The Misamator, or the Homophobe?

Some forward-thinking companies companies like Nabisco have made effort to support issues that impact the LGBT community.

Some forward-thinking companies like Nabisco have made the effort to support issues that impact the LGBT community.

The term ‘homophobia’ has been employed to describe those with prejudicial attitudes towards individuals from the homosexual community.  But this term  seems inherently flawed to me.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word ‘phobia’ means “A fear, horror, strong dislike, or aversion; esp. an extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by a particular object or circumstance.”  The key here is that the fear is irrational.  ‘Phobia’ is commonly employed as a suffix to words expressing ‘a fear of’ or an ‘aversion to’.  The problem is that many people casually admit to having ‘phobias’ of a sort, and they do not associate the word with ignorance or prejudice.  Whether people say they have phobia of clowns, heights, or spiders, many people accept phobias as innate (though they are basically the product of temperamental factors interacting with experience and resulting in pathology). Phobias are recognized as reflexes over which little control can be exerted, and they involve an extreme physiological reaction in response to an innocuous stimulus.  When we hear the term ‘phobia’, we allow the person demonstrating the ‘phobia’ to be expunged of culpability for their irrational response. In contrast, prejudice is a sort of mental bias, or the result of mental shortcuts that bypass critical thinking, and which gradually become automatized.

 

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments."  William Shakespeare

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.” William Shakespeare

This is what I see as the key flaw of the term ‘homophobia’.  Words like ‘racist’ or misogynist’  reflect the irrational thought of people expressing such sentiments more effectively and overtly, as it is not as easy to dismiss the culpability in expressions of hatred.  Some might suggest that ‘phobia’ is commonly used in other instances, such as gynophobia, but this term explicitly means ‘the fear of women’, while the term ‘misogynist’ describes the hatred of women.  The reason these two terms both exist is because they are explicitly different.  Terms like Islamaphobia and xenophobia  speak to people who have prejudicial attitudes towards groups of people, but these terms also describe people who are literally afraid of these groups for a number of irrational reasons. Lets for a minute set aside the flaws inherent in the term ‘phobia’, and focus on the word ‘homo’. This word, from its earliest appearance in the English language up until the early 20th century, has meant a “human being”, or ‘man’, though it has also been used to describe ‘uniformity’ or ‘sameness’.  In recent years the pejorative colloquialism ‘homo’ has been combined with the term ‘phobia’ to describe people who express prejudicial attitudes and outright hatred towards people described as ‘homosexual’.  The problem with this phrase is two-fold.  One, it uses a pejorative colloquialism.  The other issue is that the word ‘phobia’ is not really appropriate.  While the ‘irrational’ component of the definition is certainly applicable, such prejudices are not defined by ‘fear’, but rather by hatred (though one could argue that the hatred is the result of fear, the two are not mutually exclusive).  The term ‘aversion’, could be seen as somewhat appropriate, but it does not seem strong enough.

 

 

John Milton argued that marriage "is a human Society, and that all human society must proceed from the mind rather then the body, els it would be but a kind of animall or beastish meeting".  Marriage based on the mind rather than the the body?  Sounds like an argument for marriage equality to me.

John Milton argued that marriage “is a human Society, and that all human society must proceed from the mind rather then the body, else it would be but a kind of animall or beastish meeting”. Marriage based on the mind rather than the the body? Sounds like an argument for marriage equality to me.

Ignoring  hatred yet articulating fear is part of the issue with the language of oppression.  The word ‘homosexual’, which literally translates to either ‘human sex’, or ‘same sex’ is, in and of itself, a flawed term.  First, it was coined by doctors who were treating it as a disorder.  These were not people hoping to recognize the legitimacy of this sexual identity, but rather, to categorize, treat it, and ‘cure’ it.  They created the term to define what they saw as a defect.  This is akin to Europeans coming up with the term ‘negro’ as a race categorization for people from the continent of Africa, even though by the scientific definition of ‘race’, the peoples of Africa were, in fact, of the same race as the peoples from  Europe.  The oppressing group, by naming and categorizing the oppressed group, asserts a degree of authority over the group.  As we have seen in the last 50 years, many people with African heritage have rejected the racial categorization ‘negro’ in favour of a term ‘African American’.  ‘African American’ then identifies people not by their physical appearance, but rather by their heritage and their nationality.  ‘African American’ may seem common now, but when first employed it met with resistance, in part because it was a longer term than ‘negro’, and in part because people were frankly used to the old terminology.  Just as the term ‘negro’ defined people with African heritage via the corporal, so to does the term ‘homosexual’.  The word ‘sexual’ does not speak to gender, but specifically to the sex act.  It implies that the relationship shared between ‘homosexuals’ is one defined by the physical act.  While this may seem reasonable  on the surface, defining a relationship strictly by the sex act seems condescending, as it implies that such relationships are defined only by the physical and not by the emotive or intellectual components of a relationship.  Coupled with that, the term translates literally to ‘same sex’, which can mean a number of things.  It could mean that somebody shares the same sex/gender, or that they share uniform sexual activities.  A term that recognizes not only the physical, but also the emotive, would seem more fitting.

