Friday, March 4, 2011

Language Politics and Family Fun

I've just been reading some of the comments on my previous posts, and since I've taken so long getting around to responding to them, I figured I'd dignify them with an entire post since I don't expect people to be patient enough to keep checking back to my neglected comments pages.
There were several people who commented on the language politics questions of "what do you call people who are attracted to members of the same sex"? This is a complicated and controversial one. Courage recommends "people who experience same sex attraction" or "persons with same sex attractions" that's clinical, not judgmental, and sidesteps the identity issues that are tied up with the gay/lesbian nomenclature. The Vatican uses "the homosexual person," or "homosexual persons." I think that both of those are fine, and not especially controversial -- "same sex attraction" used to be a term that only really appeared in Christian/anti-gay sources, but it's started to appear in clinical research on the LGBTQ side of the fence because it's inclusive of those who are same-sex attracted but who, for various reasons, do not like the various more politicized terms. I use gay and lesbian for people who have adopted a gay or lesbian identity, and LGBTQ (that's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered and Queer/Questioning -- the last term differs depending on whom you are talking to) to refer to the gay movement/culture (don't use the outdated GLBT -- the lesbians got really mad about being placed second, because it trivializes women...). Queer is controversial. I like it, and it's used fairly frequently in LGBTQ circles, but occasionally you'll run into someone who is really offended by it. I suspect that in Toronto and San Francisco, it's run-of-the-mill and non-offensive, and that in the American Mid-West it's still a slur word.
I also occasionally use more colourful terms that really only appear in gay writing about homosexuality -- "eromenoi" is the ancient Greek for "beloved," and is used in various ancient texts to refer to the younger male partner in a homosexual relationship; Sapphic is an alternate for lesbian that refers directly to the poetess Sappho; then there are more specific terms like "ladyboy" or "leatherman." Generally, it's not a good idea to use these unless you've got a really splashy idiom, or you have to write about homosexuality often enough that you get really sick of using the same terms over and over again.
So that's that. The second thing that I wanted to deal with is the fraternal correction issue. I do realize that in families fraternal correction is almost never actually offered in an ideal way -- there are few of us who are capable of being perfectly rational agents at all times. I do think, however, that the standards set by St. Thomas are a good ideal, and a lot of the time it is possible to be more reasonable than we are inclined to be. To be honest, I'm thinking about the issue to a large degree in terms of issues other than same-sex attraction that have arisen in my own family. I'm not perfectly rational in offering correction, and I know how difficult it can be, but I've found over years of non-productive fighting that if you actually work hard and train yourself to follow St. Thomas' advice, you can move towards a much more effective and fruitful discussion. Note that I'm seeing this as something that you work on over a period of years, not something that I think most people will be capable of in the minutes after their son/daughter/wife/husband comes out of the closet. That said, it's probably a good idea to cultivate a general habit of reasonableness, and to contemplate in advance the likelihood that one's nearest and dearest relations are likely to develop serious patterns of sin, which will require charitable correction. It's the same as being prepared in advance for the times in which personal temptation will be especially strong, and for the likelihood that you will occasionally fall down. If you get it into your head that you're never, ever, ever going to sin seriously ever again, then when you do, you'll be shocked and stunned and angry and ill-disposed to deal with it. If you resolve not to sin, but accept that some day you probably will anyways, and get yourself ready to repent, and accept the fact of your own weakness with humility, then when it happens, there's a lot less wounded pride to get in the way. Same deal, I think, with being prepared to deal with the sins of others, especially sins that are likely to cause hurt and grief to oneself.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad taht you choose to write on such matters, but I wish you had just said that you had some good advice for people on how to handle fraternal correction (i.e., don't read them the riot act, it won't work)and perhaps mentioned St. Thomas as a backup.

    As it is, telling people to practise being reasonable so that we will be ready when the occasion calls for it has a couple of flaws from where I sit. First, sinners aren't very good at being reasonable because they are unaware that they are unreasonable (I speak from experience). That's why God sends us experiences that shock us out of our complacency, that we may begin to know and change ourselves.

    The second flaw is that you make being reasonable terribly utilitarian - develop that tool in case you ever need it. It borders on being a good peer counsellor, tolerant and able to respond calmly to everything (which may reflect the age difference between you and me - I being older). How about developing a reasonable approach as part of being a true Christian, practising not tolerance, but charity?

    I'm sorry if I appear to be arguing with you. I am very glad that you post on these matters, and have bought and read your book. You are in a real position to offer people good advice on fraternal correction, such as why it is even needed. Many Catholics won't see the need for it, choosing instead to accept ssa/pph behaviour in a loved one and demanding that the Church change her teachings. I think you are addressing the others who respond by citing the law, chapter and verse. Both of these ways are wrong. A Christian response requires both charity and humility without compromising the truth, and you are very right to point out that this goes well beyond the issue of ssa behaviour to include any and all of our faults and sins.


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