The AP Bans Homophobia
November 29, 2012 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Politico reports that the AP's online stylebook has recently banned the term "homophobia." AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn explained "it's just off the mark. It's ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don't have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case." Slate's Nathaniel Frank disagrees with the decision stating that in an effort be appear neutral, the AP risks being part of the problem. James Rainey at the LA Times surveys the arguments for and against the decision and notes that homophobia may be the right term in some situations.
posted by Area Man (115 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I agree that it's probably overused, but to take the word out completely seems to be an overreaction, a play to appear being sensitive to the people who are most certainly not sensitive to others.
posted by inturnaround at 6:37 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Get rid of the word "homophobia" and replace it with the phrase "an irrational hatred or fear of gay people." Problem solved.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:38 AM on November 29, 2012 [28 favorites]


Or just say "bigotry." That works too.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:39 AM on November 29, 2012 [53 favorites]


When right-wing assholes make a big deal about semantics? This is the audience they're playing to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


There was a meme that wandered across my Facebook feed the other day, allegedly a quote from Morgan Freeman:

"I hate the word 'Homophobia'. It's not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole."

I could have gone along with it if they said that "homophobia" is being too kind to the bigots, but I don't think that's what they're doing. -1, AP.
posted by dry white toast at 6:43 AM on November 29, 2012 [12 favorites]


Get rid of the word "homophobia" and replace it with the phrase "an irrational hatred or fear of gay people."

Except it's not just being used that way. It, like racism, is also being used to describe a lack of understanding or education about a particular group.
posted by inturnaround at 6:44 AM on November 29, 2012


I strongly dislike the word because it actually would mean "fear of the same" if literally translated.
I'd just say "nasty bigotry" and get on with ridding the world of it.
posted by Skeptic at 6:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing about the word "homophobia" that bothers me is a little abstract, and it may be mostly in my imagination. I think the word appeals to a certain world-view that a lot of educated people seem to have. Namely: people who exhibit hatred or prejudice only do so because they fear the other. It's as if they are really good people who have just gone astray, and, if only they got to know some gay people and saw that they are pretty much just plain folks, they'd see the error of their ways. There is something naive and over-optimistic about this, I think, and the way it wants to insist that undesirable and offensive qualities are NEVER themselves, they are always a surface manifestation of something else, something that is, perhaps, more understandable. I think it is necessary to face the possibility that some people hate you simply because they hate you.
posted by thelonius at 6:47 AM on November 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


I strongly dislike the word because it actually would mean "fear of the same" if literally translated.

I bet that describes many homophobes precisely.
posted by Renoroc at 6:50 AM on November 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


The practical definition and use of "homophobia" is a drop-in substitute for racism, sexism, antisemitism, etc. It might not be a great word etymologically, but it's the word we have. "Anti-gay" is not better, for one because it lacks the negative connotations associated with "homophobia's" counterparts in race and gender, but also because it is too specific. "Homophobia" already leaves the T off of GLBT (giving rise to the word "transphobia" and the awkward conglomeration "homo-and-trans-phobia") and "anti-gay" would also downplay the L and B.

Also, insisting on "anti-gay" instead of "homophobic" reminds me of David Duke's words as the leader of the KKK when he was attempting to rebrand his hate group as something mainstream and acceptable: "We're not antisemitic, we're anti-Jew." That this is coming from so mainstream and widely-read organization as the Associated Press is deeply troubling; I hope it is merey a foolish, destructive, obvious misstep on their part and not part of some hidden editorial agenda.
posted by Scientist at 6:51 AM on November 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


It, like racism, is also being used to describe a lack of understanding or education about a particular group.

What does that mean in practice? When someone says "gays shouldn't marry because nature never intended for men to have sex with men," that could certainly be described as either a lack of understanding or education about homosexuals, but, even if the intent was not hateful, the result certainly is. It's an objectively homophobic moment (in any sane descriptivist understanding of how the English language is in 2012).
posted by OmieWise at 6:52 AM on November 29, 2012


Yeah - right decision, wrong reason. Phobias are (rather, can be) serious medical issues, which harm people's daily lives and if concurrent with other mental health issues can have even more severe impacts. Think serious agoraphobia, or social anxiety to the point where one can't really deal with people except on 1-1 bases.

Yes the terminology has expanded over the years, but I'd support un-medicalizing political positions. Bigotry is good.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Does anyone have access to the online style book? Because apparently this rule is about all -phobia constructions, not just homophobia, when used in “political and social contexts.” (And "ethnic cleansing" is also out?)
posted by pracowity at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012


This is so meta.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012


"I hate the word 'Homophobia'. It's not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole."

Great quote, but not Freeman.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That this is coming from so mainstream and widely-read organization as the Associated Press is deeply troubling

The AP has swung hard to the right in recent years, and I'm seeing this as another example. It's not your father's AP.
posted by thelonius at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shit, sorry. " 'Bigotry' is good". As a word to use. Not "bigotry is good", obviously.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [11 favorites]


"Homophobia" just descends from "xenophobia" doesn't it? So there's precedent for using the "-phobia" suffix for "irrational hatred" and not just "fear."
posted by tyllwin at 6:54 AM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


The thing about the word "homophobia" that bothers me is a little abstract, and it may be mostly in my imagination.

I've always understood the word "homophobia" to mean, specifically, the way in which some people react toward homosexuals which manifests as a fear and hatred of them based on their own desire to NOT be homosexual themselves. They fear they are gay, don't want that, and therefore they hate those around them who are comfortable with being gay.

That it has become a umbrella term which means "hate of gay people" I've always assumed was a counter-ploy on behalf of activists and allies, an implication of co-participation in being gay by anyone who hates gays as a method of forcing a rethink on behalf of those who are acting homophobic. A sort of "doth protest too much" kind of thing.

Obviously it has outlived its purpose as the broader word, but the specific meaning is still something which is quite useful and descriptive.
posted by hippybear at 6:55 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


(And "ethnic cleansing" is also out?)

Good; what was the point of such a whitewashed term?

as a fear and hatred

But fear and hatred are two different things; and what we're really dealing with here is degrees of hatred.
posted by spaltavian at 6:55 AM on November 29, 2012


You have to admit, though, the quote sounds really good when you hear it in your head in Morgan Freeman's voice.

Of course, most quotes benefit from such treatment.
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:00 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I once had this same discussion many years ago online, and at the time I suggested that a word like "heterosexist" might better convey the intended meaning in most generic settings, such as political discussions, but that there may also be times where "homophobia" is more precisely accurate, if talking about a particular individual's psychology (e.g., someone who takes an anti-gay position because they fear they might be gay). Without trying to eliminate the latter usage, I do think it's somewhat fraught, because it requires attributing internal mental states to other people and might be incorrect ... whereas "heterosexist" just describes behavior. Any takers?
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:01 AM on November 29, 2012


This actually makes some sense to me. People who are anti-gay or against gay rights do not have an anxiety disorder. Do we call racists "negrophobics" or do we call misogynists "femaleophobics"?

