Saturday, June 09, 2007

Gay (and Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender and So On...) Mormon Terminology

The paper I wrote this past week on gender-inclusive terminology referring to homosexuality in the Library of Congress Subject Headings and Classification schedules has got me thinking about inclusive terminology in other contexts, particularly from where I stand currently as a post-Mormon gay man with one foot still in the gay Mormon blogosphere.

First, let me say that I hate the currently popular term MoHo for several reasons:
  1. It's silly.
  2. It sounds like you are saying that you are more of a whore than I am, which, if that's what you want to say, then fine, but if not, perhaps we should rethink this.
  3. It doesn't do what people think it does. One of the big defenses of the term is that it puts Mormon before homosexual, thus showing that the former is more important to the identity of the user. That's nice, but that logic doesn't reflect the way the English language actually works. If you say that you are a tall man, that doesn't make you more tall than man. In English the adjective comes before the noun. The noun is who you are; the adjective is an attribute that describes you. By calling yourself Mormon homosexuals, then, you are actually making homosexual more important and more intrinsic to your identity than Mormon. Which, again, is fine if that's what you mean, but I don't think it is what those of you who follow Dallin H. Oaks's logic mean.
  4. No self-respecting gay man or lesbian has called him or herself a homosexual (using the noun) in thirty years. The term is sterile, clinical, and inaccurate in its undue emphasis on sex. (Note to the rest of you: Yes, I do find it mildly offensive when you refer to "homosexuals.")
  5. Yes, I know, you think you're being clever by inverting homo, but really, that cleverness doesn't redeem the term. Did I mention that it's silly?
When I wrote "Getting Out" a few years back, I thought I was coining the term gay Mormon. With such an obvious combination of terms, of course, it's hard to say who used it first, but clearly it wasn't a unique invention on my part. My reason for calling myself a gay Mormon was that I hated the clinical sound of the then-popular label SSA ("same-sex attraction," later replaced by SGA for "same-gender attraction") and I hated even more the verbs that generally accompanied it: "I struggle with SSA." "I suffer from SSA." Besides being inaccurate to my experience, these ways of expressing my orientation were too clunky for my tastes. Particularly if you incorporate the Mormon PC term for Mormon, you end up with "Latter-day Saint with Same-gender attraction" or "LDS with SGA," which are both horrible mouthfuls.

That said, I'm no longer convinced that gay Mormon is a good term to apply to the group of Mormons who experience same-gender attraction--it works fine for individuals, but used as a group label it excludes lesbian* Mormons, bisexual Mormons, transgender Mormons, and probably some others I'm not aware of. I've seen that play out in the case of lesbian Mormons here in the gay Mormon blogosphere (often called, more inclusively, the Queerosphere, but I think to be accurately descriptive it would have to be called the Mormon Queerosphere). I know of the following lesbian Mormon bloggers (or "female Latter-day Saints who blog about their same-gender attraction," if you prefer):
If you look at the list of links under "MoHo blogs" on the sidebar of L's blog, you'll realize what a small percentage of the Mormon Queerosphere this is, quite a bit smaller than you would expect from the commonly accepted statistic that there are about half as many self-identified lesbians as gay men in the population at large. I wonder why that is. I have a lot of theories, but one of them is that lesbian Mormons see what is apparently a boys' club and go elsewhere. Samantha, I know, has to constantly remind her fellow bloggers that there are not only men in the room and that the way they talk betrays that underlying assumption. You'll notice that particularly when gay Mormon men are talking about same-sex attraction as a problem to be overcome or about homosexual reparative therapy, their terminology assumes that this is an issue that affects only men.

Solving this problem will involve a lot more than changing the terminology we use--it will involve changing the way people think--but language is quite powerful in affecting the way we think so I'd say it's a good place to start. I'm not a fan of the term LGBT and all its variation, to be honest. Like LDS with SGA, LGBT Mormons is too clunky. Personally, I like Queer as an all-inclusive term, but I'm not sure how active Latter-day Saints might feel about the possible sociopolitical associations of a term like Queer Mormons. So, readers from the Mormon Queerosphere and readers from elsewhere (those of you who've made it this far), what do you think? What's the solution? Or is there a problem that needs to be solved in the first place?

*I am aware that many lesbians, including some of those I've linked to here, use the term gay to describe themselves. I have no problem with that, and even if I did it wouldn't be my place to tell people what they can and can't call themselves. The term is not inherently exclusive, but by default the general connotation is "gay men," so I believe, as do many lesbians, that it is at best ambiguous if not outright exclusive for lack of explicit inclusion.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating discussion. I usually just let people call themselves whatever the heck they want to. But I don't like most of the terms for it.

Particularly, I don't like SSA because--well, we've discussed why. Suffice to say, it makes me laugh when other people are talking about it.

Not the sort of supportive behavior I like to exhibit.

playasinmar said...

I think it's a function of the English language to speak from a male voice. Attempting to make it function otherwise means buying Extra Strength Tylenol in bulk.

And SSA is so gay.

Craig said...

I found it similarly fascinating. And I agree that MoHo, HoMo, SSA, SGA, etc. all sound like diseases.

I like the word "gay", because everyone knows what it means. It means that I'm romantically and sexually attracted to the members of the same gender as I am.

(And it means that I can cook, sew, clean, sing, play the piano, dance, give fashion tips, look fabulous in a dress and high heels, have my own interior decorating show, and star in an exercise programme.)

:) I wish!

playasinmar said...

Might I suggest "Gay Mormons Et Al."

Chris said...

