Monday, January 9, 2012

The Amazon Trail - Sexual Language

Lee Lynch’s The Amazon Trail

Sexual Language

I didn’t like living with my father growing up and can’t imagine sharing a home with someone so essentially different from myself as an adult. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with guys, and I feel much more akin to gay male friends than to non-gay male friends. We’re just not compatible. The energy, for me, is akin to two magnets turned the wrong way – they very forcefully repel rather than attract.

Living with a woman feels much more natural to me. There are no assumptions about roles. There are no Mars-Venus issues.

I like traveling with a woman. I like shopping with a woman. I like sleeping next to a woman, socializing with women in person or virtually. I love writing about women and having a woman publisher. I understand, mostly, our relationships with one another. I’ve always said, as a symbol of my partiality to female company, that men’s feet are too big. I trip over them. They take up my space. I have no conversation for guys outside of work, for example, or perhaps shared missions.

There are some words and phrases used regularly in gay culture that disturb me. The worst is “sexual preference.” It’s so limiting!

Is this the best message to describe ourselves and to give to outsiders? In my experience, I have a gender preference as well as a sexual preference. Simply put, and although I enjoy male friends and relatives, I prefer the company of women. No matter what we’re doing together, whether it’s affectional, sexual or conversational.

Heterosexuals are viewed as whole people. They don’t walk around with labels like lesbian or queer or gay. No one meets a non-gay person and immediately thinks of what they do in bed or with whom. At least I hope not. Yet when I meet a straight for the first time, I know I’m sometimes being viewed one-dimensionally. I’m tipped off by their questions, by their references to gay people they know, by their excited – or grossed-out – expressions. This may never change, but I don’t have to perpetuate that tunnel vision with my own speech.

Usage of the word gay gets my goat too. Since when is gay applied only to men? I’ve been gay since I was 15. And, frankly, it was a little easier to think of myself as gay than as homosexual or lesbian when I first came out. Both of those words were fraught with centuries of negative baggage. Today, I’d rather be a dyke or queer than a lesbian, but I always want to be gay. I’m so happy gay, I’d rather have been born a gay man than a straight woman. How to stop the journalists from using the phrase “lesbians and gay men”? Can we say “gay people”? Or “gay women and men”? It is nice when they lead with the female words; we’ve come a long way since women weren’t even newsworthy. Now even gay women are included in mainstream stories now and then.

While it’s true that, as a writer, I may be oversensitive to words, language has always been a powerful tool used for good and bad, to oppress or to free, to imprison in stereotypes and to declare independence from them. One of the best known objectionable words is “boy,” used to strip adulthood from black men. Slang is often a weapon, as when bullies toss around words like “fag” and “sissy.” The gay way of life is frequently called “unhealthy.” What the heck does that mean? Unhealthy for whom?

We can be lazy with language, using shortcuts that become code words to signal disapproval. It’s hard to watch what we say. The brilliant and brave Mary Daly was a revolutionary of words, revealing their clout in our speech by dissecting them. The very title of her book Gyn/Ecology (1988) plays with a deeper meaning. Daly’s presentation of such words as “a-maz-ing" opened my eyes to what I am really talking about. I think of the term “stag-nation," as she explains it in Wickedary (1987).

It may sound like I am griping and need to quit sweating the small stuff. In actuality, I am protesting the misconstruction of our words, misconstruing of our lives and the surrender of queers to labeling by outsiders and insiders. We take back the night, we take up our cause. Now we need to take back our words, because they are still being used against us.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

January 2012

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