if you have to. Then, try to answer.

Gay activist organization have stayed carefully aloof from the revulsion engendered by the revelation that thousands of priests worldwide have sexually abused tens of thousands of boys, and boys only. As if the pedophile priests with a total predilection for children of the male sex were not homosexual. They never sound off either about the national scandal of homosexual rape in prisons. The rapists are not gay, they are somehow heterosexual men who like to do it to other men. Gay organizations have not even spoken up about serial rapist-killers of young men who, I some years, account for the bulk of the violent deaths of homosexuals. The serial murderers are not gay either.

And of course, recently, gay organizations have been the latest of a long series of activists gangs to try and use the powers of coercion of the government to impose a change in our language, with gay “marriage.” (I believe in equal protection so that I am in favor of civil contracts giving homosexuals the same rights as married heterosexuals.)

Now back to MM’s issue of politeness, that I take seriously. As is always the case when someone tries to impose political correctness on the general population, gay activists imply that they represent the whole sizable homosexual minority. No counting allowed. We have to go by other indices. Here is one: There is an organization of brave homosexuals called the Log Cabin. It’s a Republican organization. Here is another: A short time ago, I had an animated substantive discussion with a man for whom I have great intellectual respect. At one point, he referred to himself as “proudly homosexual.” There goes the activists’ linguistic monopoly!

To use the word “gay” in lieu of the neutral “homosexual” is to condone a gay agenda based on the quiet intellectual terrorism of political correctness. It’s a way to cooperate with one’s own oppression and with that of others.

I would admit if pressed that the danger presented by ideologically loaded neologisms as “gender” for “sex” and “gay” for “homosexual” does not measure up to that of Hitler’s panzer divisions for example. Yet, yet, few of us will ever have a chance to lob a Molotov cocktail at a panzer. Occasions for resistance to Goebbels however are everywhere. (Goebbels was the gifted Nazi propaganda Minister who asserted that if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.)

So, here we go, MM: There are homosexuals of both sexes.


About Jacques Delacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
This entry was posted in Socio-Political Essays, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Dr D. on Sex, Homosexuality, Language Usage

  1. Sam says:

    Sorry but you’re both incorrect. Sex and gender have two different meanings. Sex refers to a person’s physical, biological status as male or female. Gender refers to a person’s sociological role or psychological self-image as masculine or feminine. A person born with a penis who believes himself to be a woman at heart and seeks surgery to correct it is considered, before the operation, to be of the male sex and the female gender.

    If you don’t believe me google “sex/gender”.

    Some might say that its a false distinction, that people who are confused about their gender are just confused and that one term is enough. However, it is enough that academics and those who converse about such issues intend different meanings by the two terms to acknowledge that they have different meanings.

    Gender is used more frequently as a general term because it is much easier to discern what a person’s sociological gender role is than what equipment they’ve got in their pants.

    My personal guess as to why gay is preferable to homosexual, at least for those who are sympathetic to those whom the terms refer and to their agenda, is that homosexual is a sterile, lifeless word. It has the feel of rubber gloves. Gay restores humanity and feeling to its referents. Its the same reason black is preferred to African-American. It has little to do with political correctness and everything to do with how the subject is viewed, as an abstract object of study with all humanity analyzed away or as a person.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Sam: Interesting but you are strengthening everything I said although probably inadvertently. And Google does not seem to me to be an authority on language. It’s a search engine that refracts the frivolous error of the day.

  2. Sam says:

    I can see how you would think my point reinforces yours (for the gay argument at least) and it may be a finer distinction than I first thought, however, there is a fundamental disagreement here.

    Before that, though, let me point out that we have been discussing two groups of individuals without (at least in my case) making a clear distinction between the two. The first class is gay people, friends of gay people, gay activists, etc. This is the class that decides what terms are best to use. The second class is everyone else, people who may or may not wish to give offense with their terminology but who are largely ignorant of the reasoning behind using one term or another.

    Its clear that political correctness, as it is commonly construed, is not a motivating factor for the first class. The use of one term over another is much more intentional than the latter and is usually associated with or motivated by personal connection with gay people. It is this personal connection that drives the choice to use the more anthropic term.

    Anti-gay rights activists find it useful politically (and probably personally as well) to minimize the humanity of gays, it is easier to make the argument that they should be denied something if they are not thought of as people. I’m not making an argument here one way or another on the issue of gay rights. Its the same reason liberals like to refer to corporations as a source of bad things, there’s no humanity to pin the evil on so its ok.

