Good news about Colin Ferrell joining his gay brother in the struggle to end bullying, the number one cause of teen suicides among queer people. That epithet upsets activists and fellow travelers. I dislike the alphabet soup that is "LGBT," and I have to struggle with the order of the words, noting that some actually re-order them, e.g. GLBT. If you put them in alphabetical order, bisexuals get to go first, with gays, lesbians and trans people in that order, fundamentally unfair since trans people bear the heaviest burden of being "different" and therefore ought to be first in line. Such nonsense. We are queer. Nevertheless, alphabet soup can come in handy at times. In my tirades against that total fake phony fat man Tim Dolan, I've taken to referring to his lobbyist PAC as the U.S.C.C.B. instead of having to say, "United States Conference of Catholic Bishops." Dolan's mission is nothing less than the establishment of a Catholic theocracy, de facto or de jure, take your pick.
A question I would rather avoid but cannot is whether the bullies bully because of nature or nurture. At the breakfast and dinner tables in our house, the only words I ever heard with reference to gay men were "sissy," "homo," and "queer." Although I have known I was "different" from earliest years (no later than four or five), I actually believe the argument is ultimately of little value, and it was perhaps with that in mind that I made a concession that is of some merit. I think being queer is both a matter of nature and a matter of nurture. And so is the bullying. We are supposed to be hardwired to procreate. The misguided fear of species distinction is a primary weapon of the theocratic bigots. Mostly, queers do not procreate, unless we are talking about bisexuals, who may or may not produce offspring, and to this group I would add married "homosexuals."
I am an amateur linguist, influenced by the ideas of Korzybski, the Buddha, and others. I have a slight familiarity with Wittgenstein. It was from Buddhism, actually, that I learned that categorization is inherently arbitrary, limiting, and useless. Is a bisexual mostly homosexual or heterosexual? How may a man be gay if he is married and has children? Gore Vidal was most certainly acting in his capacity as an agit-prop op, an agent provocateur, when he famously said, "There is no such thing as a bisexual; there are only undecided homosexuals." Any bisexual reading these words will smile wryly at best, and go into a diatribe at worst. The Buddha taught that all categories are hurtful. (Korzybski famously stated, "the map is not the territory.") By the same token, when he wrote his seminal "Gay Manifesto," activist Carl Wittman claimed that gays would only refer to themselves as "bi" when other gays quit hiding behind the term. New meaning is given to the victims of racism, misogyny, and homophobia each time a bully calls a person a "nigger" ("kike," whatever), "slut" (or even "prostitute"), or "faggot" ("fairy," et al.) -- new meaning to the old slogan, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Bullshit! Words DO hurt. They hurt deeply, and they leave very deep scars.
Once when I was a small boy I overheard my parents saying so-and-so was "queer." I had heard the word but was uncertain what it meant. I heard it directed at me at church boy's choir rehearsals, and I was mostly saddened by the feeling I was an outcast, alone. I knew the word must have something to do with people my parents thought were "homo" or "sissy," as all three words were used interchangeably at mealtime. My Dad made understanding easier: we had a local TV anchorman who epitomized all Dad thought "sissy." That is, the anchor spoke in a syrupy manner, had an effeminate disposition, and "looked the part" insofar as such a thing may be said. (It did not then occur to me to challenge stereotypes.) If Dad called the anchorman a sissy one day and a homo the next, I felt certain that the guy must be queer. But I am a slow learner. I wasn't exactly sure what I had in common with the guy on TV.
In any case, when I myself took to calling people "queer," I got in hot water for it. We had a neighbor catercorner to us who was married with children and who enjoyed giving unsolicited advice to other neighborhood children. Something he said displeased me and I called him: "Queer! Queer!" When he told my father about it I got a good walloping I can assure you. My father was a big believer in "spare the rod, spoil the child," which today is the rallying cry of the "strong-willed child" movement, headed by a fundamentalist buffoon who burned his copy of Dr. Spock on child-rearing and wrote one of his own, advocating frequent whippings of children, and by the same method my father used: long lean thin ones, in our case cut off a willow three in the front lawn.
I reflect on this to show that if LGBT peoples get over their bullying, get over their idea that they are entirely the product of nature and get over their discomfort with use of an epithet that "the other guys" employ against them, the word "queer" can be recaptured from the bigots and used with a good deal of pride. And why not? Look at the dictionary definition of the word before it was misappropriated from the hurtfully minded ones: "Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric."
We ARE unconventional, and thank God! Our unconventionality suggests that evolution is working. "Unconventional" brands queer people as being ahead of the herd, not completely a part of it and thus not a part of mediocrity. We ARE odd and eccentric. If I had a life to live over I would do it as J. K. Huysmans or his alter-ego for purposes of the novel he wrote, Against the Grain. This is the Count de Montesquiou, a dandy of the Belle Epoch. In the book, he is depicted as a man of refinement and almost complete alienation from society. He closes himself up in his apartments and indulges in queer decadence involving synaesthetic experiments in audio-visual hallucinations. If queers may be proud of anything it is our oddness. The herd is hell-bent on destroying the earth. More babies mean more and more pollution, swifter depletion of energy resources, and other environmentally unsound time bombs. Insofar as we do not contribute to this, we should be esteemed rather than bullied.
Great post, James!
I think this is largely a sociological question, as well as linguistic. No one is born innately intolerant or bigoted, and no one is born a bully. Bullies are bred through fear and through indoctrination.
Vive les différences!
Thanks James! As an aside, that young Gore Vidal was strikingly handsome!
I don't know what to think about what LGBT people call themselves. I was thinking yesterday it might be time to remove "gay" from the group name, but then it might not show up in searches, and it should be accessible. For many, "gay" is still the default word. There was past discussion on this, and no consensus. Maybe yet another new word is needed. I think we should call ourselves "cool" or "awesome". Then in grade schools and high schools everywhere, kids would be saying "That's so cool!" or "You're so awesome!" instead of "That's so gay" our "You're so queer!"
Last week I had a long talk with a young man who was born intersex as result of Kleinfelter's. Kleinfelter's is XXY (as opposed to XY males and XX females), and occurs in 1/500 to 1/1000 births. If that higher number was true, there would be over 600,000 people in the US alone, let alone in the world, with this one cause of intersex status. Most appear more male than female, but with some feminine characteristics. This condition is 100% chromosomal, which is to say, 100% nature, not nurture. Listening to this young man's difficult path in life, ripped at my emotions. The source of his condition was chromosomal, neither genetic nor cultural, but the source of discrimination was 100% cultural / social / religious.
As to whether bullying is inherited, I do think that study is needed to understand the causes of antisocial behavior such as bullying. Bullying is certainly common enough to make me think it is part of the human condition. One of my dogs was a bully with other dogs until I had him neutered - then he stopped, for the most part. Is bullying present in all cultures? Is scapegoating? I would bet they are. Temperament has inheritable properties. There is the german expression, Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm, (The apple falls not far from the stem), or "we turn out like our parents". That still doesn't suggest genetic, or cultural, but in a culture where bullying is common, it wouldn't surprise me that bullying can be passed through generations.
Thanks to both, you and David, supra. Sentient, you write, "One of my dogs was a bully with other dogs until I had him neutered - then he stopped, for the most part." Hmm. Maybe all bullies should be castrated. Q.: Would this include Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh?
well James, there's neutering, or if you want another surgical approach there's prefrontal lobotomy. Or marijuana. They might calm down if we could just correct their cannabanoid deficiency.
What, you don't think Count Robert de Montesquiou is strikingly handsome, too?