Thursday, April 01, 2010

Washing My Mouth Out With Soap, or, I Swear To God I Wrote This Post Before...

...before I read this. Honest, I did. Really!! (God, I hate it when that happens!)

Oh, well... Let's move on.

Warning: this posting contains some nasty words. Epithets, to be specific. Words that ought never be used descriptively, even if members of the target community have reclaimed the words as their own. Words like kike. Breeder. Retard. Nigger. 

I've been thinking about the relationship between language and politics because of the recent controversy surrounding the film Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives. (Full disclosure: I haven't seen it.)  GLAAD objects to the film,  but at least one Transgender writer has defended the movie,  finding it more realistic in many ways than TransAmerica.

But what strikes me most is what the two viewpoints have in common: both agree that the word "tranny" is highly offensive.

I've heard the word used by people in the LGBTQ community in contexts that struck me as friendly.  Still, if a word is offensive to a significant number of the people to whom it refers, that's all I need to know. I'm quite content to leave it out of my own vocabulary. 

Which brings me to the whole "politically correct" thing.

I know, I know, political correctness is so ... twentieth century. In fact, these days it's downright politically incorrect to be politically correct.  Just a quaint but hopelessly outdated remnant of liberal do-good-ism. Positively unfashionable.

Well, no one has ever accused me of being on the cutting edge of fashion. So it probably won't surprise you that I embrace political correctness.

The basic diatribe against political correctness goes something like this: "We're sick of having to watch everything we do and say. You're way too sensitive, so we're gonna decide what's reasonable. Get over it." 

But wait a minute: If I can't determine whether calling someone a cunt is offensive (answer: most definitely yes), then who can? Who is better positioned than a gay man to say how it feels to be called a faggot? If the word "squaw" offends many Native American women, who on earth am I to say they're wrong?

Somewhere along the way, a fundamental component of civil discourse got highjacked: respect for the humanity of every participant. In its place is the condemnation of political correctness, which has morphed into a subtle form of blackmail:  "If you get offended by (insert whatever here), we will not only continue to offend you, we will also make you look ridiculous for being offended." This strategy is preemptive: marginalizing the other participant blocks dialogue even before it begins. It is, at its core, an ad hominem attack.

Well, fuck that shit. If I am to enter into meaningful dialogue, I first need to listen to you. Because, see, I don't get to define your agenda. Or even assume that I know what it is.   

And by the way: if the very best argument I can conjure up is that you're oversensitive, then I got seriously ripped off in law school and I want my money back.

I am perfectly willing to adjust my language to honor your personhood, even if our substantive views are galaxies apart.

Call it political correctness if you like. It still translates into respect.  And respect is never out of style.


  1. Anonymous8:30 AM

    This is the way I look at it: mama saddled us with a name when we were born, and it is by that name that we should be addressed and referred by (or perhaps another name, should one choose to drop their birth name.) Lables are hurtful. And while I have been guilty of using them myself, I try like hell not to.