A phobia is an anxiety disorder in which the individual has an irrational fear of something and goes to great lengths to avoid that thing. It has no bearing whatsoever on whether the phobic thinks positively about the object of their phobia, believes it has worth, believes it should have rights, etc. Someone could have a genuine phobia about homosexual people and yet at the same time feel very strongly that homosexuals should have all the rights and privileges of other citizens and that they are completely valid individuals fundamentally no different from heterosexuals. It's not like someone with cynophobia automatically believes we should get rid of all the dogs in the world. On the other side of the coin, someone who condemns homosexuals, believes they are fundamentally different and should not have the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals, etc. may not necessarily be afraid of homosexuals at all. He/she may just be an asshole.

I'm not sure we have a better word for what we are trying to describe. But maybe we should.
posted by slkinsey at 7:02 AM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


I hate to agree with the AP Stylebook on anything, but I do here. /Homophobia/ has always read as "fear of things that are the same" to me.

A sesquipedalian friend has long advocated the term /heterosexism/ in its stead, and I think the neologism has some merit.

(Un)fortunately, neither term has much currency in the bulk of either my writing and editing or hers. The only forum where I'm in any position to advocate is here, and I've bitten my tongue fingertips numerous times to avoid introducing a word-nerd derail.

So there it is, IMO FWIW YMMV and all that.
 
posted by Herodios at 7:04 AM on November 29, 2012


Homophobia: n. Fear of having a good time.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:09 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sometimes not using a blanket term to describe a whole range of behaviours can be a good thing. It forces us to make distinctions between plain bigotry, religious extremism, fear of the other, and all the other reasons people turn against each other. There's certainly an argument to be made that the term is lazy, even if you don't have any dog in the '-phobia' race.
posted by pipeski at 7:09 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


do we call misogynists "femaleophobics"?

The fear of women is called gynophobia, and it's a real condition. It is not, however, relevant to your average sexist bigot.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:10 AM on November 29, 2012


Gay-hate, such as in, "why do so many gay-haters turn out to be self-haters?" For examples.
posted by Jehan at 7:14 AM on November 29, 2012


Didn't some author do a rant about how he hates the word homosexual itself as a lousy construct? Half Greek half Latin?
posted by Trochanter at 7:15 AM on November 29, 2012


It means what people accept it to mean, which is a hatred or intolerance of gay people. It's been in widespread use under that exact meaning for quite long enough that a debate about its definition is just a sideshow meant to distract. Let's get on with fixing the goddam problem.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:15 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


As somebody who lived and breathed the AP Stylebook for many years, I find this not entirely unwelcome. I will have to check my copy at home (from many stylebooks--copy editor geekdom!) to see if this dovetails with any other dictates.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:17 AM on November 29, 2012


"Knuckle-dragging anti-gay bigots" works for me.
posted by chasing at 7:18 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Homophobia" just descends from "xenophobia" doesn't it? So there's precedent for using the "-phobia" suffix for "irrational hatred" ands not just "fear."

I'm prepared to be pilloried for this, but I think it's a good decision. Both "xenophobia" and "homophobia" are charged terms-- literally, they denote that the subject of so described has a mental health condition. Figuratively, they denote "ignorant" or "misinformed," which then contextually becomes the condescending "unenlightened."

The end result of this is an insinuation that the subject has no rational basis for their objection to gay issues, and is motivated by emotion. Do I personally think that anti-foreign and anti-gay elements generally fit that description? Abso-fucking-lutely. But journalism should be free of judgement-- perhaps in a long-form piece, the reporter might examine the subject's motivations and conclude that they're baseless and motivated by homophobia. But that's not what the AP does-- if they can't get into an exploration of the underlying issues that lead to the position, they should avoid terms that dismiss it. I feel a little shitty about reaching that conclusion, but if I want to see the news free of bias and assumption that runs counter to my personal positions, I also have to support cleanliness in the other direction.

I realize that this is contentious, because I can't think of a situation where someone's anti-gay position would have its root in anything EXCEPT homophobia, but I believe strongly that it's a journalist's job to avoid assumptions and unstated conclusions. It highlights the problem of modern journalism's lack of depth, but I don't think the solution to that is more assumption and insinuation.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


The term "phobia" is too well known. It isn't just some obscure etymology. It may, in some cases, actually hinder the cause of gay rights because it allows people to distract from their bigotry by arguing that they aren't afraid (which may be trued) and don't have a psychological condition (which may also be true).
posted by Area Man at 7:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


he hates the word homosexual itself as a lousy construct? Half Greek half Latin?

An unnatural coupling.

[Joke, dammit. Joke.]
posted by pracowity at 7:20 AM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I always thought it was a weird term that became the catch-all label for anything prejudiced against gay people out of chance and inertia rather than it being a great word to use. Also I think it unnecessarily puts the focus on labeling a person in the same way that racist as a noun does. It's easier to have a conversation about whether or not a particular view or action is harmful to gay people than it is about whether or not a particular person can be fairly labeled as a homophobe. Relying mainly on catch-all identity terms for complicated issues is just lazy discourse anyway, it's almost always better to be more specific rather than just using a label.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:20 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would offer "the state of disagreeing with me with regard to homosexuality", since that is the context in which the term is most often deployed.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:24 AM on November 29, 2012


I don't think this is a good decision.

Whatever it's etymological roots, homophobia does not now mean "fear of the same" or "medicalized, irrational fear of gay people." It means "anti-gay bigotry." Being excessively literal about prefixes and suffixes isn't doing any good here. It is, instead, banning a word that is universally understood as meaning prejudice against gay people, and this decision is just as short-sighted as eliminating "antisemitism" because Jews aren't the only Semitic people.

I mean, "sexism" doesn't mean "an ideology of the superiority of sexual congress." Bigotry's word origins exclusively mean religious intolerance, which is no longer the case.

The people who hold contempt for other people like to play semantic games. "I don't hate black people," they will say, "I just love white people." "I'm not anti-abortion," they will say, "I am pro-life."

Language develops new meanings for old suffixes. "-gate" never denoted "scandal" until Watergate. "-dome" never denoted scandal until Teapot Dome. The -phobia suffix means "hatred" in the context of homophobia and Islamophobia. It is easy to delineate that the suffix is being used diefferent than its medical meaning -- Wikipedia manages just fine.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:25 AM on November 29, 2012 [21 favorites]


Also I think it unnecessarily puts the focus on labeling a person in the same way that racist as a noun does.

