Is “Homosexual” Making a Comeback?

Had a nice chat recently with Andrew Belonsky at the blog AKA William about the resurgence of the term “homosexual” in the mainstream press. His thesis is that he sees the term cropping up more and more and wonders whether it has a larger meaning.

I’ve noticed something interesting in the news recently: an apparent return of the “homosexual.” Perhaps I hadn’t been paying enough attention before now, but over the past few weeks the H-Word has been popping up in the oddest of places, like the New York Times and the Associated Press, both of which have style rules prohibiting loose use. Now it looks like the H-Word’s making a bit of a comeback, and I wonder whether there’s a larger story unfolding, and, just as importantly, whether that’s necessarily a bad thing. But, in the end, it depends on how you look at language, and our many, many nicknames.

I conceded that the usage I see doesn’t bother me too much, but his examples are worth thinking about. “Homosexuality” gets tossed around quite a bit in the discussion of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, because that’s the phrase used by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And the discussion of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda also has the term tossed in, because that’s the name of the bill.

I’ll always on the look-out for “homosexuality” in news stories and, as I told Belonsky, I see it most often in the conservative press and in editorials. I’ve specifically been looking to see if changes at the Washington Times–the last holdout on the term “gay” until about two years ago–would revert back and they haven’t, except on the editorial page.

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3 Responses

  1. ‘Homosexual’ and ‘homosexuality’ are not interchangable for the purposes of this debate. ‘Homosexual’ is generally inappropriate (especially as a noun) except in a medical or scientific context. ‘Homosexuality,’ on the other hand, is hardly ever used in the first place outside those contexts. And what is the alternative? ‘Gayness’?

  2. “Homosexual” seems entirely appropriate in discussions of Uganda, since the bill in question there would punish specific acts, regardless of the orientation of the person involved. I’m not sure it works as well in the case of the military, since I believe a service member can be prosecuted under “don’t ask, don’t tell” for declaring an orientation even without acting sexually on it.

  3. I think “same-gender sex” would be a more appropriate term than “homosexuality” when discussing the Uganda bill and other situations in which people are punished for sexual acts rather than for identities.

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