When it comes to winning equality, words matter.
Take, for example, the insufferable acronym, “SSA”, which is sometimes used as shorthand for “same-sex attraction.” It is important to realize that there is no such thing (or diagnosis) as SSA and it was invented as a manipulative attempt to separate LGBT people from their natural, inborn sexuality.
The term SSA is skillfully employed by our opponents to make it appear as if fundamentalist bigots are not attacking the person, just their sexual feelings. It is a deliberate method of creating a medical-sounding term to deliver Anita Bryant’s hateful “love the sinner, hate the sin” message. At least Bryant had the courage to say what she believes and not hide behind euphemisms and phony pop psychology.
If you think I am wrong in my assessment, ask yourself: Why does disgraced “sexual reorientation coach” Richard Cohen love the term SSA? It is all over his website and his books. When he uses it, he is basically turning the LGBT community into sick patients rather than real people. The virulently anti-gay National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) also loves to brandish the letters SSA.
We should not help our enemies by adopting their language, which is specifically designed and employed to portray us as freaks with a problem that needs to be fixed. SSA – much like STD – sounds like a disease that can be cured by running to the local doctor for a shot, the pharmacy for a prescription, or the shrink for a session.
If you don’t think language is important, consider this month’s CBS/New York Times News poll. It found a significantly higher level of support for “gays” in the military rather than “homosexuals” in the armed services. Here is an excerpt:
A New York Times/CBS News poll finds that a majority of the public support allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
There’s less support, however, for allowing homosexuals to serve openly.
The results highlight the importance of wording on the issue. In a test, half of the poll’s respondents were asked their opinion on permitting “gay men and lesbians” to serve, and the other half were asked about permitting “homosexuals” to serve.
The wording of the question proved to make a difference. Seven in 10 respondents said they favor allowing “gay men and lesbians” to serve in the military, including nearly 6 in 10 who said they should be allowed to serve openly. But support was somewhat lower among those who were asked about allowing “homosexuals” to serve, with 59 percent in favor, including 44 percent who support allowing them to serve openly.
We should avoid becoming the uptight word police and allow for a great divergence of opinion. If you love to use the phrase SSA, then keep doing so. Please realize, however, that you are making NARTH’s Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and the International Healing Foundation’s Richard Cohen quite happy by adhering to their slick public relations scheme.
More than 35 years after homosexuality was erased from the DSM (list of mental disorders) why voluntarily describe yourself in sterile, medical terms, as if you have a “problem” that quacks can “fix” for a hefty fee?
Of course, some people get upset when the impact of language is questioned. They say that they do not want to be pigeon holed or stereotyped and detest “labels”. However, common sense suggests that labels are unavoidable, so it is smart to be in charge of the labeling process.
Our species has created language to describe the world around us. Without it, we can’t communicate. Calling someone “gay”, for example, is shorthand for – “he or she is sexually attracted to and romantically interested in the same gender.” Therefore, there is no need for the matchmaker to set up dates with the opposite sex. It would be a waste of time.
It is telling that those who don’t like so-called labels, never offer rational alternatives on how human beings can communicate. I can only surmise that they intend to play charades, and hope people figure out what message they are trying to convey.
Like it or not, we will be labeled, so let’s be smart in labels we choose to adopt. We can begin with the message: “It’s Gay, Not SSA.”
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”