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    I heard you, but what did you say?

    I’d prefer to keep my plans for self-improvement in the New Year private, but I’m perfectly happy to share the things I’d like you all to resolve to do for me. Since I like people with interesting vices, I’m not going to tell you to stop overeating, drinking, or smoking. What I would like everyone to stop over-indulging in are words–just three little ones that have rapidly become a public menace through their overuse by gays and our sympathizers.


    hate (used as n.) Oh, children, when your dotty gay Uncle Sean was in college ten years ago, we had many, many ways to accuse people of being intolerant. You could call someone “misogynist” or “sexist” if you thought he was keeping women down, “racist” if he questioned affirmative action, or “heterosexist” if he expressed any discomfort with homosexuality. If you wanted to imply that he was not only intolerant but pathological, you could call him “homophobic.” These pronouncements were shrieky and sententious, but rotating through the different charges at least preserved some variety of phrasing and subject matter.



    But, being busy people, we’ve dispensed with all that. Now hate is the word that slices, dices, peels, juliennes, and transforms ordinary radishes into professional-looking rose garnishes at the touch of a button. Just designate someone as “motivated by hate” and move on. The problem, of course, is that calling moral opposition (however misplaced we believe it is) an emotional reaction doesn’t make it one; Right Side of the Rainbow explained this beautifully.



    Fascinatingly, the venerable noun hatred is not abused this way. When you see someone mention “hatred of gays” or “hatred of women” or the like, you can normally trust him to confine his characterizations to people who really do want to infringe on our rights to self-determination without giving rational reasons. It’s a rare instance of more syllables = less airy pretension.



    second-class citizen (compound n., usually plu.) My objection to this one is less fundamental than my objections to the other two, so I have less to say about it. If second-class citizens were actually used in the process of making a thorough argument that marriage to the partner of one’s choosing is a basic human right, I wouldn’t mind so much; and occasionally, very occasionally, it is. Most of the time, though, it comes off as shorthand for, “Why don’t you love me?” It also tends to accompany coarse, overarching comparisons to the Civil Rights movement that, in my opinion, only hold up in very limited ways. The term has mutated into a buzzword rather than a concept useful for explicating one’s logic.



    self-respecting (adj., used esp. in negative construction “no self-respecting gay could possibly…”) I used to think I’d be overjoyed when the locution self-loathing dropped out of the queer public discourse. What a naif I was. The wording is gone, but it’s been replaced by a longer, more convoluted construction that is, if anything, more annoying. If I had a nickel for every time I read or heard the sentence, “No self-respecting gay could possibly vote for George Bush this year,” I’d be retired to a château with guys in loincloths dropping peeled, seeded grapes into my mouth by now.



    It was always obnoxious for one gay to call another “self-loathing” for deviating from the activist-approved list of political positions and life choices, but it was almost touching, in a weird way, in its suggestion that the addressee was just stuck in that denial stage on the way through coming out and it was making him behave like a jerk. Accusing someone of not being “self-respecting” goes the whole way and asserts that he’s a willful, reasoned-out jerk–in addition to implying that his sense of dignity is properly arbitrated by others.





    If I wanted to dwell on things that annoy me, I have no doubt that I could lengthen the above list without much exertion. If our commentators can start avoiding these terms, however–or at least being certain they’re using them to build and not substitute for argumentation–it will be a good thing for gay issues and for civility in general, neither of which has benefited from many of this year’s installments in the public discourse.



    Happy New Year.


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