Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Knowing When To Walk Away, Again

Over at Family Scholars Blog, where I occasionally post guest blogs, I encountered a fellow using a quite out-dated term.

In the comments following my "Not a Christian, But" post about how homosexuality is turning young people away from Christianity, Darel referred to LGBT-affirming churches as "homophile:"
"What is so funny about this post is that there are plenty of liberal Protestant denominations that are homophile — the United Church of Christ and The Episcopal Church being the leading edge — and yet have the lowest levels of youth membership of any church in the country. Or consider Unitarian Universalism, which is both homophile and 'unChristian' and yet cannot attract any young people at all."

While true that if one looks up the word in a dictionary, the word generally means something along the lines of "gay or lesbian" or "concerned with the rights of gays and lesbians," use of the word by those within gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities largely stopped by the 1970s in the United States.

When I see folks using certain old-timey words, it sets off alarm bells.

For, when a person comes into contact with people who belong to oppressed groups, it is typical for members of that group to say something like, "Hey, many of us prefer to be called ____ now. 'Homophile' hasn't been used since, like, 1972." So, when I see people using out-dated terminology to refer to groups that they themselves likely do not belong to, I see it as demonstrating an ignorant insularity (at best) and/or an intentional, callous disregard for how people within that group prefer to be named (at worst).

They either don't come into regular contact with the people whose rights they oppose, they do and members of that group don't feel comfortable pointing out the error, or the person using the (mis)label just don't care that they're mis-naming the targets of their judgment.

We all have our moments of ignorance. And that's okay. What matters is how we react to these moments. 

There was a time, for instance, when I referred to transgender people as "transgendered." As in, "Tom is a transgendered." I just didn't know what the preferred term was. But, when a transgender person pointed out to me many transgender people prefer that transgender be used as an adjective and not a noun, it was embarrassing, but also not a Big Deal for me to incorporate into my language.

Calling people by their preferred names and labels is a pretty small concession that those with privilege (or relative privilege) can make when engaging in dialogue with, or about the rights of, members of a systematically-oppressed group. When people bunker down and refuse to do even that, it's been my experience that dialogue with such a person is neither civil nor productive.

Just a little tip I use in identifying when it might not be worthwhile to interact with people on Internet.

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