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The end of “homosexual”?

The Decline and Fall of the ‘H’ Word – The New York Times

On Friday, the New York Times published an article professing the approaching end of the use of “homosexual,” describing it as a “pejorative” term better left in past decades. According to Jeremy W. Peters, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has “homosexual” listed as an offensive term. Others steer away from it because the location of “sex” in the term itself, where “gay” and “lesbian” do not contain a blatant reference to sex the composition of the words. Further, anthropologist William Leap has indicated that the “clinical baggage” of “homosexual” detracts from its functionality, noting that he does not use it in his courses and redirects students who do.

While I think this turn is not unexpected, I think the implications of this shift might not be as realized, and the academic legacies of the term might not be as flexible as the more general changes Peters discusses. As anthropologists, how do we update our vocabularies and terminologies to reflect the people with whom we work? What about people who actively identify as and use “homosexual” in their day to day lives? I am reminded of David Valentine’s interrogation of “transgender” as it pertains to people who do not relate to or utilize the term.

Further, as researchers, how do we rework our approaches to adapt to such changes? How do we shift our terminologies to be more representative of our interlocutors? For example, what do we say instead of “situational homosexuality”? What do we say to encompass activities that do not fit neatly into “gay” or “lesbian”? Alternatively, should this movement away from “homosexual” prompt us to ask different questions and leave some of these frameworks behind? Is a critique on “homosexual” also necessarily a critique on its contingencies? The future trajectories of the term will undoubtedly be interesting.

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