The Language Police

A reflection by Lindsey

When a person is trying to figure out whether he or she fits somewhere along the LGBT spectrum, many other people are quick to suggest language. If a boy realizes that he likes boys, some would encourage him to call himself “gay” and wear that label with pride. Others would demand that he resist the urge to “identify with his sin” and discuss his realization in terms of “struggling with same-sex attraction.” Members of LGBT couples might be counseled to avoid using any kind of romantic indicator in favor of “friend” or “roommate”… Or they may be encouraged to adopt every form of spousal language, whether that language seems fitting to them or not. Personally, I find the linguistic directives from both conservative and liberal camps drive me nuts. I see these directives as little more than people proudly displaying a “Language Police” badge on their sleeves.

Members of the Language Police overlook that a person on the LGBT spectrum can have a hard time finding appropriately descriptive language. A girl who likes girls might find that the “lesbian” label accurately describes her experience. However, the same girl who likes girls might find that she actually likes girls and boys (where the bisexual label offers a bit better description), or that she feels great solidarity with gay Christians, perceives her sexual attractions as leaning significantly more towards girls than boys, and deems it appropriate to use the word “gay” to describe her experience. A guy who grew up being socialized as a girl might find that “transgender” is the best word to describe his experience, or he might prefer using words like “genderqueer” or “agender.” Every label has a meaning. Moreover, every label is an approximation used to describe some aspect of a person’s experience. Individuals need space to decide what words work best for them.

Each individual adopting a certain label has an active role in determining what that label means. As soon as a person connects the word “gay” to some facet of his or her experience, that person actively communicates what it means to be gay. When other people make claims about the label, they should be reflect on whether their claims speak to the experience of every person wearing the label. If someone says “It’s impossible to be a gay Christian,” that person overlooks or denies the experiences of many gay people who are Christians. When a group gets larger, many labels get boiled down to one essence or another. Many people I know who use the word “gay” to describe themselves focus on the idea that gay people simply experience attraction to the same sex.

Members of the Language Police rarely want an individual to communicate what a label means to him or her. The Language Police assume that if you use a word like “transgender,” what you’re really saying is that you desire medical interventions to allow you reshape the sexed characteristics of your body to align with your gender. Members of the Language Police have a difficult, even impossible time understanding that labels are approximations used by people to describe a part of their reality. Furthermore, members of the Language Police assume that they know the meaning of the label and that the person resisting their interpretation has no appreciation for the English* language. (*Feel free to substitute the name of other languages as is relevant for your situation.) Engaging in linguistic policing requires that the enforcer assumes a position of power and is incredibly patronizing, dismissive, and rude.

I know that we’ve taken time to try and educate our readers on how to talk with others about A Queer Calling. This action differs from the action of the Language Police because we are trying to help other people accurately describe us. We’re trying to be clear about the language we use, why we use it, and what the language means to us. We assume that people actually care enough about us to try to respect our language and get to know us. We do not claim a monopoly on the experiences of all celibate, LGBT, Christian couples. One of the reasons our friends encouraged us to start our blog is that many of them had heard some stories from LGBT Christian couples not called to celibacy but wanted to hear more about how we understand our life together. We care about helping our allies understand our experience; and we do not offer linguistic corrections because we’re trying to deny other people their experiences. We offer linguistic corrections because we want the words people use to describe us to reflect our experience.

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2 thoughts on “The Language Police

  1. I also think it’s wrong for people to say that gay people can’t call themselves gay. If Christians don’t stop doing that they’re going to keep looking stupid.

    • Hi Kay, I discussed that issue when I was addressing the conservative side of the Language Police. Many conservative members of the Language Police will “demand that he resist the urge to ‘identify with his sin’ and discuss his realization in terms of ‘struggling with same-sex attraction.'” My own opinion is that both the conservative side and the liberal side of the Language Police say things that make them look remarkably out of touch, even stupid at times.

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