I confess I don't understand this. Should we talk in passive voiced platitudes about events happening without actors so that people with reactionary and regressive social views are not offended? Is there any evidence that this leads to more real change than calling racists racists? Racist is seen as such an insult (we aren't allowed to label people racists on Metafilter) precisely because it's understood that exhibiting those behaviors, intentionally or not, is beyond the social pale. That's as it should be.
posted by OmieWise at 7:25 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that "homophobia" is a word that is not ideally suited to its contemporary usage, but argue that it's still the best we've got. "Bigotry" is too broad -- we need a word that covers prejudice against specifically gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. "Anti-gay" is too neutral -- it implies reasonable disagreement, it leaves the door open for the argument that being prejudiced against non-heterosexual people is a rational position to take. "Heterosexist" is an admirable attempt, but honestly I don't find its intended meaning to be at all clear -- to me it sounds like it refers to people who are both heterosexual and sexist, not to people who are prejudiced against GLB people.

We could use a better word than "homophobia", but let's not throw "homophobia" aside until we have that better word in our arsenal. What we need is a word which includes the entire queer spectrum of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, and other genderqueer people in a way that is immediately obvious to someone who is hearing it for the first time and which clearly implies an irrational and unacceptable prejudice against said people.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it: find or invent that word. Bonus points if you can do it without using a hyphen or going over five syllables. Four syllables, if you use a Greek or Latin stem.
posted by Scientist at 7:31 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re: "bigotry," I don't think that's specific enough and while true that's a problematic substitute because it's one of the words that, when used, causes you to automatically lose an argument in your opponents eyes' (which is unfair, if your opponents are homophobic bigots, but whatever). "Homophobia" is the currently accepted word we have for describing hate directed at or ignorance of gay people; no, it doesn't entirely make sense as a word but the English language has never played by its own rules and I'm automatically suspicious of any attempt to erase the word. If you think we can gradually replace the word with something better that describes the same thing, go for it, but you're going to be swimming upstream. As for me, I'm content with the word and with the adaptability and messiness of the English language.

Basically: the etymology of the word irks etymology nerds, but it's a useful word, everyone knows it, and dropping it is harmful at this point.
posted by byanyothername at 7:40 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh. Or, um, what Scientist said. :P
posted by byanyothername at 7:41 AM on November 29, 2012


This is a dumb, wrongheaded decision. Dave Wilton of Wordorigins.org has an excellent discussion, with links to John E. McIntyre among others. Summary:
The AP is simply wrong on all counts here.

Furthermore, the AP’s argument that homophobia shouldn’t be used because it isn’t a clinical fear is itself a politically charged one... So by stepping into the fray, the AP has declared itself, wittingly or not, as being on one side of the “culture wars.”
posted by languagehat at 7:42 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"Anti-gay" is too neutral -- it implies reasonable disagreement, it leaves the door open for the argument that being prejudiced against non-heterosexual people is a rational position to take.

I don't think it does imply that. I think you're inferring that. And I think AP stories should be neutral, so I think that's a feature, not a bug. Call things what they are and don't make assumptions beyond that.
posted by inturnaround at 7:44 AM on November 29, 2012


"Anti-gay" is too neutral -- it implies reasonable disagreement

Exactly--whereas a phobia is a disorder which overwhelms rational thinking. But they say in the quote that their INTENT is to use something "more neutral". The real question is why they feel the need to be neutral about a species of bigotry. Perhaps instead of using the word 'racism', they should use something more neutral, like 'anti-black'.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:45 AM on November 29, 2012


"Bigotry" is too broad -- we need a word that covers prejudice against specifically gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

Not trying to be obtuse, but why do we need a specific word for that when, for example, as mentioned above, we don't have a word for racism directed at specific races? And why do we need a word that covers GLBT people, but not, say, specific words for anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-bi, etc.? Is it at the same time a specific, distinct kind of bigotry but also one that encompasses all those groups and only those groups?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:47 AM on November 29, 2012


Looking for alternatives to "homophobic" might be less about not offending folks with reactionary or regressive social views and more about not allowing them to make disingenuous or facile responses about semantics rather than actually addressing the criticism being levied on them by the speaker. It's not like the homophobes themselves are asking for a change. Does that make any sense?

I don't have a strong opinion and would actually be just fine with continuing to use "homophobia" as per the status quo, because

(1) "homophobic" has been pretty well entrenched in English vocabulary for some time NOT to mean, strictly speaking, just fear of homosexuals/homosexuality (and everybody pretty much knows that to be the case, including the homophobes/heterosexists themselves);

(2) It's kind of borrowing trouble to call this a real problem, as I have only once or twice in my life actually heard someone try to respond to a charge of homophobia by arguing that "No, I am NOT afraid of homosexuals ... I [hate/disapprove/what-have-you] them; you are unfairly labeling me, etc."; and

(3) AP is not proposing Websters drop "homophobia" from the English dictionary, only that its writers not use the term in their news stories, which is a very different scale of an issue, and also might make some sense for that context.

It also is worth noting that when I first started thinking about this and proposed the "heterosexist" solution, I was a philosophy graduate student, so almost no sort of practical consideration ever entered into my thinking at that time ... now, I don't have a strong interest either way; it's just a fun exercise to discuss vocabulary. I will, e.g., be curious to find out what AP writers come up with to replace "homophobia."

(To Scientist's point, above, when I first proposed of the using the term "heterosexist," I was thinking of defining it as something like "unfairly favoring heterosexual people and heterosexuality to the detriment of homosexual people and their rights." Or something like that. "Bigotry" is probably close enough for horseshoes on this one.)
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:49 AM on November 29, 2012


"Anti-gay" is too neutral -- it implies reasonable disagreement, it leaves the door open for the argument that being prejudiced against non-heterosexual people is a rational position to take.

How can a word be too neutral for journalism? That's precisely why it's a better word-- it's without judgement, and that's what objective journalism should strive for. "We report, you decide," is more than an ironic tagline for a shady news outfit-- it's the ideal that good journalism should strive for, even when you're completely convinced of the righteousness of your position on an issue.

If you recognize aggressive neutrality here but don't support it in this instance, you can't complain about news sources that demonstrate bias counter to your positions.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:50 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's bizarre that the AP is only deciding this now, some 20+ years after the word homophobia came into popular usage to mean "anti-gay bigotry". Yeah, it's a poorly coined word – phobia means something specific and different. But the word has passed in to common usage, why mess with it?

It's useful to have a specific word to mean anti-GLBT* prejudice. It's distinct from racial prejudice, both historically and in root causes. Also while racism is broadly considered unacceptable in the US and has been for 30+ years, anti-gay bigotry is only now becoming called out as offensive and wrong.

Bonus link: Fake AP Stylebook. "Niggardly" is asking for trouble, so really, just don't.
posted by Nelson at 7:50 AM on November 29, 2012


Should we talk in passive voiced platitudes about events happening without actors so that people with reactionary and regressive social views are not offended?

I'm not really talking about offending people, but in general I think it's a good idea to use language that that helps the conversation be about whatever the topic is rather than whether or not the language being used is appropriate. Another example would be using rape as a catch-all for every kind of inappropriate sexual behavior, not everyone has the same definition of rape and it's easier to talk in more specific terms about kinds of sexual assault.