 

A reinterpretation of a Rothko painting, created in support of marriage equality.

A reinterpretation of a Rothko painting, created in support of marriage equality.

As noted by Dave Ford, several terms have been proposed as a replacement for ‘homophobia’.  Ron Moskowitz coined the term “queerfear”, which is great because it rhymes, and everybody loves phrases that rhyme, but are rhyming phrases usually employed to detail prejudices and irrational hatred?  Is it appropriate to use rhyme to describe this?  It is an admirable approach, but even the word queer, though accepted by many in the LGBT community, is problematic as it means odd or out of place. Yet there is nothing odd about a person who is attracted to members of the same sex, despite what the terminology of the field of statistics might say on the matter.  The term ‘queer’ is also problematic because many people outside of the LGBT community employ it as a pejorative term.  Moskowitz has also suggested the term “homoabhorrence”.  The word ‘abhorrence’ certainly articulates the unreasoned hatred, but the ‘homo’ part still employs the misused pejorative colloquialism. Actually, it literally translates to ‘human abhorrence’, which would mean the same a ‘misanthropist’.  Armando Plata has suggested several terms: homofastidium, Homocontemno and homocontemptus.  Each of these words is certainly an improvement on ‘homophobia’, as ‘fastidium’ means disgust, ‘contemno’ means to despise or hate, and ‘contemptus’ means to have contempt  for something.  But again, these words each employ a misused term that is used as a pejorative colloquialism.

 

Latin seems to be the go-to language whenever trying to develop new academic terms.

Latin seems to be the go-to language when inventing a new academic term.

So what terms can fairly be used?  It seems appropriating from Latin is the popular move, but first we have to come up with a term to describe what is now referred to as ‘homosexual’ love.  ‘Homosexual’ love is described as a love of the same sex/gender.  Looking to Latin we see that the word for ‘lover’ is ‘amator’.  The word for ‘same’ is ‘idem’, and the word for sex/gender is ‘sexum’.  It is important here to note that ‘sexum’ means sex/gender in this context, and not a kind of sex act like the term ‘sexual’ does, so this term does not place the relationship on strictly physical terms, most especially because the term ‘amator’ means ‘lover’ and this speaks to the emotive aspect of the relationship.  So, might Amatoridemsexum work?  It is a bit of a mouthful, but it does communicate the basic sentiment without misusing any terms.  The unreasoned and prejudicial hatred of such a person could then be referred to as amatoridemsexumcontemptus, or misamatoridemsexum.  These terms, however, do not roll off the tongue very easily.  Perhaps amatorcontemptus may suffice, or misamator (one who hates lovers).  If we can agree to the term ‘Amatoridemsexum’, and acknowledge that ‘Amator’ is a respectable abbreviation of the phrase, then misamator (or amatorcontemno, or amatorcontemptus) could be employed to describe the prejudicial hatred of Amators.

 

 

Ellen Degeneres has employed comedy and kindness to dispel the fear promoted by 'misamators'.

Ellen Degeneres has employed comedy and kindness to dispel the fear promoted by ‘misamators’.

It is perhaps ignorant, as a person outside of the LGBT community, for me to try and prescribe a term for the LGBT community.  That is not what I am doing.  I am not prescribing, but merely trying to develop a language with which to participate in the conversation.  There are many who are fine with the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘homophobia’ as they are currently employed, and that is fair. I think most reasonable people recognize the intent and are not influenced by the flaws of the words.  It is also clear that many in the LGBT community are divided on the issue.  The name of the LGBT demonstrates this.  The term ‘homosexual’ could have been used instead of ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay, shortening the acronym to HBT, but people within the community felt the need to distance themselves from the term ‘homosexual’.  I have noticed that lesbian women seldom refer to themselves as homosexual, but instead employ the term ‘lesbian’ far more often.  The problem may be that the term ‘homo’, meaning ‘human’, but commonly being abbreviated to  ‘man’, simply does not apply to this group of people (though ‘homo’ as ‘same’ or ‘uniform’ may).  Likewise, many ‘homosexual’ men describe themselves as ‘gay’.  Such terms, within the LGBT community, seem to work efficiently, but when some of these terms are employed by people outside the LGBT community, a slight shift in tone transforms the word into a pejorative.    The words we have available are flawed.  They demonstrate misuse and misunderstanding on the part of the academics who invented and adopted these terms, which carry implications that are condescending and potentially insulting.  I do not know that the term ‘Amator’ is suitable, but I do know that the term ‘homosexual’ is problematic, as is the word ‘homophobia’.  We need terms that do not confuse meaning or carry malice, whether conscious or not.  Terms that respect the community and can be employed by allies in conversations without alienating members of the community, or inadvertently promoting flawed terminology.  I like the term ‘Amator’ because it means ‘lover’, and it is the redeeming virtue of love that should be emphasized, regardless of what sex/gender one favours, because love is what we all share, or at least hope to. Breaking down the barriers that divide us in favour of uplifting the things we have in common is, I believe, the best way to cultivate tolerance.

 

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Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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