Call to Action – Why Language Matters

Forgive me if this wanders, I haven’t had enough coffee this morning. It’s Monday. It hasn’t stopped raining in Central Utah, so the pollen count is off the charts and I haven’t stopped sneezing all morning. And yet again, I find myself banging my head against a wall while I scan through morning headlines that are littered with the success and celebration of “gay marriage” initiatives.

I realized last week, when it was pointed out to me by two people I love dearly, that the fight to equalize something as minimal as language in reporting something as monumental as marriage equality might be the equivalent of “cutting off my nose to spite my face.” It’s a fair point. After all, state after state is fighting for something the federal government is too busy ignoring: equal rights. It’s an important fight and it shouldn’t matter how we word it, right? After all, if two women are together and want to marry, it’s “gay marriage” no matter what. We can all come together under the Big Gay Umbrella and celebrate.

And I do. If New York makes strides forward this week to make marriage equality the law, I will step into the streets and dance with my fellow queers. I will dance because conservative legislators in New York have stepped forward and said, on the record, they are setting politics aside and doing the right thing. This is good for the queer movement because it isn’t good for any movement to vote solely based on their sexuality or the color of their skin. We should be encouraged to vote for the principles we believe in and too often, LGBT republicans/conservatives are maligned by the community because they vote for a party that does not support their equal rights. I want to see this happen in New York and there is a big part of me that does not give two shits how the story is presented.

But then there is the part of me that speaks for a community that is blatantly ignored by the heterosexual and the homosexual world and this is the part of me that looks beyond the word marriage to what “marriage” actually means for the queer community.

It means access to rights and benefits that we, as a society, have tied directly into marriage. It means economic and health care equality. Why is it that those things should only be tied into marriage? Why are things such a survivor benefits and health insurance coverage only tied to marriage? What if I chose to live with my sister for most of our lives and I discovered I was dying? What if I wanted to make sure she had access to my survivor benefits? What if I wanted to put her on my health care? Why should these economic benefits only be tied to that really big “M” word?

I am more concerned with health providers treating me like a human being when they discover I am bisexual. I am concerned with Pride Centers around the country including ME in their programming. Condom use isn’t just for gay men. Bisexual men and women need the SAME access to services that the gay and lesbian community seem to take for granted.

I am more concerned with bisexual teens being told by leaders such as Dan Savage that it will get better, but only if you come out as gay or lesbian. I am concerned that polygamy and polyamory are only presented in a negative light. I worry that when the entire community is erased from the discussion, the people who most need support will pull into themselves until they no longer speak up. I am concerned about being told to just celebrate the successes.

If language does not matter, why are we, as a community, so concerned with the differences between Civil Unions and Marriage? Why?

Not every bisexual-identifying person needs to be an activist. Many are happy in monogamous, hetero (or homo) sexual relationships and have no need to dance in the streets on pride or attend social or support groups. They are out to the people who matter and celebrate the successes of the community with the rest of us. And these people are just as important as the loud mouthed activists like myself.

Just like there is a difference between “Gay marriage” and “Marriage equality.” I don’t care if “gay marriage” saves you five characters in a twitter post. It’s still not an accurate representation of the entire queer community. When identifying it solely as “gay marriage” the media, who is the voice of our time (whether we like it or not) erases polyamorous families and people who do not identify as gay. It doesn’t take that much more effort to focus on equality while the queer community is fighting for it.

Language matters. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be separations within the queer community. If it didn’t, an entire generation of LGBTQ people would not scream to the heavens when the younger community wants to use the word Queer as an identifier. If it didn’t matter, civil unions would be just as acceptable as marriage.

So to After Elton, After Ellen, Rachel Maddow, Dan Savage, and all the leaders in the community who are looked up to, admired, and who speak for a generation of people who finally have a vocabulary to describe themselves, I beg you to remember that language matters and that marriage equality more about equality than marriage.

To the media at large – we are more than gay. We are a collection, an alphabet, and every time you talk about “gay marriage” you are forgetting an entire population that wants the same rights as everyone else.

  1. Right on! I’m so glad to see this and glad you are out there keeping us in the loop of what the media is doing. It’s so sad to me that someone as wonderful and enlightened as Rachel Maddow makes this mistake over and over. I hope she realizes how damaging it can be and changes soon (and hopefully they already have!). Now Dan Savage, that’s another story altogether, that man needs a MAJOR education before I think he sees how damaging he can be, but you have to start somewhere!

    • I was SO glad to see the Maddow Blog twitter feed use the term marriage equality this morning, even after using gay marriage on their actual blog and thanked them appropriately. If we call to action, we also have to them people for being awesome. 🙂

  2. I agree, in fact, I would like to say that I think the positive reinforcement is so important. I try and do positive reinforcement as much as I can. I know you know this, but I thought it was important for your other readers to know that thanking someone for doing it right can go even farther. Thanking your local Pride Center, your local media, whoever it is, gives them the reinforcement that they are doing something we LIKE and the positive energy will go a long way. I like to show that the groups I’m in are not just “grumpy whiners” (heh), but we are happy activists, you know what I mean?

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