[Kake] What word would you use instead of "homophobia", then?
[John] I'm not sure that we need one - from where I'm sitting,
"homophobia" and "fatphobia" both seem to refer to concepts that are so poorly
defined as to make them meaningless.
I don't think the words would exist if people didn't find them useful.
Yes, they're broad concepts, but then so is, for example, the concept of food;
and just like homophobia, "food" means different things to different people,
and the edges of food/not-food are blurred.
[John] However, if you do want such a word then I'd recommend something
that would be accepted by people on both sides of the debate. [...] I don't
think that people who are opposed to gay marriage would describe themselves as
Well, being opposed to gay marriage and being homophobic aren't the same
thing; although some people will argue that it's not possible to be opposed to
gay marriage without being homophobic, I can quite easily imagine someone
who's openly and happily gay and yet opposed to gay marriage on, for example,
economic, sociological, or religious grounds.
People who exhibit homophobic (or racist) behaviour often don't
consider themselves to be homophobic (or racist), as far as I can see. They
accept the word as a label for the concept, but they disagree about whether
their behaviour should be included in the concept. It's different from the
whole "pro-life" vs. "anti-choice" / "pro-choice" vs. "pro-abortion" argument,
where there is a very definite terminology problem that clearly often impedes
[John] Mind you, "homophile" and "homomis" are just as problematic as
"homophobia" in that they've only taken half of the original word [...] The
point is, homo/hetero are useful prefixes in their own right, to mean
same/other, but I don't think anyone is suggesting that "homophobia" means
"people who want everything to be different".
This is why I mentioned words having more than one meaning. "homo" is
both a prefix which modifies other words, and a word in its own
right (albeit one which is often used pejoratively) which means "homosexual".
It's in the dictionary and everything.
[Kake] The other thing is that words can have more than one meaning, and
the meanings of words can change.
[John] So, how do you feel about people saying "That's so gay" to
describe something that they don't like? Do you think it's a valid additional
meaning ("gay"=happy/homosexual/bad), or do you think that the new meaning is
still linked to the old one?
I don't know enough about why people use that phrase in that way to be able
to answer that question; I mean, I don't know why people started doing it. I
don't think it's common enough usage that it would be accurate to say that the
word "gay" has a new meaning, and this meaning is "something I don't like". I
hope it doesn't become that common, since it seems to me that language
is important in forming attitudes, and I think it's quite clear where the
problem lies in that context. Incidentally, vampwillow recently
hosted a discussion
on the issue, which you might find interesting.