Is there any evidence that this leads to more real change than calling racists racists? Racist is seen as such an insult (we aren't allowed to label people racists on Metafilter) precisely because it's understood that exhibiting those behaviors, intentionally or not, is beyond the social pale.

The problem is that most of the racism around today is not so cut an dry that we can just put the racist label on anyone who is part of the problem. For example, a city transportation system can be racist if it gives substandard access to parts of the population that are predominantly racial minorities, but talking about that kind of issue is not helped by calling the mayor or head of the department of transportation a racist. Especially if you are actually talking to the person involved, making the debate about their personal identity lets them act as if they are being personally attacked and present evidence that they are a good person ("Some of my best friends are black!"), instead of actually talking about the real issue and defending their specific viewpoint or actions. With homophobia, it's a lot more productive to talk about how marriage equality is important and challenge those who oppose it, than it is to use negative terms to describe those people.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also worth mentioning that xenophobia is an actual phobia, as well as a social term for a general distrust of People Who Are Not Us.

Anyway, honestly, I think this is a good thing, on balance. I think that if "homophobic" is replaced with "anti-gay," by flattening the descriptor in a way that's a bit more clinical, it removes a tool from the bigots' arsenal: In this specific way, they are less able to play the martyr. If the media calls you homophobic, you can scoff at it and say that obviously your (certain rational and not at all hateful or just generally completely shitty) beliefs are so very under fire from the PC brigade that they label your (obviously well-thought-out and not ass-backwards dickheadedness) opinion a phobia. "We just speak the truth," says whichever particular subhuman filth is vomiting up nonsense this week, "and they call it a phobia!"

One of the favorite tactics of a lot of bigots of every stripe is to play up the notion that they are the ones being persecuted. There's a war on Christmas, and you can't pray in schools, and our kids are going to be taught that being straight or white are bad things.

Sorry, pal. Now the media's just calling you anti-gay. Funny thing - you sound just as bad. I wonder why that is.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not trying to be obtuse, but why do we need a specific word for that when, for example, as mentioned above, we don't have a word for racism directed at specific races? And why do we need a word that covers GLBT people, but not, say, specific words for anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-bi, etc.? Is it at the same time a specific, distinct kind of bigotry but also one that encompasses all those groups and only those groups?

We need a specific word because it's a specific (and historically long-standing) form of bigotry applied to same-sex relationships. Anti-lesbian bigotry is marginally different from anti-gay male bigotry, but the differences are marginal, and spring from the same root, which is hatred (and fear) of same-sex relationships.
posted by OmieWise at 7:54 AM on November 29, 2012


I think the word appeals to a certain world-view that a lot of educated people seem to have. Namely: people who exhibit hatred or prejudice only do so because they fear the other. It's as if they are really good people who have just gone astray, and, if only they got to know some gay people and saw that they are pretty much just plain folks, they'd see the error of their ways. There is something naive and over-optimistic about this, I think I think it is necessary to face the possibility that some people hate you simply because they hate you.

I think you're mistaken that this view is "naive and over-optimistic." Both fear and disgust (and hate, by extension) are a kind of threat response. Hate might not be the same kind of response as fear, but the nature of the trigger is the same: A perceived threat. People hate things that they feel threaten them in some way (and a simple shorthand way to characterize this fact is to say that all hate originates in fear). True, the latest scientific evidence does show that hate and fear don't work the same way in terms of brain function, but both involve seeing something as a threat. Isn't it fair to say that anything you see as a threat is, in a certain sense, something that frightens you? It's a different kind of emotional response than fear, to a different kind of threat, but hate still seems pretty clearly related to viewing something as a threat. To my mind, that means hate is ultimately a way of expressing fear. That doesn't exonerate haters from responsibility.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:54 AM on November 29, 2012


I agree with the AP, Homophobia is a sloppy word. As the quote states, these people aren't scared, they're just intolerant.

I wish there was a word for religious people who want all of our laws to be based on their scriptures, because there are so many appropriate uses for it.

How about:

sexual-solipsists
hetero-solipsism

posted by hellslinger at 7:55 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a dumb, wrongheaded decision. Dave Wilton of Wordorigins.org has an excellent discussion

That discussion basically makes the argument that the AP is wrong because many people don't use "homophobia" in a clinical sense. But the AP is not primarily interested in usage. As a journalism organization, it's interests are in being as clear as possible and also in being neutral, among other things. A lot of AP style is shaped by the old practice of sending news stories by telegraph, when conciseness mattered. So, for example, AP style is to use "OK" instead of "okay" because it's shorter, and to not use an oxford comma because it would be one more character to transmit. This is just to illustrate that AP is concerned with more than just usage.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:56 AM on November 29, 2012


I'm reading a lot of comments about how people who are bigoted are assholes, that they're not acting out of some understandable impulse like fear or misunderstanding or miseducation, but that they are acting as they do simply because they are bad people.

I take issue with that statement. For one, it seems rather un-self-aware. Few people are perfect, everyone has prejudices. Even if we are able to acknowledge that our prejudices are probably incorrect, counterproductive, and toxic, they can still be very hard to shake off. Let he who has no sin cast the first stone, and all that.

More importantly though, I think it's just wrong. Bigots absolutely have to be trained (intentionally or not), and by looking at that training we absolutely can understand why they act the way they do. Infants are not racists or sexists or homophobes. People become bigots through the shaping forces of the events of their lives -- they learn bigotry from their role models, from their peers, from the authority figures in their lives, from the subtext of the cultures that they move through. They are not simply assholes, it is something more complex and understandable, something that can be dealt through persistence, cleverness, compassion, and communication much more easily (although the task is still difficult) than it can be dealt with through dismissal, hatred, and contempt. People respond much better to the former than the latter, it's a matter of tactics and also a matter of choosing to be a force for love rather than just a force for anti-hatred.

Bigotry is understandable. It is also abhorrent, but it is still understandable. We cannot overcome what we don't understand. We might be able to drive it out of our personal social circle, we might be able to root it out from the halls of power if we are especially aggressive and diligent, but we cannot destroy hatred through those means; we can only marginalize, it drive it underground, force it to entrench itself in secret places where it can fester unseen.

Effectively combating bigotry takes something more subtle, more persistent, and in many ways more challenging and less satisfying than simply shouting "YOU PEOPLE ARE ASSHOLES" as loudly as possible. It takes understanding, compassion, and love for those who have no understanding, compassion, or love to give us. That is a hard thing to ask of people, especially people who are on the receiving end of bigotry and hatred, yet it is the only true way.
posted by Scientist at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


hy do we need a specific word for that when, for example, as mentioned above, we don't have a word for racism directed at specific races?

Antisemitism calling on line three.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


A phobia is an anxiety disorder in which the individual has an irrational fear of something and goes to great lengths to avoid that thing.