    The second class is subject to the social pressure of the first and will probably use the term associated with whichever side they associate with if they lack a strong opinion about the semantic issue (like most).

    There is no neutral term, there are two terms with two subtly different undertones of meaning. One is preferred by those on one side and the other by the other. How is use of gay over homosexual political correctness and homosexual over gay not? They’re each more correct according to differing ideologies.

    Whats more, you literally just made a political argument on why its correct to use homosexual.

    Anyway, political correctness is clearly not the only motivating factor. I think the black : African-American :: gay : homosexual analogy is a good one, and illustrates quite well why it is that the politically correct term (African-American) is not necessarily the one that conveys the subject’s humanity more, that they have different extensions i.e. that the point that I am making about humane terms is not applicable to politically correct terms even though the extension of the two do overlap.

    Either way though, have you ever heard of someone who was criticized for using “homosexual” in the way I (and I assume you as well) have witnessed (perhaps forced) outrage at the term “black”?

    As for sex/gender, is Merriam-Webster a good enough authority on language?


    This is my go-to dictionary, I didn’t check any others, however, I assume that if you check another you will find the same results.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Sam. Good analysis and we don’t disagree about much of anything. You do side-step my presentation on the word “gay.” I refuse to use it because it carries a political agenda I think near-criminal (not murder, but manslaughter). This makes the analogy with “African-American” wrong. The latter term carries political agenda except a general one for dignity; it’s in line with other language usage (“Italian-American’). This being said, I am glad to oblige in this case but it’s not a big deal, as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People might tell you. I think saying “the black mayor” is not wrong.

      Slipping away from this conversation is the idea of not yielding from the devious tyranny of political correctness.

  3. Lisa Christie says:

    Limiting my comments to the topic of “political correctness”… Sam makes an excellent point that choice of language in this (and other cases) is inherently political. Merriam-Webster defines political correctness as, “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/netdict/politically%20correct). What offends political sensibilities depends on whose sensibilities we are talking about…

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Sure thing! I made my preferences clear, I am sorry for the young who don’t have chance to make a political choice, who believe that most (some) men and most (some) women are of different genders. Herein lies the soft totalitarianism of forced language change. Same reason I am opposed to “gay marriage” while not disputing that homosexual couples are entitled to equal protection under the law.
      My guide if George Orwell in “Democracy and the English Language.”

      • Lisa Christie says:

        Yes, I appreciate that you make your preferences clear. In this discussion, I think we all appreciate the power of language and that there there is an expression of power in existing language as well as a change of language. If I understand you correctly, you are simply stating your preference to use a particular term, understanding that it communicates a particular posture relative to a [relatively large] group of people. Of course, I would agree with your right to express your posture, though I don’t fully understand it.

        You’ve expressed a strong specific disagreement with some of the positions of gay activists, and said that you feel “oppressed” by the “gay agenda.” Is the primary oppression you feel one of some social pressure to use the term “gay”? On the other hand, it seems that you support civil unions but oppose gay marriage (which would seem to entail a greater limitation on the freedom of another). I’ve never fully understood the position against gay marriage. It seems that in marriage, there is an overlap of civil and religious spheres. In that some religions do sanction and perform marriages between people of the same sex, it seems to me that the position against gay marriage infringes the right of religion…

        And certainly, many gays feel oppressed by the conservative agenda.
        giving any ground, for fear that the legal or political tide will turn against them. I suspect that

  4. Lisa Christie says:

    Hi Jacques, I left some additonal text at the bottom of my last post. Would you edit it out so that I don’t appear sloppy 🙂 ?

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Don’t worry, Lisa, I never edit. I may just censor if something is horribly crude or a big lie that might pass and hurt someone. I have never censored, so far.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Ps Lisa: You are sloppy but not much. Don’t lose sleep about it.

  5. robert holifield says:

    You guys are too smart for me but I love reading it anyway. Thanks.

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Robert: How many times will I have to tell you to man up, intellectually? It’s like walking.You put one foot before the other and you look up what you don’t know.

  6. robert holifield says:

    Yes sir! Those are my marching orders.

  7. Pingback: Dr D. on Sex, Homosexuality, Language Usage « Notes On Liberty

  8. Pingback: Equal Pay for Equal Work: The New/Old Trojan Horse; Unfairness | FACTS MATTER

  9. nick says:

    I thought this article was going to be sex and sex advice. #alittledisapointedbutillgetoverit

  10. Nick: It is sex advice, of course. It helps you name things. That’s the beginning of everything. Other than that, all I can say is ” Wiggle more.”

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