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Straights and homophobes: The words that bind us
Straights and homophobes: The words that bind us
by Gerald Libonati - Special to the SGN

Language shapes our self-image and some of the words we use are misleading, inadequate or just plain wrong.

Take the word "straight," for instance. We use it to describe heteros; men and women who are not Gay or Lesbian. And every time we use the term we indirectly insult ourselves. What does the word mean in our society?

Straight means proper, upstanding, law-abiding and decent. Are you being straight with me? refers to honesty. When you're off drugs, you're straight. If you're good, you travel the straight-and-narrow. Damn straight means emphatically right, unequivocally correct.

So if heteros are "straight," what does that make us - crooked, dishonest, drugged and apparently indecent?

We need to think of ourselves in a way that reflects the goodness and quality that exists within our ranks. We are terrific people and we may as well acknowledge that in our language.

Another word that completely escaped our gaydar is the term "homophobia." We use it to define prejudice against Gay and Lesbian people. But it just doesn't seem to be up to the job. It's weak and ambiguous. When we talk about someone who dislikes others based on their skin color we call them racist. Much stronger word. Phobic people, in general, tend to be fearful but polite. People who openly disapprove of Gay/Lesbian folks are neither. Are we too nice when we describe our critics in such an affable way? Homophobic! Doesn't sound so bad. Surely, the terms they have for us are more forthright.

Who thought of calling hatred a phobia, anyway? Actually, it was psychologist George Weinberg in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. He was tapping into the theory that violence toward Gay people came about because of a fear of homosexuality, especially by those repressing their own same-sex urges.

But what about all the other Gay bashers who aren't reacting to their inner homo?

The rest of the world has already learned that words define us to others and mold our self-image. That's why secretaries are executive assistants and garbage men are sanitation engineers.

. Gerald Libonati is the author of the new novel, Peter Wolf, the story of a famous Gay rock star who goes incognito to find love. He is an award-winning journalist in South Florida working for the Sun-Sentinel. He has also written for The Miami Herald, The Advocate and freelances for Gay/Lesbian newspapers around the country.

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