Is homosexual a bad word?

graemeOIPLast week the New York Times highlighted that the word homosexual is falling out of favour with, well… homosexuals.

In the article Professor George Chauncey, an academic from Yale University, argues that the word homosexual now sounds like your grandmother describing someone as a ‘coloured person’.

In the article it’s highlighted that the New York Times was quite ahead of it’s time when it’s style guide switched from ‘homosexual’ to ‘gay and lesbian’ back in the late ’80s. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) began encouraging news outlets to preference ‘gay and lesbian’ over ‘homosexual’ as far back as 2006, adding homosexual to their list of offensive terms.

Following the publication of the New York Times story last week a spotlight has turned onĀ  Fox News, one of the few media outlets that regularly opts to use the term homosexual.

There is a growing chasm in news reporting that can easily been seen in the use of the word ‘homosexual’. If you set a Google news alert for each word there is an obvious distinction. The majority of stories using the word ‘gay’ will be positive stories, while the stories utilising the word ‘homosexual’ will generally have a more negative or conservative viewpoint.

While the mainstream media argues over the appropriateness of saying ‘homosexual’ there are other word battles looming within the queer community. Increasingly we receive feedback asking why people are not described in OUTinPerth as being cisgender. We debate if transman, trans-man, trans man or man who has transitioned gender, is more appropriate… and once you have transitioned aren’t you just a man?

Older readers tell us they find the word ‘queer’ offensive, while for many younger readers the term is embraced with positivity. Some Drag Queens are strictly Drag Artists, and there’s the choices of bi-sexual, pansexual, fluid and flexi-sexual. What’s offensive to one person is the complete opposite to another.

Another challenging phrase is ‘openly gay’, it often causes offense, but not as much as describing someone as a ‘gay musician’, but writing ‘the musician, who is gay’ – also sounds odd. Yet it me remove the reference altogether, will then audience know that the rationalle for highlighting someone’s achievement is so they can be a positive role model?

The alphabet soup of LGBTIQQOPPAA has passed a point of ridiculousness, and often we see the term DSG – ‘Diverse Sexuality and Gender’ being promoted as an alternative. The biggest challenge with both these terms is a casual reader just may have no idea what we’re talking about. The US Library of Congress highlighted a few years ago it was difficult to effectively file academic articles about the gay community as papers switched between LGBT and GLBT.

San Francisco based photographer Sarah Deragon’s recent work ‘The Identity Project‘ is a revelation, showcasing the great diversity of terms we might apply to ourselves. Deragon’s project aims to explore the different descriptors we give each other, delivering amazing portraits with a range of options including ‘Bad Ass Queer Femme’, ‘Black Gay Queer Feminist Cis-Gendered Man’ or a ‘Daddy Femme Dyke Dom Queen’. Wonderful portraits, so many choices.

Do you feel offended if you’re called a homosexual? What phrases are out of bounds, which one’s do you embrace?

Graeme Watson


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