Alex Blaze

Actually, "homosexual" probably isn't the new "faggot"

Filed By Alex Blaze | February 12, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: faggot, gays in the military, lesbian, LGBT, LGBT people, military, polling, survey

Everyone's talking about this CBS poll, which shows that people are more amenable to gays than homosexuals:



I saw the 57% number earlier this week and wondered if it was just an out-lier; polling I've been seeing for a while now usually shows more public support for DADT than that. I googled a few other recent, major, national surveys on DADT and I have to say that there isn't enough evidence based on DADT polling to point to a huge difference between the words "homosexual" and "gay." And I'm saying that as someone who prefers the term "gay" mainly because "homosexual" has such a bad feel to it, how I imagine the word "queer" would rub gays of a certain generation.

Just today, The Washington Post came out with data, using the word "homosexual" that showed support for repeal at about the same level as CBS's "gay" data:

29. Changing topics, do you think homosexuals who do NOT publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military or not?

YesNoNo opinion

30. Do you think homosexuals who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military or not?

YesNoNo opinion

Just to disprove the trend a little more, here's a Quinnipiac poll from 2009 (of registered voters, other polls above just talked to "Americans") that used the word "gay" and came up with lower results:

27. Federal law currently prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Do you think this law should be repealed or not?


But there here's a Gallup poll from last year (using the word "gay," no screening for registered voters) that showed higher support:


CNN also had a major poll on DADT that they reported last month, but I can't find raw data online:

Public opinion appears to be shifting on the matter. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted December 19-21 found that 81 percent of respondents believe openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, while 17 percent said they shouldn't. The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.

I suppose it goes to show that people don't really know what to think when it comes to DADT. Or that they don't particularly care. Polling done back-to-back like this regarding presidential candidates or other policies doesn't show this kind of fluctuation, so I'm guessing there's a good third of people who decide what they think about DADT while they're on the phone with a pollster.

Either that or there's something different about each of these polls that I'm just not seeing, something other than the word "homosexual" or "gay."

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I think wording does matter - we know this from so many poorly crafted poll questions. Sure, the difference between "homosexual" and "gays and lesbians" may fluctuate and probably isn't as dramatic as this poll suggests, but I think there is likely a difference among the public about how those words are perceived.

The word "homosexual" has been co-opted and demonized by the right. With their emphasis on the sex in the word (ho-mo-SEX-u-al) and their constant use of the term in their bigoted screeds, I think they have added to the negative feelings many Americans when they hear that word.

It's the same reason we say "marriage equality" instead of "gay marriage" - not only is it a more accurate picture, but it doesn't conjure up the same feelings in the general public as "gay marriage".

This poll could be an outlier or it could be that it is showing a bit of a backlash against the "homosexual agenda" that's getting more play on the right due to our recent successes.

I wouldn't dismiss this poll completely, rather I think it would be interesting if we tested for similar splits in subsequent polls.

Thank you for this Alex. CBS is a disgusting network every bit as much as Fox. They are home to many of the most transphobic remarks on tv on their hee-larious sitcoms... a show last week one had Jenna Elfman saying lines about "going to the tranny store to buy tranny men's shoes"

And thank you for your observation that 'homosexual' feels bad to you the way queer does to many older gay people (so imagine how "tranny" feels to trans people of all ages). Think how often older gay men in the 1990s were chided and put down for refusing to be called queer. They're were called 'relics', 'old-fashioned' and other ageist insults.

IMO, reclaiming words is a crock (and mostly an act of entitlement). Queer had largely fallen out of usage as an insult by the time it started to be "reclaimed". Now I hear "fag" increasingly coming in for reclamation, whoopee, how empowering. I don't know of any modern hate terms which have truly become reclaimed, especially if used within a context of hate by an oppressor.

If I hear another trans masculine man feeling entitled to the use the word "tranny" (even though it's only been used as an insult against trans women) I'm going to be sick. Likewise, any geniuses who explain "you can't allow words to hurt and oppress you". I hope those jackasses know they got their freedom to even express that on the backs of people who had hate speech tossed at them with impunity.

Well, reclaiming language isn't a crock, and it isn't really an act of entitlement, but it is a process that can't be rushed either, because it is, at heart, a generational process. It takes *decades*. Young (and old) activists who try to push it along faster aren't doing anyone a service -- even in a world on 'internet time' there are some things that can't be speeded up.

(Sorry, as a linguist I feel very strongly about reclamation, because it's an important part of the process. But the whole point is that it *follows* the opinions of the members of the group -- trying to *lead* them identifying with a hated term doesn't work.)

I think "homosexual" is slowly turning into one of those words like "Negro" for black people or "Indian" for Native Americans. It's not explicitly offensive in and of itself, but it's sort of the religious right's way of saying, "We don't care what you want to be called -- this is what we're going to call you." In that context, it's most definitely a slur.

I occasionally use "fag" in a sarcastic way, but I avoid the term "queer" because to me it represents a certain political ideology that some people attach to their sexual orientation.

Queer is not only offensive to some generations. It is offensive to some socioeconomic groups and ethnic backgrounds.

You go calling gay men in Hialeah gay, and they won't respond too well.

substitute queer for the second gay*

Wording always matters. Where were the respondents from? What age group? What socio-economic group? What ethnic group?

And notice that DADT and marriage equality are framed as lesbian and gay issues, rather than issues affecting all of us LGBTQI types. I feel marginalised as a B in our alphabet soup, but I really do feel that it's the Ts and Is who are most vulnerable to erasure.