Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why Do I Modify Your Noun?

These gay debates do have their quirky little bits, don’t they? There’s one I have a hard time understanding and, if anyone can explain it, it’s this crowd.

Is a person solely attracted to men and who is also a man dealing with 'Same Sex Attraction' and/or is he a 'homosexual' or 'gay'? Why does it matter?

First, I do understand ‘gay’ can mean to some that a same-sex relationship is occurring, though it doesn't to my mind. I also understand there are reasons of faith for which that word may be rejected for something that sounds more clinical, like a medical condition. I’m wondering more about nouns vs adjectives:

From the recent interview with Elder Oaks and Wickman of the LDS church (my bold):

“I think it’s important for you [a hypothetical gay child] to understand that homosexuality, which you’ve spoken of, is not a noun that describes a condition. It’s an adjective that describes feelings or behavior.”

Or from the LDS web site, here:

“We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”

I see a couple mohos who are "wrong" in this regard ;-). Anyway, how one can decree such a word to be only an adjective by doctrine seems kind of surprising, but, that aside, I’ve a hard time understanding why anyone would attempt this at all? Even going with the LDS view of homosexuality, why shouldn’t we have a name for people struggling with “SSA”?

The dictionaries I have certainly do not agree with the above statements, but it’s stranger than that. Take, say, the word “Dentist”. It’s a noun referring to a condition of a person, one who practices dentistry, but it in no way implies that a person is “consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of behavior”, right? The same goes with the word “southpaw”, or “diabetic”? In fact, there is less evidence that being left-handed is consigned from birth than there is for homosexuality (detailed here, here, and here). Southpaws choose their behavior, but, also like gays, not how it feels. Regardless, they still get a noun, right?

I also thought maybe it’s just because they see being gay as a negative and that somehow makes us not want to have a noun for it (why? I don’t know). But then we do have nouns for murderers and kleptomaniacs, and I’ve never heard the LDS church advise against using other such nouns.

So what’s the deal here?

That aside, my take: I think this whole area of classifying gays had been tainted by old prejudice long before even the term “homosexual” was coined (1892, according to my dictionary of etymology). Gay people aren’t precisely attracted to their same sex. They are people attracted to a particular sex, regardless of their own sex, just like most everyone else in the world, and their feelings of attraction are far from abnormal in humans. They are quite ordinary.

The rare part is that attraction in the mind to a particular sex is found in that particular physical anatomy; it takes both that aspect of the mind and the shape of the body to be called gay. But if one altered the physical body of a gay man and left his mind intact, say, by the supernatural or super science, he’d not suddenly become a lesbian (No offence my lesbian friends, but I don’t understand ya ;-)); he’d still be attracted to men. His mind, the person a gay man is psychologically, is an androphile, juts like most women. His material body is another matter.

Even the term homosexual (as a noun), I think, somewhat allows the commonness of the attraction to be concealed behind the material, so as those experiencing it may more easily be ill treated. Otherwise how can you both promote and punish the consequences of the attraction at the same time, and not appear to be inconstant and harsh to people for the geometry of their inborn anatomy? It’s just much easier to vilify “homosexuals”, than “androphiles who are shaped in a certain way” :-).

17 comments:

playasinmar said...

You just reminded me of why I love the term "moho."

moho

>MoHo

>Mormon Homosexual

As you can see, the adjective clearly precedes the noun making "mohos" Homosexuals that are also Mormon.

That's funny. :)

iwonder said...

Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.

Somehow, I don't follow their logic. How does saying "I am a gay" mean that I have no choice in my sexual behaviour? Of course I have a choice. I still have a choice even though I believe that I was indeed "consigned by birth" to this circumstance.

There is a problem with their logic, the way I see it. Not only that, but it is demeaning to all of us. They regulate homosexuality to the same status as tired or hungry or sad or angry. Just adjectives that are nothing more than descriptors for another noun.

My homosexuality is so much more than just a feeling of hunger, tiredness, or anger. It is part, yes, just part, but an important part of who I am. It is not simply a feeling, whether transitory or permanent. I don't believe it to be. It is so much more to me that just that.

It is easier to vilify "gay" or "homosexual" so long as it is an adjective that only describes feelings and behaviour, and is never, no not ever, to be a noun.

