Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Battle of Words in the War for GLBT Rights

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 

There are the many battles for GBLT equality, the wars of legality, the struggles for safety, the push for inclusion, for visibility, the fights for recourse, the battles for opinion, for recognition of worth. 

And they all need fighting desperately – but there’s one where I feel we have given too much ground. In fact, there’s one battle where I think we’ve allowed the bigots push us back to cowering in our bunkers, cede ground after ground to them – and I say we need to push this back.

It’s the war of semantics. Yes, words. Because words matter – words are the foundation of how we think, how our opinions are formed, how our arguments are phrased, even how our pleas and demands are communicated and how we express our anger, rage and pain.

And we’ve give up on too many words. We’ve allowed the haters to claim them, we’ve allowed their usage to become mainstream and unchallenged. I think we need to make a concerted effort to challenge their usage and their definition – to retake the language – to argue, refute, pelt them with angry armadillos, slap them with a fish or, at very least, refuse to use them in their context and refuse to acknowledge their groups’ names. 

So, let’s have a look at a few:

Family


We’ve allowed family to become a synonym for homophobic bigotry and that has to stop. I would say at least half of the hate groups have family in their name somewhere –  a word that should be all about love acceptance is being severely abused here. These “family” organisations are the very antithesis of family – they seek to destroy families. They push hatred that causes parents to drive their children out into the street, that cause families to be estrange from each other. They push self-hatred that has caused far too many parent to weep over their child’s early grave. They try to put as many barriers as possible between loving couples, between parents and their children

This is not family. I resent them using the word. In fact, it’s obscene that they dare – this misuse, more than any other, deserves, severe armadilloing.

Values

Last I checked, values were supposed to be good things.  At it’s very basis, they’re things we value, things we consider valuable (wow, this language stuff is shocking!) Hatred isn’t generally a value. Prejudice isn’t valuable. Bigotry isn’t – or shouldn’t – be valued. And anyone who does shouldn’t be proud of the fact – they should be shamed and armadilloed!

Traditional

Since when did tradition become an inherently good thing? Bear baiting is traditional. Cock fighting is traditional. Kings cutting off the heads of anyone they don’t like is traditional. Peasants scraping a living in the dirt while the rich lived in palaces is very traditional (and very modern as well). A tradition isn’t an inherently good thing – and anyone with two braincells is very aware of this. Stop treating “tradition” like some kind of holy grain – sometimes it’ just means perpetuating the evils of the past because you’re too damn stubborn and short sighted to change.

Defending/Protecting/Supporting Marriage

By preventing people getting married? Makes no sense. And, frankly, if marriage can survive everything straight people throw at it, it can survive us. Preventing us getting married doesn’t protect marriage – it degrades it by adding extra bigotry to the mix. And while we’re at it – let’s fight for marriage equality. Not “same-sex” or “gay” marriage – we’re not pushing for something different here.

Controversial

This is a wonderful weasel word –  got some bigot spouting off utter dehumanising hatred? He’s “controversial.”  None of this is “controversial” or most certainly shouldn’t be.  The problem is the word is so very very neutral – it suggests a long debate with merits on both sides that will be long argued. The definition for “controversial” does not generally include “bigoted arsehat who should be dropped in a volcano or savaged by an angry armadillo”. So when an entertainer/politician/celebrity/religious figure open’s there mouth and let’s out the hatred – they’re not being controversial, they’re being hateful!

Insensitive


Similar to controversial up there, when some bigot drops a splurge of hate speech on us, he’s not being insensitive, he is being bigoted. Don’t make excuses, don’t allow the weasel words, heft your armadillos and let fly.

Bigot

Now, some folk have suggested we overuse this word but I protest most mightily. If someone considers us any less than straight folks then, ding ding, they’re a bigot. Do we overuse the word? Nope. Is there a lot of bigots out there that cause us to use the word pretty damn often? Sadly so. You can’t stop calling sheep sheep simply because there’s so many of the damn woolly things all over the place and you can’t refuse to recognise and label bigotry just because there’s so much of it about.


Words matter. Us ceding these words – and so many more –  costs us and we can see how it has framed the debate. We talk of religious freedom, not hate speech or prejudice. We have allowed religious bigotry to be seen as reasonable objections. We’ve refused to challenge that religion can be a justification for hate, failed to adequately question why “religious rights” are more important than our basic human rights; even failed to question why the precedent of putting “religious rights” on a pedestal isn’t seen as more threatening

We’ve allowed hate speech –  public attack in the street by bigots haranguing us the most virulent language possible – be presented as mere controversial views and it’s considered an infringement of rights to stop people harassing us in the street.

And we continually see “experts”  on television who are outright hate group members and leaders. The media is vile for doing so when they should be pelting them with armadillos – but the more we continue to concede these “semantic” points and excuses, the more we allow these bigots to wear the cloak of respectability. Why would the media start throwing our little living rocks at them when we don’t do so ourselves?

In the debate for our rights we’re not too extreme in our language – we’re too bloody restrained, we cede too much ground and allow the haters to claim too much respectability.