I agree on this tending to prefer anti-gay bigotry or anti-gay prejudice. I still use "homophobia" now and then though when I'm in a community where it's understood as a synonym for "heterosexism."

But, this is the sort of nuance of politics and language that, in my opinion, is beyond the scope of a widely-published and referenced style book. When decisions among synonyms modify the framing of a piece, word choices should be in the hands of the writer who understands the beat and the story, and the editor who understands the publication and its audience.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:00 AM on November 29, 2012


Another example would be using rape as a catch-all for every kind of inappropriate sexual behavior, not everyone has the same definition of rape and it's easier to talk in more specific terms about kinds of sexual assault.

I almost used rape as an example in my answer too. I almost pointed out that we call rapists rapists, and that's fine with me.

I see your points, but in the transportation example, I don't think that most folks are calling mayors "racist" because such policies are in place, although they may be when the may or recalcitrant about recognizing them and making changes. The transportation example is a pretty good one, since Robert Moses worked hard to use transportation policy to exclude African Americans from recreation opportunities etc. I'm not sure why calling him a racist is poor form, and I think doing so to his face would have made the stakes of the arcane transportation debate clear.
posted by OmieWise at 8:00 AM on November 29, 2012


But journalism should be free of judgement-- perhaps in a long-form piece, the reporter might examine the subject's motivations and conclude that they're baseless and motivated by homophobia. But that's not what the AP does-- if they can't get into an exploration of the underlying issues that lead to the position, they should avoid terms that dismiss it.

Journalism is never free of judgment. And the mainstream media almost never "gets into an exploration" of the underlying issues that feed and compel anti-gay attitudes. It's unclear to me that "homophobia" as it's currently used does anything in and of itself to "dismiss" an anti-gay position. Whether there's ever a valid anti-gay position (i.e., one not driven by hatred or emotion) is another question altogether. I admit that as a member of the group targeted by the so-called "rational" anti-gay position that I'm not exactly unbiased, nor could I ever be, even if I were a fan of the unicorn called "objective" journalism.

I'm not all that comfortable with the persistence of the term "homophobia" either. But it's a relatively recent coinage and, as others have said, there's not yet a better term that has anywhere near universal acceptance as a common definition of what "homophobia" describes. In 1972, George Weinberg described it as "the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals." Mark Freedman called it an "extreme rage and fear reaction to homosexuals." "Anti-gay" does not really at all mean the same thing as those things. Neither does "bigot" or "prejudiced person." At the same time, "homophobia" doesn't always really mean that anymore either, at least in the way that it's used in common language. Nor is anti-gay sentiment anymore exclusively or even primarily about being "in close quarters" with gay people.

The clinical and political usages of this term have become hopelessly entangled, and any discussion about the term ends up where we are in this thread, which is with some people saying the term is fine and others questioning whether it refers to a pathology, some questioning whether it's a politically loaded term, others questioning why gays need their "own" term at all. Come to think of it, it's the same baggage that attaches to any term that's used to describe LGBT/queer people from first principles, even the words "homosexual" and "gay" themselves, which have always been politically charged. I look forward to the day when they're no longer politically charged, but I don't expect it in my lifetime. Just as I don't expect homophobia to magically vanish in my lifetime, whether the AP decides it's no longer a necessary term or not.
posted by blucevalo at 8:04 AM on November 29, 2012


"Homophobia" allows people like Sarah Palin and Anne Coulter to say that they still have gay friends. It's must easier to call them anti-gay.

So I pretty much agree with this decision from a rational perspective, even though I don't like how it feels in my gut.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2012


Not trying to be obtuse, but why do we need a specific word for that when, for example, as mentioned above, we don't have a word for racism directed at specific races?

It's a tactical thing. We (for suitable values of "we") are engaged in a battle against bigotry directed at GLBT people, and if you are going to fight something you need to have a name for it. First law of propaganda. We do have some words for specific types of racism, by the way. See, for instance, "antisemitism". The Jewish people have gotten a lot of mileage out of that one that they would not have gotten had prejudice against them been lumped under general "racism".

How can a word be too neutral for journalism?

Words are not neutral. Journalism is not neutral. Journalistic neutrality is a polite fiction of the 20th century. It did not exist before then, it never truly existed even during that time, and it is certainly disintegrating rapidly here at the beginning of the 21st century. Editorial decisions are always made in journalism -- what to print, how much space to give it, where to put it, what language to use in writing about it -- and these decisions are inherently political even if they are not intended to be political. They still are political in their effect, and it is foolish to pretend that they are not because if we do then somebody more pragmatic is going to come along and grab those levers and start using journalism for the propaganda machine that it always has been while we sit on the sidelines crying "foul!". This sort of thing happens all the time -- when was the last time you read a story in a major news outlet about the "Armenian genocide"?
posted by Scientist at 8:06 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's much easier to call them anti-gay -- because it speaks to their actions. Which are all I care about. I don't think homophobia as a word will or should go away. But when thinking of terms that the AP uses, anti-gay is probably far more accurate.

How often are they talking about 'what's in people's hearts' vs. 'describing their actions.'
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:07 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you need both the words homophobia and heterosexism. Homophobia being a sort of hatred, fear, or even revulsion towards homosexuality (so yes, a fairly serious charge to make that someone is homophobic), and heterosexism being the privileging of heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships.

Same as we'd use sexism and misogyny, or racism and, I dunno, racially based hatred (ok, I'd agree my argument breaks down on this one.)
posted by lookoutbelow at 8:11 AM on November 29, 2012


Anti-gay is suitable because if you're anti-gay, you're anti-GLBT -- it comes from the same place.
posted by hellslinger at 8:13 AM on November 29, 2012


The decision to remove "ethnic cleansing" from the style guide (because it's a euphemism that does a poor job capturing the violence and suffering involved; ie, it's imprecise and misleading) is a lot less controversial than the decision to remove "homophobia" (for similar reasons -- it's imprecise and misleading).

Honest question: Why would that be?
posted by notyou at 8:16 AM on November 29, 2012


Words are not neutral. Journalism is not neutral. Journalistic neutrality is a polite fiction of the 20th century.

Words are not neutral, but some words are more neutral than others. And some journalism is more neutral than others. Are you saying that don't want journalists to try to be as objective as possible? Yes, it's true that editorial decisions are necessarily political, but you can acknowledge that and still try to be neutral. Do you really want all news outlets to have a Fox News level of bias?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:17 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not trying to be obtuse, but why do we need a specific word for that when, for example, as mentioned above, we don't have a word for racism directed at specific races? And why do we need a word that covers GLBT people, but not, say, specific words for anti-gay, anti-lesbian, anti-bi, etc.? Is it at the same time a specific, distinct kind of bigotry but also one that encompasses all those groups and only those groups?

Antisemitism was cited above, and I'll also suggest Islamophobia as another specific form of racism. There certainly has been criticism of the fact that, in the U.S., racism is mostly seen in terms of bias against people of African and African-American ancestry.

