Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Christianist website caught auto-substituting "gay" with "homosexual" - but why?

A number of blogs I read have had a chuckle at the discovery of Christianist "news" site OneNewsNow modifying the content of news articles that they reproduce, replacing the word "gay" wherever it apppears with "homosexual". The process is apparently automated, and was discovered when news reports about an athlete named Tyson Gay appeared on the site. His name was automatically modified in precisely the way you'd expect. My personal favourite response is from Dispatches From the Culture Wars, where a field day is being had over the unintentional double entendres that appeared in the modified article.

Commenters there are also trying to answer the question I have: why? Why would they want to substitute "gay" with "homosexual" in the first place? Several possible answers have been put forward
(1) 'There's nothing "gay" about the gay lifestyle': I've heard this explanation given before, where the earlier meaning of the word "gay" as "happy and carefree" means that the word carries connotations which anti-gay activists don't want attached to the concept of homosexuality. In previous years I've seen attempts to redefine gay people as suffering from something called Same-Sex Attraction Disorder (they're not gay, they're SSAD geddit?) but that seems to have fallen off my radar. Does it still occur?
(2) It's all about the sex: simply put, "homosexual" has the word "sex" in it. The idea apparently is to put "sex" (as opposed to "love" or "relationships") front and centre in people's minds. The focus on sex, the ickier the better, to the exclusion of any other human attribute has previously been noted as an anti-gay strategy. This justification is a little weak by itself, but can tie into...
(3) The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy effect: thanks to inroads made into popular culture, the stereotype of the gay male now has several positive attributes associated with it: we are, apparently, fashionable, stylish and quite useful to have around. Perhaps avoiding the use of the word "gay" in favour of the more clinical "homosexual" neuters this positive effect.
(4) A final possibility which I've seen raised but which I personally find unlikely: the word "gay" is sometimes presumed to refer to male homosexual people only (with "lesbian" being used to refer to female homosexual people). The reason I doubt it is because I don't believe that anti-gay activists know that such a distinction gets made by some people. Or that they would care if they did know.

It's most likely a combination of the above factors. Whatever the specifics, the ultimate purpose is to dehumanise gay people, and to prevent any positive connotations from being ascribed by the language used to describe gay people.

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