In today’s WTF Friday edition, I have to ask: WTF is “homo”?
The first is “Ain’t No Homos Gonna Make It To Heaven.” Some member of the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church has made young children perform a discriminatory song that these children does not have an understanding of and, hence, cannot give informed consent to perform. What’s worse, the performance is videotaped and is uploaded for the world to see, as a public message of hate.
My strongest reaction to this was the term “homo” itself. I don’t identify with the term. I feel that using the word ‘homosexual’ to describe me, even to claim that “homosexuals are people too,” makes me feel like an outsider. An alien species.
‘Homosexual’ is a really inadequate term for representing my choice to identify with gay and queer culture in Canada. I’m a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong and I self-identify as a gay and queer person. That is the respectful way of speaking to how people navigate our society and their lived experience, not to dehumanize them into a label that is single-faceted.
I observe that the majority of people who have a strong preference of being described as ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ over ‘homosexual’ are from or have spent a considerable amount of time in North American urban centres.
Advertisement for Out on Campus, SFU’s centre for its LGBTQ community. Image courtesy of ooc.sfss.ca
It sure seems to be that for my generation (I was born in 1990), more people are self-identifying as ‘queer’ and rejecting ‘homosexual’ as a label. That’s understandable, given its origins. ‘Homosexual’ was first introduced in the 19th century by Western psychiatrists, many of whom linked this term of same-sex attraction to neurotic disorder.
So what was same-sex attraction called before the 19th century? There’s evidence there had been many open expressions of love outside of ‘one man-one woman’ pairings all over the world. Some of them had been legalized and sanctioned by religious organizations.
Take for example affrèrements, same-sex ‘brotherly’ union ceremonies in late medieval France. Historian Allan Tulchin’s extensive research has found that although late medieval France was dominated by Catholicism as a powerful state religion and Christianity as societal norms, these brotherly unions did not necessarily preclude romantic love and may have been under open practice under the Catholic reign.
You may remember though, in 2008, news broke that One News Now—a news network operated by the Christian and conservative American Family Association—had a filter that replaced ‘gay’ in news articles it reposted to ‘homosexual’. The filter resulted in the butchering of Olympic sprinter ‘Tyson Gay’ to ‘Tyson Homosexual’. Ironically, I’ve got to wonder what is their ‘homosexual agenda’? WTF is homo!?
Screen shot of auto-replace error made by One News Now. Image courtesy of boingboing.net
On the other hand, as of 2012, there are Christian denominations that, for decades, have accepted and supported equal rights for people who openly identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Worth noting is the United Church of Canada, which ordained its first openly gay minister, Tim Stevenson, in 1992.
This year, the United Church accepted nominations from three gay and lesbian candidates to be the Church’s moderator, who, according to the Church website, “is expected to give spiritual leadership and public representation for the church.” Stevenson, the past United Church minister and current Vancouver city councillor, tells gay and lesbian newspaper Xtra that if one of the gay or lesbian nominees is elected as the moderator, “that will be the first time, really, the head of a Christian denomination is openly gay. It will be very symbolic for Christendom worldwide.” Symbolic indeed!
I’ve learned that it’s always good to question what other people’s understanding of your identities, be it gay, homosexual, Tongzhi, Christian or Chinese Canadian, and recognize that not only do people identify in diverse ways but, also, people within an identity group can be very diverse.