But yes, homophobia/heterosexism is a bit of a different phenomena from other forms of prejudices. For example, issues of passing privilege are nearly universal for LGBT* people in that it's much easier to find yourself in a room of people who assume everyone else is straight. The ideological rhetoric is considerably different. And then there are the repeated attempts to medicalize sexual orientation. There are similarities as well, which is why queer theory often gets ideas from the civil rights movement and feminism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:18 AM on November 29, 2012


Look, people, they're trying to sell newspapers to the homophobes perfectly reasonable and rational anti-gay audience, as well.

*sigh*
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 AM on November 29, 2012


Again, I think homophobes really lets people off the hook too easily. "I don't hate gays, I have plenty of gay friends." is what those assholes are saying all the time without addiing on the just as true "I'm just a member of a political/religious organization that is trying to strip them of their rights."

Anti-gay tells it like it is and makes them have to own it.

Of course, they'll just start calling themselves pro-life family
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:25 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


That discussion basically makes the argument that the AP is wrong because many people don't use "homophobia" in a clinical sense. But the AP is not primarily interested in usage. As a journalism organization, it's interests are in being as clear as possible and also in being neutral, among other things.

Virtually no one uses 'homophobia' in a clinical sense. It's not in the DSM, for instance. For better or worse, that's not what the word means. The idea that the AP could reasonably fear creating confusion by using 'homophobia' in a non-clinical sense is absurd.
posted by hoyland at 8:29 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whatever it's etymological roots, homophobia does not now mean "fear of the same" or "medicalized, irrational fear of gay people."

Yeah, exactly. I mean, if they don't follow this up by arguing that we should remove the word "decimated" from the general lexicon because it doesn't now mean what it originally meant, then I will judge them as having absolutely no journalistic integrity whatsoever.
posted by elizardbits at 8:30 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


One problem with replacing homophobic with anti-gay is that people working for gay rights and against homophobia are often referred to as anti-homophobic. Anti-antigay doesn't ring so well.
posted by biffa at 8:32 AM on November 29, 2012


Words are not neutral. Journalism is not neutral. Journalistic neutrality is a polite fiction of the 20th century. It did not exist before then, it never truly existed even during that time, and it is certainly disintegrating rapidly here at the beginning of the 21st century.

Journalism should aspire to be neutral. Even if that neutrality is a Platonic ideal that will never be fully realized, you further the erosion of standards of reporting when you reject movement towards terms that are neutral.

If it's cool for the AP to use a term like "homophobia," which you acknowledge is not as neutral as "anti-gay," then it's fine for them to use a term like "collateral damage" in lieu of "civilian casualties." "Collateral damage" needs to be avoided for the same reason that "homophobic" does.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:33 AM on November 29, 2012


Whatever happened to the word "prejudiced"?

When I was a kid in the '70s, it seemed like that was the word to use to describe people who, for example, held racist beliefs. It's certainly quite accurate for describing people who are anti-gay-rights. I like this definition from The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology:

Prejudice is a positive or negative cultural ATTITUDE directed towards members of a group or social category. As an attitude, it combines beliefs and value judgments with positive or negative emotional predispositions.

Racism that whites direct at blacks and other people of color, for example, includes stereotyped beliefs about racial differences in such areas as intelligence, motivation, moral character, and various abilities. These differences are then judged according to cultural values to the detriment of people of color and the enhanced standing of whites. Finally, emotional elements – such as hostility, contempt, and fear – complete the attitude to create a predisposition among whites to treat blacks in oppressive ways and to perceive their own racial category as socially superior. Since people of color in Europe and the U.S. live in the same culture as whites, racial prejudice will also to some degree affect how they perceive, evaluate, and feel about themselves.


Replace "whites" with "heterosexuals" and "blacks/people of color" with "homosexuals", and you've got the same sort of thinking described.

I never liked the word "homophobia", either, and I don't use it for the same reason that I don't use the phrase "theory of evolution". Because in common, everyday, man-on-the-street usage, people just don't aren't using the same definitions that academia or the medical world or whoever are using.

"Phobia", to the man on the street (in my experience), means "fear of". The bigots I encounter aren't afraid of gay people. Disgusted by them, contemptuous, angered that a group that was considered perverts and child molesters not a generation ago are now demanding rights? That I've seen, but never fear. So when they hear "homophobia", they roll their eyes, because they and everyone around them can tell that they aren't afraid.

But the word "prejudiced"? Or "bigotry"? I find those words can and do have a much bigger impact on them and the people around them. They know what those words mean, and they can't roll their eyes at them the way they can at "homophobia". At their core, those words mean that they hate someone for no good reason--period. And when you call them that, they have to confront their hatred, not a fear that doesn't exist.

I like the word "prejudiced". It's accurate, it works, it has a distinguished history of being used against racists during the Civil Rights Era, and it should be repurposed for use by the Gay Rights Movement. Replace "homophobia" with "prejudiced", and I'll bet next week's paycheck you'll see a lot of people pull up short when they hear it.


(I just realized I didn't explain why I don't use "theory of evolution". Because "theory" = "guess" in everyday, non-academic use. So I use "FACT of evolution". Because it is).
posted by magstheaxe at 8:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Virtually no one uses 'homophobia' in a clinical sense. It's not in the DSM, for instance. For better or worse, that's not what the word means. The idea that the AP could reasonably fear creating confusion by using 'homophobia' in a non-clinical sense is absurd.

Most people might understand that usage, but what about an eighth grader who isn't familiar with the term? Mightn't she get confused and think that homophobia is similar to arachnophobia?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:04 AM on November 29, 2012


The bigots I encounter aren't afraid of gay people.

I disagree. They see gay people as a threat. Whether that threat triggers a fear response in the brain or not, it's still about being afraid of what's perceived as somehow a threat.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:05 AM on November 29, 2012


Most people might understand that usage, but what about an eighth grader who isn't familiar with the term? Mightn't she get confused and think that homophobia is similar to arachnophobia?

I probably don't seem particularly fearful of spiders when I'm angrily smashing them to bits, but believe me, my hate for spiders originated in fear of them. And arachnophobia still seems a perfectly suitable term for it to me.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:07 AM on November 29, 2012


"Ethnic Cleansing" apparently is a term of art for the UN, ICJ, and European Court of Human Rights, to describe practices that are illegal in international law but not technically covered by the Genocide Convention. It's a euphemism in the same way that one might say that manslaughter is a euphemism for murder.

Cultural conservatives like Rick Warren certainly think that "anti-gay" is not a neutral term. He's hitting my newsfeeds this week with the argument that he's not anti-gay, he just believes that same-sex sexuality is a harmful activity.

It might be an ideal for newspapers to be neutral, but they also must be accurate. Changing all cases of "homophobia" to "anti-gay prejudice" is inaccurate when the article is paraphrasing or summarizing sources that explicitly use the word homophobia.

