Thursday, October 11, 2007

It pays to increase your word power


"It pays to increase your word power" was my favorite part of the Reader's Digest that appeared like clockwork every month in our house when I was growing up. My father, who left school at the age of 16 (that would have been in 1929) prided himself on being a life-long learner and we got invited along for the ride. Not only learning new words but USING them properly was both encouraged and coached in my growing up world and so I learned early to understand that language matters -- and I still believe that to be so: even in the blogopshere!
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So with thanks to the University of California at Davis Psychology Department website -- and in response to a recent spate of comments like "what do you mean when you say ...?" -- here's a chance to increase YOUR word power today:
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homophobia -- Society's rethinking of sexual orientation was crystallized in the term homophobia, which heterosexual psychologist George Weinberg coined in the late 1960s. Weinberg used homophobia to label heterosexuals' dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals as well as homosexuals' self loathing. The word first appeared in print in 1969 and was subsequently discussed at length in Weinberg's 1972 book, "Society and the Healthy Homosexual."
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The American Heritage Dictionary (1992 edition) defines homophobia as "aversion to gay or homosexual people or their lifestyle or culture" and "behavior or an act based on this aversion." Other definitions identify homophobia as an irrational fear of homosexuality.

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heterosexism -- Around the same time, heterosexism began to be used as a term analogous to sexism and racism, describing an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigmatizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community. Using the term heterosexism highlights the parallels between antigay sentiment and other forms of prejudice, such as racism, antisemitism, and sexism.
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Like institutional racism and sexism, heterosexism pervades societal customs and institutions. It operates through a dual process of invisibility and attack. Homosexuality usually remains culturally invisible; when people who engage in homosexual behavior or who are identified as homosexual become visible, they are subject to attack by society.
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Examples of heterosexism in the United States include the continuing ban against lesbian and gay military personnel; widespread lack of legal protection from antigay discrimination in employment, housing, and services; hostility to lesbian and gay committed relationships, recently dramatized by passage of federal and state laws against same-gender marriage; and the existence of sodomy laws in more than one-third of the states.
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Although usage of the two words has not been uniform, homophobia has typically been employed to describe individual antigay attitudes and behaviors whereas heterosexism has referred to societal-level ideologies and patterns of institutionalized oppression of non-heterosexual people.
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Helpful? It was to me.
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I think -- based on this refresher course -- I'm going to be a little less reluctant to call heterosexism when I see it and name homophobia when I experience it. As we continue to work to move this church Beyond B033, I think it is important to continue to name it for what it is: a manifestation of institutional heterosexism discriminating against those honest enough to tell the truth about their lives and relationships. (See also: patterns of institutionalized oppression of non-heterosexual people.)
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And I think it would be a good time to encourage a "refresher course" for some of our allies in this struggle -- good, faithful, committed folk who think they're doing us a favor when they speak "for us," who make decisions "about us" rather than "with us."
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Nice people -- bishops, even -- who are shocked -- SHOCKED, I tell you -- when statements like the one that came out of New Orleans are received by the LGBT community as yet another slap-in-the-face message that we are second class Christians. "You need to understand that sacramental apartheid is the best we can do for now," they say -- and politically that may be true.
But pastorally, there needs to be an accounting for the fact that the church has once again been blackmailed into bigotry and allowed heterosexism to continue to marginalize the LGBT baptized.
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I'd like to see more statements like the one from the Bishop of Vermont, Tom Ely, who wrote, "I regret that once again we made our gay and lesbian members the object of our discussion, something that by its very nature is a form of oppression. I ask for more than patience and forbearance from those so oppressed by our words and actions: I ask for forgiveness."
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There may be others who "get it" to this degree, but I lift up his statement as precisely the kind of honesty and clarity that WILL move the church forward. God bless the Bishop of Vermont!
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We're not ANY of us going to overcome heterosexism in this triennium -- or perhaps even this LIFETIME! (Lord knows we're still working on racism and sexism with VERY mixed results!) But we've never going to overcome ANY of them by not being honest about the reality of their influence in our midst. And we can't do that without having the language to do it. Which is why it pays to increase your word power!
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Here endeth the word study du jour.
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And now, back to your regularly scheduled blogsurfing!
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8 comments:

Mark said...

Ah, My Lady, soon we shall hear how that's not what it really said, and you were just mistaken, and words were put here to confuse our tiny liberal minds.

Ah, predictability.

Anonymous said...

"an irrational fear of homosexuality"

well, an irrational fear would mean that one thinks that it will do things that it won't do

but there's also a rational fear of it, which means that one fears the very real harm that it will do to a great many who practice it

RonF said...

The American Heritage Dictionary (1992 edition) defines homophobia as "aversion to gay or homosexual people or their lifestyle or culture" and "behavior or an act based on this aversion." Other definitions identify homophobia as an irrational fear of homosexuality.

The latter was the original intent of the coiner of the term. The former is what gay activists have successfully corrupted it to.

RonF said...

sacramental apartheid

I asked about this one before. What does it mean?

RonF said...

a manifestation of institutional heterosexism discriminating against those honest enough to tell the truth about their lives and relationships.

You need to qualify this a bit more. After all, I'm truthful about my life and relationship, and any discrimination against me isn't heterosexism.

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

ron ... I "need to qualify this a bit more???"

No, actually, I don't think that I do.

as for "sacramental apartheid" that's excluding a percentage of the baptized from a percentage of the sacraments

Anonymous said...

Since every Church office and position of influence/authority should be open to "all the baptized", when will we see a baptized infant nominated for rector or bishop? No canons to prohibit it! Is ageism going to rule this Church?!!?

Anonymous said...

Heterosexism has a cousin that I've seen used by sociologists. That is, Heterocentrism. It refers to the idea that all people are heterosexual and that homosexuality is an aberration of an underlying heterosexuality. It's a form of denial that imagines all people to essentially heterosexual.

I aggree with Susan that we should be making better and more frequent use of these terms. They describe the devices that self hating gays and heterosexuals use to scapegoat GLBTI people.

Heterosexual relationships, marriages and families are in very serious trouble. In my city we just learned that 56% of all children are growing up in one parent households. It is too easy for heterosexuals to blame us for their problems than to face them. It isn't just for ourselves that we must put an end to heterosexism and homophobia. We have to help them learn to face their own demons for the sake of the children and the future. I really believe God is calling us, as a people to work toward rescuing those who are oppressing us. We have to look to Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for instruction and pray hard for the strength to resist the temptation to write them off. Not at all an easy task for a people already tired from violent oppression.

Jim Costich
Rochester, NY
2 Saints