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Fifty years of word games | Jonathan Saunders

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This week marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and lots has changed. Laws have changed. Public attitudes have changed. Institutions have changed. These might all appear obvious.

But one of the subtler changes has been the reshaping of language; the battle of words.

The sexual revolution has brought with it a new vocabulary: 'gay', 'straight', 'queer', 'sexual orientation', 'gender', 'gender identity', 'homophobia', 'LGBT community', 'transgender', 'sex assigned at birth', 'fight for equality' and much more.

The sexual revolutionaries have put immense pressure on society to learn this new vocabulary, and have for the most part succeeded in mainstreaming it.

Just think about the phrase 'I feel very gay today' and how it would be interpreted in 1917 and 2017. In both years, it would probably garner the same response ('good for you') but for very different reasons.

Introducing new words, and redefining old ones, has hugely affected the debate:


First, new words create a fog in the public discourse. They enable you to talk about a topic without being challenged. It's a bit like using big words or long sentences. Politicians do this all the time. Fans of Yes Minister will identify strongly with the notion of 'pulling a Sir Humphrey'.

So, if I can talk in the language of Queer Theory and gender mainstreaming, speak of 'sex assigned at birth' and (self-proclaimed) 'gender identity', and the 'equality of all sexual orientations and gender identities', I can make myself sound like an expert when in fact the concepts I am speaking about have no basis in reality.

Those who do not speak the language are seen as failing to understand, and everyone listening is confused. But the person with the clever words must surely be right.


Second, introducing new words can help flood the minds of your opponents, making people think about sex, sexuality and gender theory as much as possible.

Thinking about all the possible 'sexual orientations', 'gender identities' and types of relationships gives credence to the theory behind the movement. Gay activists Kirk and Madsen in their 1987 article 'The Overhauling of Straight America' spoke of the need to "talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible", and the new language serves this purpose.

Think about the impact of changing the word 'homosexual' to 'gay'. 'Gay' is a positive word; historically it was understood to mean 'cheerful'. But 'gay' also associates homosexuality with the 'gay identity'; there's a whole culture that goes with it; gay bars and gay publications and gay pride and so on. It affects all of life. Now, combine this with the concept of 'sexual orientation' which effectively makes all sexual expression morally equal. So, equally, there must be an identity associated with all sexual orientations.

And, through the power of language, we all must define ourselves by our sexuality, and think about it all the time. It must affect all of life, and so all of life will be sexualised. 


Third, controlling the language enables you to beg the question.

Many terms used convey an attitude (positive or negative) towards the issue being discussed. This is often deliberate and very powerful. 

For example, a friend might ask me: 'do you support the fight for equality for the LGBT community?'

If I say 'yes', then I've just signed up to bless same-sex 'marriage', homosexual sexual acts, 'sex-change' operations, and gay adoption; things which God calls sin. But if I say 'no', I am against equality, against a whole community, and part of the reason why there needs to be a 'fight' at all. I must be 'homophobic'.

Of course, I'm not against equality. It's just that the LGBT movement is not a movement for equality. Marriage was not made equal in law in 2013. It was redefined. The movement has championed the notion of 'equality' when its real agenda is to redefine things – redefine marriage, redefine sex, redefine gender, redefine the family.

But if you frame it as 'equality', who will stand against you?


So, next time you're in a discussion with someone about sex or marriage, and they use a fuzzy term, why not ask them: 'What do you mean?' Hopefully you'll get an interesting discussion out of it, and you might just expose some assumptions behind the language.  


Related Links: 
Gender ideology is a universal acid | Jonathan Saunders
Don't panic. This is not new. God is still God | Jonathan Saunders
Leaving the 'Gay Cult' and the politicisation of 'Change': How the decriminalisation of homosexuality silences dissenters
Fifty years of Sex Education: Where are we and how did we get here?