These issues shouldn't be resolved across thousands of stories published in hundreds of periodicals that use AP style. They need to be resolved by writers and editors who understand the story, the beat, and the audience.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Infants are not racists or sexists or homophobes. People become bigots through the shaping forces of the events of their lives -- they learn bigotry from their role models, from their peers, from the authority figures in their lives, from the subtext of the cultures that they move through.

I don't disagree, but I think it's also true that people - children - learn tolerance in the same way. Our brains are very good at creating stereotypes, and I think that can easily move into prejudice if not corrected through the influences you describe.
posted by nickmark at 9:14 AM on November 29, 2012


I don't understand the etymology issue. -phobia already means different things in modern western languages. Hydrophobia sometimes means "fear of water" and sometimes not. Xenophobia is largely used in mainstream language and so is homophobia. Likewise -philia is also used in a large variety of contexts that people navigate just fine. Germanophiles like all things German, colombophiles enjoy breeding pigeons but we do not stop using those words because there are some darker uses of the -philia suffix out there. I understand that homophobic people may use etymology to play word games (we're not phobic) but they'll do that with any label applied to them anyway.
posted by elgilito at 9:16 AM on November 29, 2012


For some reason, I have a really strong "ugh no!" reaction to heterocentrist or heterosexist. Those terms just seem toothless, academic, and honestly, most likely incomprehensible to the average person.

I'd rather say "bigoted against gay people" than heterocentrist, even if the former is rather wordy. Bigotry should not be clouded by academic jargon.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:16 AM on November 29, 2012


I think banishing the word homophobic to describe someone who is anti-gay is stupid, however anti-gay and homophobic are NOT the same.

I am emphatically pro-gay rights and have been my entire adult life. I was living in Europe during the peak of the Canadian gay marriage struggle but when I watched Paul Martin's speech in support of bill C-38 it literally made me cry with pride.

But I still routinely experience homophobia.

I also still feel spooky sometimes even though I don't believe in ghosts.

I prefer the collective term that I use for all people who follow the quirks and twinges in the nerves in their stomach linings instead of using their cerebral cortexes: fucking morons.
posted by lastobelus at 9:26 AM on November 29, 2012


The LA Times article poses an interesting question. How do you cover homophobia as a part of gay/queer theory without using the word homophobia? Refusing to cover that aspect of political theory or editing that word to some minimally offensive neutral synonym biases coverage of those sources.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:27 AM on November 29, 2012


And what, any words with more than two syllables are considered academic jargon now, whether they have academic roots or not? (Reminds me of a style guide I encountered recently that defined "pretentious" style as ever using a word with more than two syllables when a two or one syllable word was available. Connotative meanings, or the more subtle nuances of denotative meanings, are apparently no longer required in modern American English.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:28 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, lastobelus makes probably the only good argument I've seen yet for this decision. But I notice it doesn't seem to be one of the ones on offer from the AP.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on November 29, 2012


And what, any words with more than two syllables are considered academic jargon now

That's not what I said.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2012


"Homophobia" is not an academic term, is my point.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 AM on November 29, 2012


As far as I can tell, the only reason people think it is is because it's a polysyllabic word.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2012


How do you cover homophobia as a part of gay/queer theory without using the word homophobia? Refusing to cover that aspect of political theory or editing that word to some minimally offensive neutral synonym biases coverage of those sources.

You'd do it by quoting a source. The AP is still entirely free to use the word homophobia, it just advises its writers that the preferred stylistic decision is to use other terms when writing their own copy. If someone in a sourced quote calls someone else a homophobe, that's fair play. Probably a headline, even.

Like, in this article, the word "homophobia" in the last paragraph would be written as "anti-gay sentiment" instead. Whether that makes a big difference or not, it is not for me to say.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2012


ethnic cleansing appears to be a translation of Serbo-Croatian "etničko čišćenje," used to describe the Balkan conflicts. All of them. Indeed, the perpetrators themselves called what they were doing "ethnic cleansing."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:43 AM on November 29, 2012


Reminds me of a style guide I encountered recently that defined "pretentious" style as ever using a word with more than two syllables when a two or one syllable word was available

"pretentious" is over 2 syllables. Use "snooty," "pompous," or "fancy" instead
posted by tyllwin at 9:48 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Skeptic: "I strongly dislike the word because it actually would mean "fear of the same" if literally translated.
I'd just say "nasty bigotry" and get on with ridding the world of it.
"

Well - if you take the theory that some of the most vocal homophobes are suppressed gay themselves, well... It kinda fits, no?
posted by symbioid at 9:58 AM on November 29, 2012


saulgoodman: "And what, any words with more than two syllables are considered academic jargon now"

DOUBLE PLUS GOOD
posted by symbioid at 10:02 AM on November 29, 2012


I disagree. They see gay people as a threat. Whether that threat triggers a fear response in the brain or not, it's still about being afraid of what's perceived as somehow a threat.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:05 PM on November 29



But that's not the emotion that they're experiencing. Fear of a threat may be at the root of what they're feeling, but it immediately manifests within them as something else--hatred, contempt, disgust, etc.

Responding to those emotions with "well, you're just really afraid" doesn't draw a lot of water with bigots, in my experience. You have to address what's they're actually feeling before you ever get down to the root of it.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:04 AM on November 29, 2012


Etymological fallacy: the present-day meaning of a word or phrase should necessarily be similar to its historical meaning.

It's interesting to note the meanings of Greek or Latin roots, but the English words they deliver are now ours and not theirs.
posted by fredludd at 10:23 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


And what, any words with more than two syllables are considered academic jargon now, whether they have academic roots or not?

It started as jargon invented by a clinical psychologist, so it definitely has roots in more of a formal psychology setting than the way it's used today.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2012


To me, "Homophobic" implies a 15 year old kid who is grossed out by two men kissing. "Anti-Gay" implies someone who has decided as an adult that an important part of their identity is to make life worse for men who like to kiss other men. I like this change a lot.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 11:00 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do you cover homophobia as a part of gay/queer theory without using the word homophobia? Refusing to cover that aspect of political theory or editing that word to some minimally offensive neutral synonym biases coverage of those sources.

Most papers have individual styleguides, which can override AP guidelines. It'd be trivial for a paper with reporter doing dedicated GLBT coverage to state that house style allows for the use of the word. If a piece using "homophobia" is then sent over the wire, it could be re-edited.
posted by rewil at 11:01 AM on November 29, 2012


It started as jargon invented by a clinical psychologist, so it definitely has roots in more of a formal psychology setting than the way it's used today.

