Words As Weapons

I’ve been meaning to get to this for a few weeks now, but wanted to clear my head before I dove in.

A CBS poll a few weeks ago revealed something interesting in how Americans perceive the LGBT community. With the Obama Administration, along with the military top brass teeing up the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, new organizations are polling to get the pulse of Americans on the issue.

In 1993, it was pretty clear most Americans didn’t no support gays, er, homosexuals to serve openly in the military. This word-play is precisely what CBS tested. When Americans were asked if “homosexuals” should be allowed to serve in the military, the numbers were much lower compared to when they were asked if gay men and lesbians should be allowed. The former is cold, clinical, and intellectual. The latter, “gay men and lesbians”, is relational, real-world, and person-oriented. See the poll results below.

What struck me most after seeing this poll is thinking about how different groups within America talk about the LGBT community. Browsing conservative Christian websites you read “homosexual, homosexual, homosexual”. They focus on behavior and consequences, and don’t even acknowledge gay people as people, but rather as someone with identity issues. Their narrative of the homosexual is one in which this person is alone, in the dark, simply waiting to fulfill a physical desire. No community, no meaningful relationships, or desire for intimacy. There is no inherent person hood in the way they talk about gay people.

What this poll shows is that the way in which people talk about others really determines how they view that person or community. It makes me wonder what those who will only say “homosexual” are trying to get at. Do they view it against their beliefs or “giving in” to larger culture to acknowledge gays and lesbians as people? The term, “homosexual”, in the ears of  younger generations seems a lot like older generations of Americans referring to African Americans as “colored people”.

I studied words and communication in college because I believe in the power of words. How we use them, the meanings that they carry shape our world and how we think about it. Words have the power to affirm, to grant person-hood, and they have the power to demean and destroy. Words can be building blocks and they can be weapons. It’s all in how we use them.

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