Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Homosexuals"

My denominational body is finally going to be confronted with the issue of LGBTQ ordination, beyond the theoretical. A case is coming before the powers that be about a church, which desires to ordain two members (one gay, one lesbian) to church office.

I think my region has been a kind of don't ask, don't tell area. so it's been difficult to tell who among my colleagues believes exactly what. I read an email from a colleague last night that spoke of "homosexuals." My immediate thought was, "Uh oh."

Am I way off base, or is the use of the word "homosexual" in this context a total giveaway that the person is opposed, opposed, opposed?

It took me some time to ferret out why I reacted so strongly to reading this email (which was, on the whole, written more or less dispassionately, offering an interpretation of the church constitution as it now stands about which many people, approximately 51% of the people, would agree). It was that word. I am not aware that there has been a consensus culturally about this, but my reaction to the use of that word, in that phrase, "the ordination of homosexuals," was a dead giveaway that the author was opposed.

Thoughts?

13 comments:

more cows than people said...

not always a dead give away, but could be. often it is a sign that folks just aren't up to date on what is linguistically appropriate. even when i was fully in favor of full inclusion, it took me awhile to move beyond the language of homosexuality.

and... sorry i haven't gotten back to that woman yet. i'll try to do so today.

totally forgot.

don't eat alone said...

Cecilia

I think you're right because the word keeps sex at the center of the discussion rather than people. Those in opposition often focus as if this were an issue of "sex outside of marriage" rather than a matter of equality and inclusiveness.

Peace,
Milton

klady said...

Hard to say without knowing the person or your area. I'll just say that as a hetero person who has never been opposed to GLBT rights, ordinations, blessings, etc., but only started reading much about the issue since just before TEC's 2006 convention, I still don't always know which words to use (still don't know what to call myself -- "straight" just doesn't make sense -- hopelessly and deeply attracted to men when it comes to sex and physical intimacy (which, in my experience has not been a good survival tool but alas is how I function) is more descriptive).

I think some hetero people may not be really opposed but stumble upon words for many reasons. One is simply ignorance in the sense of lack of experience with GLBTs. You know, come to think of it, I've never asked anyone something like "What do you prefer to be called?" in large part because I'd fear I might sound like I was identifying an individual primarily according to their sexual orientation. Nor have I directly asked the question of how does one refer to all of "you" when it is necessary to identify civil rights and religious issues. "GLBT" and all the other alphabet terms pose their own sets of problems (B & T's for example, and which comes first). Finally, it is, quite frankly, more difficult to sort it all out in spoken speech or to know when and how to use some kind of shorthand.

Anyway, I think it is one thing for you to try to discern where your colleague is coming from (good luck!). But in general, maybe one needs to take care not to judge where people are. There are many people, especially the church-going variety, who only move towards acceptance (let alone advocacy) very slowly. And there are some people who may not care about anyone's sexual orientation but resent what they may view as PC terminology (i.e. if "they" mean "homosexual" why don't they just say so? and why do we have to take this beyond gays and lesbians, why do we even have to say both -- gays and lesbians -- all the time when it's easier to say "homosexual", etc.). Now one can struggle over what to think and feel about people who are, at best, grudgingly tolerant and who, at worst, won't risk a thing for any variety of GLBT persons, but it seems likely that most non-GLBT folks are not simply "for" or "opposed" because either they really don't know themselves and/or they come out differently on different issues (e.g. ordination yes, or maybe if some congregations want such persons, but marriage no because, well because it's Marriage -- doesn't matter how illogical such views may be -- and don't tell me that clergy wouldn't be so illogical -- just sneakier or self-deceiving about how they express it).

In short, I don't see how you can tell one way or another what this person thinks unless you have other clues. Maybe church people are more careful with words and thus may be more revealing but.... Gosh, look at the Episcopal House of Bishops NOL resolution -- some folks are just hurried and careless (mea culpa!).

Alex said...