Except he appears to have been using it in the current sense and not in the sense of a clinical phobia.
posted by hoyland at 11:23 AM on November 29, 2012


The sad part is, you make "anti-gay" the new "homophobia", and watch how fast it takes bigoted neocons to swear up and down that "gay" means happy and why would anyone be against happiness? It's like people who will defend the use of the word "nigger" because it just means "an ignorant person' and is totally not racist at all guys.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:01 PM on November 29, 2012


I'm with those who think the term "homophobia" was a tactical mistake because I've seen first-hand people who are anti-gay making excuses to themselves by saying, "I'm not afraid of homosexuals, I just..." And I think the issue of whether some has feelings of fear or disgust about homosexuality has little or no place in discussions of whether homosexual people deserve equal rights.

But I think the word is too well-established at this point to get people to use some other word instead. I don't think even AP has the power to change that.

On the other hand, I'm totally on board with using "homophonia" to label people who use "gay" to mean stupid.
posted by straight at 12:35 PM on November 29, 2012


I'm with those who think the term "homophobia" was a tactical mistake because I've seen first-hand people who are anti-gay making excuses to themselves by saying, "I'm not afraid of homosexuals, I just..."

You know, there is no word that we could choose that wouldn't elicit these kinds of disingenuous responses. It's part and parcel of what many haters do.
posted by OmieWise at 12:56 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arguing that homophobia means fear of gay people and therefore cannot be used against anti-queer bigots because they don't fear them yadda yadda is about the same sort of smart argument as arguing that "Islam isn't a race" therefore being bigoted against Muslims isn't racism.

People used to argue that about antisemitism as well, but not so much anymore since Israel has nukes.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:38 PM on November 29, 2012


When everybody knows what the word means, why change it?

Some one mentioned up-thread that AP had moved to the right, is this related to that? Why has it moved to the right? New owners? - Are they pushing this?

It seem to me like AP want to own the dialogue/discourse in this area.

Seriously, some of the things I have heard people say about gay people - and then I read some of the comments on here - wow.
posted by marienbad at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2012


I'd like to point out that I think the term "homophobia" has broadened to mean not just necessarily fearing gay people or gay behavior, but also a fear of allowing gay people to have the same rights as straight people, and what that will do to the "fabric of society".

In that sense, I think it's still a very apt word. All of the conservative struggles to keep LGBT people from marrying, adopting, etc. are rooted in a fear that this will change "traditional" values.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:54 PM on November 29, 2012


I think that conceptually it might be useful to have terms to clearly distinguish between (a) someone with a morbid fear of homosexuals or homosexuality; (b) someone prejudiced against homosexuals and homosexuality; (c) someone (e.g., a politician) who cynically takes advantage of other people's prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality. On the other hand, we don't really have good terms for these distinctions when applied to other groups, and I can see that we'd waste even more time arguing about distinctions if we had more categories.

As things stand, we have a word; we know more or less what it means; and arguing for a change in the word when when any new term will be applied to the same concept sounds vaguely suspicious to me. It's like those people who argue that Roma ("Gypsies") aren't a "race" and therefore discrimination against them isn't racist, or that Arabs are "Semites" and therefore the definition of anti-Semitism needs to be changed. It's the sort of argument made by people who want to divert energy and attention from the real issue: that there is something identified by the allegedly-deprecated term and that this is a problem.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:05 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


that Arabs are "Semites" and therefore the definition of anti-Semitism needs to be changed.

This is actually kind of a good example, aside from the wank it invites. Arabs are Semites, as far as I know, but that doesn't mean we don't know what 'anti-Semitism' means.
posted by hoyland at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2012


"Homophobia" gets the point across, but "sexual bigotry" has some flair to it, I have to admit.
posted by effugas at 8:36 PM on November 29, 2012


I like "sexual bigotry" as an alternative.

Or, maybe just drop the -phobia and shorten "homosexual" to "homo" (usefully reclaiming that abbreviation from use as a slur itself) and from there form the term "anti-homo" (compare anti-Semitic) and by contrast "hetero chauvinist" (compare "male chauvinist," "centrist" seems too weak) "hetero-supremacist" (compare "white supremacist") and the like. It's really finding an apt -ist/-ism formulation that's troublesome, and specifically in the context of the intersection of sex, gender and sexuality. ("Cisgender[ed]" is another term that I detest linguistically, but have found it difficult to improve upon in practice.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2012


I suppose I meant 'inversely,' rather than 'by contrast.'
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:17 PM on November 29, 2012


"Sexual bigotry" seems descriptive without being needlessly permissive.

Although honestly, I think this is a tempest in a teakettle: I'd bet that most of the time the word "homophobic" is used in AP Stylebook conforming articles, it's inside quotes. As long as people continue to use the word, it will continue to appear in print that way regardless of what the Stylebook tsars have to say about it.

Except in pretty milquetoast contexts — not the direct sort of accusatory language that I think people are thinking of and using as examples — I doubt most newspaper writers would be able to get away with using either "homophobic" or "[sexually] bigoted" as descriptors without a quote to back them up; it seems like an invitation to a libel suit.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:59 PM on November 29, 2012


"The end result of this is an insinuation that the subject has no rational basis for their objection to gay issues, and is motivated by emotion. Do I personally think that anti-foreign and anti-gay elements generally fit that description? Abso-fucking-lutely. But journalism should be free of judgement-- perhaps in a long-form piece, the reporter might examine the subject's motivations and conclude that they're baseless and motivated by homophobia."

There are two things: First, the position that xenophobia and homophobia are essentially irrational reactions is supported by a fair amount of research. But secondly, and more importantly, you're setting up an impossible standard as well as a misleading target. "Homophobia" is an appropriate formulation for the majority of anti-gay behavior, and there are plenty of times when journalism SHOULD judge. Lewis Hine wasn't trying to provide a fair and balanced view of child labor.

Where I work, we do try to avoid the word "homophobia," but that's for rhetorical reasons, not because the word isn't apt or is too judgmental. The biggest reason why we don't use it is because people in the moveable middle react just as poorly to complaints of homophobia as they do to racism or sexism. But our political compromise of language isn't necessarily a good move for "objective journalism."

Frankly, and I never thought I'd say this to you, Mayor, but I think you're indulging in a liberal surrender and are being insufficiently strident!
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 PM on November 29, 2012


I'm all for getting rid of it entirely.

For starters, it's used incorrectly by so many people these days that it's impossible to fix. Just throw it out completely and make people come up with new/better ways to describe what's happening. Rinse, repeat as necessary.

Once you get past the overt derogatory status, it's misappropriating medical terminology in a way that's actually insulting because of underlying fear/hatred of people with psychological makeup that is different than what is associated as "normal".

So not only is the term insulting with regards to sexual orientation, it's insulting with regards to mental/behavioral health orientation as well.

/Images/memes/Monty%20Python/burn_it.gif
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2012


"Once you get past the overt derogatory status, it's misappropriating medical terminology in a way that's actually insulting because of underlying fear/hatred of people with psychological makeup that is different than what is associated as "normal"."

Not really — the idea that "phobia" is purely a medical description is something that just isn't borne out by the previous 100 years of usage.
posted by klangklangston at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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