Anyway, I like your re-definition of gay. It made me laugh. :)

Marc said...

Yeah, Scot. This one irritates the heck out of me.

Every time I hear, "You're not gay, you're SUFFERING FROM same-sex attraction."

I want to say, excuse me? I'm not "suffering from" my attraction to my partner, at all. To the contrary, it's the best thing I've got going in my life right now, and the rest of my life is going quite well also, thank-you-very-much.

Most church rhetoric, in my opinion, serves only to isolate young gay kids, and prevent them from finding validation or public acceptance in their gay identity.

Examples:

---
Do you have a girlfriend? -

No, I'm gay.

Oh, ok... boyfriend then?
---

vs.

---
"Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No, I suffer from same-sex attraction."

*step backwards*
"You suffer from what?"

*sigh*
"Nothing, forget it."
---

Consider the title of the pamphlet "To the One".

The first lines of this pamphlet say to me, "To the ONE teenage kid in the crowd, I'm talking to YOU, because you're the ONLY ONE."

I remember before I left Utah, I thought there were only a handful of gay people on the planet. I'd heard that there were a few gathered in San Francisco, but anywhere else the odds of me finding a good man to partner up with bordered on the impossible.

Anyway, end rant. It seems I still have some anger stored up about all that. I've gotta run, so this post might seem a bit scattered. Sorry 'bout that. Hah.

-L- said...

You may have noticed that I find the distinction suggested by Elder Oaks to be a good one doctrinally, but not really workable in actual usage. But, I really think it's ok since I've no qualms with accepting their doctrinal statements (the wording is more important, I think, for those who let the language muddle their perceptions of the doctrine). I've been discussing whether gay attractions will persist after this life over on Northern Lights, and so your post here is quite timely for me. Basically, gender is eternal while attractions are not. So, while you allow for the possibility of a self-designated identity (whether gay or male or female or whatever), the church does not. The way I understand the doctrine, the most essential part of an individual does have some eternal characteristics and "gay" is never one of them. A discussion of verbs and nouns only approximately makes the point, but that's how I understand it.

Brady said...

I see a couple mohos who are "wrong" in this regard ;-)

Am I one of them? I think my usage of 'gay' in "gay BYU student" is proper (at least according to the LDS view of it being only an adjective).

Regardless, I totally agree with everything you said in this post. I've thought for a while that it just sounds stupid and petty for the church to continually pick apart word usage when they should really be focusing on the issue. Instead of being so worried about whether we talk about ourselves using a noun or adjective, we should be talking about how to deal with it and why it exists!

Every time I read the statements you've quoted I've laughed. It is funny to me that the leaders of the church even feel it necessary to make this clarification. And it just seems silly really. The fact is that the dictionary is much more influential on word usage than the leaders of the church, and it's going to be difficult to convince Webster's of the church's re-definition.

I would even venture to say that eventually the church will conform in it's word usage as well. Just as it has with most things - it just takes the church a few years to catch up sometimes.

Mr. Fob said...

The thing that gives me the heebie jeebies about that line (I don't remember at the moment whether it was Oaks or Wickman speaking there) is that no amount of doctrine makes homosexuality an adjective. You cannot say, "Well there's a very homosexuality person" or "I love your drapes! They're so homosexuality!" Homosexuality is a noun. End of story.

What I think they're trying to say is that homosexual should not be used as a noun to describe a person (something I think most of the gay community would agree with--I cringe every time my mom says, "So is he a homosexual?"), or for that matter as an adjective to describe a person, but only as an adjective to describe a feeling or whatever. Which I disagree with, but it doesn't bother me nearly as much as their attempt to redefine the lexical categories of the English language.

Scot said...

Iwonder: “My homosexuality is so much more than just a feeling of hunger, tiredness, or anger. It is part, yes, just part, but an important part of who I am.

I think this is one thing that’s very hard for many to understand. When I question myself I find I am gay, among other things. I know it as keenly as I know anything about myself. I remember struggling with coming out and thinking being gay was evil while simultaneously being struck with how absolutely right it felt; certainly not just in some physical attraction, but it feels right in every way from morally to familially, to the core of who I am. Finally, I came to a similar realization as Butters :-):

“I am sick and tired of everyone telling me I’m confused. I wasn’t confused until other people started telling me I was. You know what I think? I think maybe you’re the ones who are confused. I’m not going to be confused anymore just because you say I should be.”

