Thursday, November 13, 2008

Words and Identities

Recently, local authorities in the UK directed its staff to be careful about using words, which could be considered racist, sexist, homophobic or nationalistic, including the phrase British, which implied “a false sense of unity.” This came about considering that many Scots, Welsh and Irish resist from being called British and that the country today is a land of a variety of cultures, languages, religions and identities.

On the careful use of homophobic terms consider this: Scotland's National Health Service recently told doctors and nurses to avoid using the terms ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ as they excluded same-sex couples with children. As part of their “zero-tolerance policy to discriminatory language” they recommend:
1. The use of terms ‘parents’, ‘carers’ or ‘guardians’ instead of ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.
2. The use of terms ‘partners’ and ‘next of kin’ instead of ‘husband’, ‘wife’ and ‘marriage’.

This is serendipituous and coincidental at the same time. Last year, I had participated as a graduate student volunteer in a pre-test of questions to review the graduate admissions evaluation process in my University. As a student volunteer group we jointly brainstormed on what current questions could be amended. One thing that some of us insisted be changed was the question that asked the educational background/occupation of "Father” and "Mother.” We debated the implicit assumption in this question with regards to mainstream sexuality and gender; and asked for the terms to be replaced with "Parent 1" and "Parent 2." Our purpose was to shift the emphasis from socially constructed gender binaries and the traditional understanding of family as a heterosexual unit to a more cognizant view of alternate sexualities and changing family structures. We wanted the University to take that valuable step and become a model Institution, welcoming prospective students and their families, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation.

Before I conclude, I think it is worth revisiting some super common gender stereotypes and the terms used for them here:
Boys = sporty, strong, decision-makers, and
Girls = emotional and expressive.
As a result, boys who are emotional and show their feelings are often called "sissy's", "girls", "faggots" and/or "poofs". Girls who are too boyish or who hold feminist views run the risk of being called "dykes" and/or "lesbians". The damaging effect of such terms on individual's psyche and personality have long been studied and known. It is reassuring to see, however, that governments and various other groups throughout the world are exercising high degree of control and thought in utterances - both public and otherwise; and also realizing that it is not enough to be careful about using words that are racist but even those that are homophobic.


About This Blog

This blog is built around what I refer to as the socio-sexual debate, meaning the simultaneously coexisting conditions of human society and human sexuality in a constant state of inner conflict and pressing debate. To read more, click here.

Opinion Matters

"There is a way of discussing sexuality without using labels" (Mika* in an interview with Shana Naomi Krochmal, OUT, 2008-01-28).

*Mika is a London-based singer-songwriter.

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