I feel validated. I pointed out that MoHo actually emphasizes "homosexual" over "Mormon" a few months back. No one said anything then though. Of course, in the MoHo world, most don't much care for my opinions... :)

playasinmar said...

That's right, Chris. You did just that.

B.G. Christensen said...

Thanks for the linked evidence to support Chris's claim, Playa. I'm afraid I missed most of the MoHo argument when it was the topic du jour--you'll forgive me for being otherwise preoccupied in early April--so I did not know (a) who had coined the term, (b) who had started the whole controversy with that unprovoked attack on MoHoHawaii (though, frankly, it doesn't surprise me, considering the equally unprovoked attack the same blogger made recently, elsewhere), or (c) that all my arguments against the term had already been made and made again. Oh well. It's not the first time I've arrived after the party is already over.

Th. said...


Sounds to me like you need a nonce--things made up come without baggage. Of course, nonces are always hard to promote, but that doesn't mean such a plan couldn't work.

Or just pick a word that exists but previously has not applied specifically to this particular group. Peculiar would be an obvious choice, but if it succeeded, it would piss a lot of people off.

Could be good, could be bad.

ambrosia ananas said...

Re #4--I'm curious how you would overcome this obstacle--how do you find a word to mean "gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people" and have it simultaneously not emphasize people's sexual preferences?

(Not that I favor the use of homosexual as a noun. Besides offending the gay community, it sounds like something a fusty old professor who didn't know any gay people would say in a lecture.)

B.G. Christensen said...

I'd say "queer" does all that.

TK said...

So I'm not sure I'm getting a clear message here. I think you're saying NOT to use the word 'homosexual'. And until you come up with a better word, you'd prefer me to refer to you as 'gay', if I'm referring to your sexual preference. Is that correct? Please clarify.

Or maybe you prefer 'queer', but for someone from my generation, queer sounds like it's referring to more than just sexual preference, but implying that someone is also REALLY WEIRD, so I'd have a hard time with that one.

B.G. Christensen said...

Gay is perfectly fine for referring to individual men or groups of men, and even for referring to individual women who are okay with it. The problem comes when you use it to talk about a mixed group. Queer works in just about any situation, except for the fact you point out, which is that it has very different connotations for different groups of people.

-L- said...

Queer sounds more specifically "other" than any of the other terms. It seems to emphasize marginalization, and it's always seemed like one of the poorer term choices (although I'm not offended by it).

Gay is fine and easy. Not offensive to most, but has the drawback of Oaks et al seemingly not liking certain applications. Which is fine for those who don't give a flip about what the brethren say and like, but not for me.

Homo is a term I'm fine with, and I disagree that self-respecting people haven't used it in 30 years. Many do. But, of course, I run in clinical circles.

Moho is a term that is new enough that it can be whatever it becomes. I favor it for this reason. Whatever its supposed roots, it can be distinct and avoid the negative baggage of others (if allowed).

SSA and fag both offend me not at all, but I find myself avoiding them just to avoid the inevitable later explanation/justification for having used it.

Basically I try to read whatever word is used in the least offensive way it was probably intended. This is a one way road though, because many people can't bring themselves to do the same.

B.G. Christensen said...

I agree with your assessment of queer's implications, L. The paper I was talking about here actually got into that issue--the question of whether we want our terminology to emphasize the minority status of a group or its universality. Queer definitely does the former, which doesn't necessarily bother me, but I understand why it bothers a lot of people.

I maintain that most lesbians and gay men do not refer to themselves as homosexuals. The reason it bothers me is not that I feel people who use it have some malicious intention, but that it indicates they don't care enough to pay attention to what words minorities use to describe themselves--it's equivalent to calling Asians Orientals. The word still has its usefulness, just not as a noun describing people.

That said, I'm feeling a bit self-conscious about objecting to what a group I'm not really part of calls itself. My main objection is #3, simply because it annoys me when people think they're using language to do something when really they don't know what they're talking about, but you're right--a word's roots don't matter so much as its current usage. I'm much more comfortable with its currently common use as a term to describe gay and lesbian people with any connection to Mormonism than with its intended use to divide us into groups of "good gay Mormons" and "bad gay Mormons." When used in the sense Tito explains in the post linked to above (in Playa's comment--I'm too lazy to link again) and in the sense that made AtP feel he had a responsibility to question MoHoHawaii's use of the term, it becomes exactly what you were accused of doing when starting Northern Lights--attempting your own sorting of the wheat from the tares. (And lest you think I'm accusing you of this, L, I recognize that you use MoHo to describe your very mixed list of links.)

B.G. Christensen said...

Oh, and Mr. Fob calling MoHo silly is a bit like that infamous pot and kettle.

Rebecca said...

"MoHo" makes me think of "to' up from the flo' up."

While don't fall into any of the groups being discussed (gay-etc., Mormon, or gay and Mormon - wait, am I allowed to have an opinion on this? Whatever), I like queer. And it seems like Mormons might like it if they really thought about it, because of that whole peculiar thing (as th. pointed out - although I TOTALLY thought of that before I saw that comment. I'm not stealing). A peculiar people, a queer and peculiar people, a peculiarly queer people, a queerly peculiar people...

Anonymous said...

when the gay students at my college (how many decades ago?) organized, they called themselves the "student homophile league"

i guess it didn't catch on, did it?

would i call myself an american mormon or an mormon american?
apparently in england, it's morman englishman, not english morman

Kim Mack said...

Well ... I'm coming in late, as usual. But I don't like "MoHo" cuz I'm not a ho (anymore). ROFL But I am not queer. Odd, yes. But not queer. I am perfectly fine with being a gay or lesbian mormon. Describes it quite well in most circles for me.

Just my two cents.