Marc: “I remember before I left Utah, I thought there were only a handful of gay people on the planet.

I felt the same. As you seemingly were here at a time before the internet too, were we the only gays in Utah at the same time :-)?

I've gotta run, so this post might seem a bit scattered.

Even if it were, it is my official blog policy that scattered and long comments are welcome.

L: You, as is custom here, get your own long comment.

Brady: “Am I one of them?

I don’t think so:

“Gay BYU Student” = OKAY

“BYU Gay” = NOT OKAY

But as playasinmar says, if MoHo = mormon homosexual, that’s not okay.

Mr. Fob, my curtains are very homosexuality.

“What I think they're trying to say is that homosexual should not be used as a noun to describe a person (something I think most of the gay community would agree with--I cringe every time my mom says, "So is he a homosexual?"),

I agree. “Homosexual” is going out a favor. I think in part it’s for its inaccurate connection to the idea that being a homosexual has to do with base sexual behavior. But all minorities go through words fast, as the word gets trashed by the majority. “Gay” and “lesbian” are, of course, okay for now as nouns and adjectives. But they too will probably change as so many keep using, for example, gay as a synonym for stupid. It already feels, in the singular, more PC to say “the gay man” rather than “the gay,” but, somehow, it seems the nouns “lesbian” “lesbians” and “gays” are fine.

Scot said...

L: Basically, gender is eternal while attractions are not.

Let’s assume that’s true (talk about antagonistic :-)). I’m still left wondering how it is doctrinally “wrong” to call someone a homosexual.

We still have nouns like “dentist,” right? That’s certainly not an “eternal characteristic.” Heck, in this same mortal realm, time for which we actually have observable answers, a man may go from “student” to “dentist” to “criminal” to “plumber.”

Why does a noun have to refer to an eternal characteristic?

Also, it may be important to note, the explanation given is that they don’t want to say it’s “consigned by birth,” nothing about the next world. It’s about the nature/nurture debate, in which they seem to be taking a side, putting the onus on the spirit, not the mortal body (though, sure, in other quotes they’d said they “don’t know”). But, again, “dentist” is not consigned by birth either.

Thinking on gender now (yes, this is a comment that should probably become a post but I’m headed out for the weekend :-)), if your take on the LDS position is right, the above wouldn’t be the only attempt to rewrite the dictionary for this cause. The dictionary definition of ‘gender’ is “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex” (other than physical sexual anatomy, or the grammatical definition which is defined as “greatly arbitrary”). That is the popular definition in my circle as well.

If there ever was a characteristic of gender it would be orientation, everything else seems to have much more overlap between anatomical sexes; there are men far more feminine and women far more masculine in their gender than I. To say, of all the traits of my mind, the one that’s not eternal is a gender characteristic makes it seem you’re actually saying gender is the only characteristic of the mind that’s not eternal. It suddenly changes from the diversity we see in the world into some stereotype at the moment of death.

Of course, I understand how much a comfort this idea is to those at odds with their orientation, probably just as comforting as it comes off as hostile by tell me I’ll be changed to not be attracted to my husband in the future. For a person fully comfortable with all their gender characteristics, you’re basically telling them they’ll be replaced with a disturbingly similar stranger in the next world. I can also understand how this may become another evolution in LDS belief regarding gays that could be seen as a more humane attempt to integrate gay members, as long as they keep at odds with their orientation. So, I can’t say it’s all bad :-). As I wrote, though, there are two things that make a human “gay”: the body and the mind. To propose the latter is the temporal part in need of change for some eternal end comes off as only a temporary solution for such a religious problem. I’d bet there will be more steps taken and they seem to come quickly, lately. Where the LDS leadership ultimately take it will be interesting to watch.

