Stop Normalizing Homophobia (The Importance of Language)

Stop Normalizing Homophobia (The Importance of Language)

Language is a very important tool — for communication, for advocacy, for oppression. I think it’s a fairly popular thing to say that language is important, at least in some way. We know that our day to day dealings and the exchange of ideas is dependent for the most part on language. This particular piece is on the language of LGBT marginalization, how obscure it can be and why anyone who cares about what is right must listen.

In our current world, with anti-LGBT violence still normalized, and every complaint against it dismissed as crazy and paranoid, it can be hard to see any damage that your words perpetuate. And the truth is, it isn’t wrong to not be sure. Even I sometimes am confused. The question of intent comes up a lot too.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Do I feel like this because this really contributes to the preservation of LGBT oppression or is the constant homophobia making me lose my damn fucking mind?”

So, I understand why it can be hard for straight people, ally and homophobe alike. The key is to listen. And to realize that it is NOT about you. And that feeling comfortable and good about yourself on LGBT issues is not as important as the lives and well-being of people.

Of course, this conversation is in two-fold. On one side there are the straight allies who do care about ending homophobia but just do not want to be called out because they’re the good people. And on the other hand, there are the homophobes who will love nothing but to shut LGBT voices up and tell them that they are not even being oppressed in any way. And some woke people that pride themselves on ruthless rationality buy the crap hook, line and sinker.

I like to think this article can perhaps speak to both. I’ll be as non-combative and uncondescending as possible.

First, to define the topic more specifically.

When I say language here, I am referring to speech that contributes to homophobic societal attitudes, or speech that reinforces or normalizes these societal attitudes.

Take the example, the rather amusing idea of being initiated into homosexuality. This is a constant homophobic talking point. It isn’t even rare to see an ally aligning with it. Countless times, I see rebuttals to homophobic rhetoric going along the lines of “maybe some are introduced to this gay thing but still, I believe some are born like this”, and it takes the wind out of me because I don’t know whether to focus on the original homophobia or on the homophobic rebuttal to the homophobia. And then, what is an appropriate response? And why is it so important to correct that view especially since it’s at the expense of making uncomfortable someone that has relatively softer views on the LGBT community?

And there are cases where it is even more subtle. Like the constant online mocking of Donald Trump for being Vladimir Putin’s lover. A major U.S paper depicted Trump as effeminate and sexually entangled with Putin and it was as a form of mockery. And it angered me because even they didn’t realize the ardent homophobia behind those brilliant critiques of the disaster that is the Trump presidency. It’s not a thing of mockery that a strong man is in cahoots with another strong man that is attacking his country. The context of a gay relationship is added to depict Trump as weak. And the obscure examples annoy me the most because I can sometimes see why it’s offensive and damaging to the efforts to dismantle homophobia, but sometimes it’s hard to explain, to myself and to others bringing the question, “Aren’t you just getting unnecessarily offended? Is this really bad or is it just you?”

And to an extent, homophobia has achieved this. Normalizing the negative connotation of Queer identities so that sometimes you’re left fighting normalcy.

Yes, that’s the point of this article. If I was to summarize what I’m trying to say in one sentence, it would be: Stop normalizing homophobia.

You see, when a comedian makes a (non) joke about finding the first gay moment in his child and snipping it in the bud, there’s way more ramifications than the laughs it gives bigoted people. What it has done is sell this idea that there is indeed a first moment of gayness (and that gayness is not just a sexual orientation but a behavior entirely distinct from straightness), and that it can perhaps be snipped in the bud when discovered in a child. And this is troubling for many reasons. For one, it is the base thinking behind the violence queer children face. Parents notice their children aren’t conforming to heteronormative ideals and immediately freak out and go on a campaign to abuse their children emotionally and physically, and as severely and as severally as it takes to “nip it in the bud”. Secondly, it centers Cisgender Heterosexuality as the only thing that is normal. Everything else isn’t. And this is troubling especially among allies, many of whom still think they can effectively speak against LGBT oppression and still agree or uphold the negative societal view that being LGBT isn’t normal.

And if you’re thinking: “Well I’m only expressing my own personal opinion…” – then that’s the point. Your opinion is harmful. Your opinion is a key link in an elaborate framework of verbally-reinforced ideas centered at marginalizing the LGBT community. Your opinion is Homophobia. Language can be a tool of oppression – it is in fact used as a tool of oppression. “Transwomen are Transwomen” might seem like nothing to worry about, but behind that phrase is the idea that Transwomen are not really women and that womanhood is an exclusionary concept, and that the experiences of Transwomen are not part of womanhood as a whole. “Transwomen are transwomen” doesn’t even make linguistic sense outside that context. If you claim to merely be stating the fact, like some people would say, what is the point of stating: “Women who were assigned the gender related with male at birth are women who were assigned the gender related with male at birth”? What point would you be trying to make? And at the expense of contributing to the erasure of trans identities in a society where they live in constant danger for daring to be themselves.

Opinions have consequences. They have ramifications. It doesn’t matter much that you personally will not go on gay hookup sites to hunt gay people for sport and money. It doesn’t matter that you won’t join in the lynching of gay men or the rape of lesbians. It doesn’t matter that you don’t support your government’s targeted efforts to round up people and parade them in public so that even if these people don’t end up jailed, they end up in life-threatening situations. You are contributing to the normalization of the societal attitudes that fuel these actions. You are propping up the oppression of LGBT individuals with your words and your tweets and your jokes and your songs. It is important to care about these things and it isn’t paranoid or oversensitive or melodramatic or vengeful to care. Language is important, very important and its time to stop using it to sustain homophobia.

Written by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu

Next Dear KD: How Do I Establish A Connection With My (Maybe) Gay Cousin?

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  1. J
    January 14, 08:54 Reply

    Nice write-up!

    There’s still a long way to go with homophobia. It’s our duty to correct and inform anyone that is ignorant of our community.

  2. Higwe
    January 14, 08:58 Reply

    TBH – is there still hope in Nigeria?
    Came across a post on instablog about a Spanish gay rapper that was shot dead ,the comments and replies sent shivers down my spine.

    • Pink Panther
      January 14, 09:04 Reply

      The wickedness of Nigerians when it comes to gay people and the irony of how ungodly that is, is lost on these people. A person spouting this poison would still imagine himself a heavenly candidate.

    • J
      January 19, 04:37 Reply

      Anyone that rejoices over the death or mistreatment of LGBT people has no humanity in them, they are sad, ignorant and miserable people. Don’t let them discourage you. There’s hope in people that are willing to understand. Don’t leave them in the dark.

  3. Gabby
    January 14, 09:49 Reply

    Another example is the stupid joke Trevor Noah made concerning gays going to prison. After watching that, I automatically lost interest in him. Gay prison jokes are stupid.

  4. Malik
    January 14, 10:06 Reply

    But transwomen are transwomen.

    • Babe
      January 18, 20:30 Reply

      Transwomen are women

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