MC --

What does "fully in favor of full inclusion" mean?

Cecilia --

What was the purpose of this email? Did it come from a committee or just from this individual?

parodie said...

I'm not sure ... I identify as queer and yet have used the word "homosexual" in such discussions in an attempt to "match" the language that was being used and participate fully, rather than be focused on making the discussion about which words to use (and, frankly, it's not clear to me what would be better - queer? very loaded, and generally inappropriate in many contexts; LGBT-etc? very wordy, and leads to "word salad"-type dilemmas - LGBT? LGBTQ? LGBTTQQ?; gay? personally I find that a very alienating and un-inclusive term).

In other words, I wouldn't assume anything simply from the use of that word.

Mary Sue said...

My immediate thought as I read that word in my head is that it's pronounced like a three-syllable word and is usually proceeded by 'them', as in "Them hom-SEX-shuls are ruining everything!"

But that's just me.

May God bless you with courage to stand through this, the strength to remain standing when it all blows over, and peace throughout your whole life.

Cecilia said...

Alex, it was an email from an individudal describing a situation, as in, "Such and Such a Church wishes to ordain two homosexuals."

It seems from the responses that we are all over the map on this... that the use of this word is not necessarily indicative of someone's position one way or the other.

I'm still interested in other folks' responses.

Pax, C.

Mother Laura said...

Hard to tell, C. Your suspicion could be warranted, but it might also be, as other folks pointed out, a case of old fashioned language or not knowing what would be taken as offensive or awkwardness with the alphabet soup. I will never again use "queer" myself except to describe a person or group (though it makes sense to me in the formal term "queer theology.") An out lesbian priest of my acquaintance told me that she finds it, like the n-word, irredeemable from its original hostile context and offensive even when used by other LGBT folks. That's not my debate, of course, but once I heard that I resolved not to use it, since though I am bisexual my life is functionally straight, with all the privilege of a legally and ecclesially recognized marriage to a man.

This person might also have used it as an umbrella term since one of the subjects was a gay man and the other a lesbian woman.

Would you feel comfortable asking them what their opinion was on the subject at hand, and/or the language issue?

LittleMary said...

don't have time to read all the comments, but i would agree. no one who is up on things uses that word anymore. not unless they are kidding. HOM-O SEX UALS. I just am thinking about how i say it. but i have been so wrong before and can be wrong again.

Heather W. Reichgott said...

the speaker could be
- old (it's a bit of a dated term)
- just out of touch/doesn't hang out with LGBTQwhatever people very often
- having just read denominational materials on sexuality (does your denomination use the word "homosexual" or "gay and lesbian"?)
- the "hom-SEX-shul" kind of homophobic

it's good that you have these antennae. they will protect you. meanwhile, at least over here in Presby-land, there is still way more ignorance out there than malice, and i try to respond accordingly.

blessings to you!
heather

Mother Laura said...

My last comment, of course, should have read "I will never use that word *to* describe a person or group," not "except to describe."

Audrey said...

I have to say I hate the word "homosexuals" because it seems so filled with a label. It certainly takes away from a person's other identities when talking about "two homosexuals to be ordained". Why not "two people called to ministry who are gay"? i find it offensive in a way. On the other hand, I have a friend who uses the word and he is a big supporter of LGBTQ rights and such. I always think it is odd when people use that word, but you never know.

Jennifer said...

Hopping in late, but I have to share that I had a similar reaction once. We were attending a new church--American Baptist, so they're all over the map on this, as ABC churches are on everything. I had liked the church--the people, felt warm and cozy. Soon thereafter the church newsletter arrived and I opened it to immediately see the word "homosexual." I closed it right up and said, "Isn't that too bad? I had really liked that church." My wiser spouse prevailed and we opened the newsletter, only to see the pastor advocating against the disfellowship of the California churches--in essence, using his public forum to denounce the un-Baptist behavior of these regions. How wrong I was! But I do know that initial feeling....