For now, this may just be another one of those areas where we can only leave it be; it ends in a place we can’t debate. I’m sure you could imagine though what it looks like from my end, and why it’s important, in your dealings with those holding other faiths, maybe in your occupation. To promise such a thing and to give such hope at the price of real (to my mind) hope for a relationship that fulfills every aspect of a person’s orientation in the observable world would be horrible if not for that fact it’s taken on faith. To preach in a way my kids will eventually hear that I’ll not love their father as a couple, or that we’re a spiritually inferior family, is only tolerable because it’s sincerely taken as fact in a belief that I know means a lot of comfort to many people. I’m pretty sure, too, after all these months, I could imagine how it appears from your end, and why it’s important. If I’m somehow arguing for gays to abandon some greater supernatural end after death, one that they’d want, I’d certainly be at fault. At least I know neither of us wants to be wrong here.

Watch, we’re probably both wrong. See you in Buddhist purgatory my friend. No worries, I’ve read the Tibetan Book of the Dead; I’ll tell you what I know once we get there ;-).

Mr. Fob said...

The important thing to remember, Scot, is that dentistry is not a noun. And my curtains are more dentistry than yours.

playasinmar said...

A destiny worse than fate.

-L- said...

Buddhists have purgatory? crap!

Well, Mormon religious views have never been known for their crowd pleasing nature. When you say, "you’re basically telling them they’ll be replaced with a disturbingly similar stranger in the next world," I can only agree that this is one of those places outside the realm of agreement or likelihood of comfortable debate. In whatever unconventional ways LDS folks want to use words like "gender," the crux centers around procreation and non-arbitrary eternal creative roles. It's fine if you don't agree, but I see it as plenty understandable (granting all my apologetics for parts of speech being a well-intended but poor marker for doctrine).

-L- said...

"Why does a noun have to refer to an eternal characteristic?"

Oh, yeah. In case it wasn't already clear, I'm with you on your objections to the GA quotes about parts of speech. I don't think a noun does have to refer to an eternal characteristic, but that's how I've managed to make sense out of what I think they were trying to convey. If I ever meet them, maybe I'll ask for a clarification. ;-)

playasinmar said...

Is "black" a noun and eternal characteristic? What about "Tongan?"

Beck said...

This defining of terms is definitely something from Elder Oaks. It is his way of teaching. It is his personality. He is an attorney through-and-through. He has made his profession using the English language for making meticulous points before courts and judges.

I know I'm dating myself, but I remember once sitting in a devotional at BYU where he was the speaker and he took the entire hour just defining a few words within the Honor Code as if they were being litigated before the Supreme Court. It was ridiculously tedious at best for a simple minded freshman as myself.

I don't get caught up in what he says. I know some do and this is your valid concern. But, I don't think you should be bothered either.

-L- said...

I don't know if you'll see it otherwise. I posted this post after thinking about identity.

Scot said...

L:
"Buddhists have purgatory? crap!"

Oh son of noble family, as with all religions, it can vary by sect :-).

In Buddhism, you have your purgatory- and hell-like aspects, but you can also go on to become a God. Just remember, if you want to become a God, take “pleasure in the soft white light,” though the text advises against it; to become a God, a state where you still want, is a problem here. For “true liberation” you must find the comfort in the uncomfortable piercing light of “Blessed Varocana’s compassion”. You even get a sort of valley of death prayer. That’s right, as odd as it may sound, to keep from becoming a god.

“When through intense ignorance I wander in samsara,
on the luminous light-path of the dharmadhuta wisdom,
may Blessed Varocana go before me,
his consort Queen of Vajra Space behind me;
help me to cross the bardo’s dangerous pathway
and bring me to the perfect buddha state.”


L: “Well, Mormon religious views have never been known for their crowd pleasing nature.

It must look very differently from within. To me the views seem to do just fine at pleasing a majority of people around here, as well as or better than any other religion. In fact, I think a lot of suspicion from evangelicals comes from the appearance that too much is offered. Think of what the LDS faith promises the average human in comparison to others (e.g. the example above).

Switch said...

"I felt the same. As you seemingly were here at a time before the internet too, were we the only gays in Utah at the same time :-)?"

It seems the internet sprung into existence while I was doin' the mission thing. I remember coming back and all the ads on TV saying, "Come visit us on www.companyx.com!" and all the BBSes I used were either dead or gone completely. It was quite upsetting. Haha.

(Switch = Marc w/ a blog - don't laugh at me, I mostly use it to whine. *cringe*)