Lee Lynch’s The Amazon Trail

Sexual Language

I didn’t like living with my father growing up and can’t imagine sharing a home with someone so essentially different from myself as an adult. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with guys, and I feel much more akin to gay male friends than to non-gay male friends. We’re just not compatible. The energy, for me, is akin to two magnets turned the wrong way – they very forcefully repel rather than attract.

Living with a woman feels much more natural to me. There are no assumptions about roles. There are no Mars-Venus issues.

I like traveling with a woman. I like shopping with a woman.  I like sleeping next to a woman, socializing with women in person or virtually. I love writing about women and having a woman publisher. I understand, mostly, our relationships with one another. I’ve always said, as a symbol of my partiality to female company, that men’s feet are too big. I trip over them. They take up my space. I have no conversation for guys outside of work, for example, or perhaps shared missions.

There are some words and phrases used regularly in gay culture that disturb me. The worst is “sexual preference.” It’s so limiting!

Is this the best message to describe ourselves and to give to outsiders? In my experience, I have a gender preference as well as a sexual preference. Simply put, and although I enjoy male friends and relatives, I prefer the company of women. No matter what we’re doing together, whether it’s affectional, sexual or conversational.

Heterosexuals are viewed as whole people. They don’t walk around with labels like lesbian or queer or gay. No one meets a non-gay person and immediately thinks of what they do in bed or with whom. At least I hope not. Yet when I meet a straight for the first time, I know I’m sometimes being viewed one-dimensionally. I’m tipped off by their questions, by their references to gay people they know, by their excited – or grossed-out – expressions. This may never change, but I don’t have to perpetuate that tunnel vision with my own speech.

Usage of the word gay gets my goat too. Since when is gay applied only to men? I’ve been gay since I was 15. And, frankly, it was a little easier to think of myself as gay than as homosexual or lesbian when I first came out. Both of those words were fraught with centuries of negative baggage. Today, I’d rather be a dyke or queer than a lesbian, but I always want to be gay. I’m so happy gay, I’d rather have been born a gay man than a straight woman. How to stop the journalists from using the phrase “lesbians and gay men”? Can we say “gay people”? Or “gay women and men”? It is nice when they lead with the female words; we’ve come a long way since women weren’t even newsworthy. Now even gay women are included in mainstream stories now and then.

While it’s true that, as a writer, I may be oversensitive to words, language has always been a powerful tool used for good and bad, to oppress or to free, to imprison in stereotypes and to declare independence from them. One of the best known objectionable words is “boy,” used to strip adulthood from black men. Slang is often a weapon, as when bullies toss around words like “fag” and “sissy.” The gay way of life is frequently called “unhealthy.” What the heck does that mean? Unhealthy for whom?

We can be lazy with language, using shortcuts that become code words to signal disapproval.   It’s hard to watch what we say. The brilliant and brave Mary Daly was a revolutionary of words, revealing their clout in our speech by dissecting them. The very title of her bookGyn/Ecology (1988) plays with a deeper meaning.  Daly’s presentation of such words as “a-maz-ing” opened my eyes to what I am really talking about. I think of the term “stag-nation,” as she explains it in Wickedary (1987).

It may sound like I am griping and need to quit sweating the small stuff. In actuality, I am protesting the misconstruction of our words, misconstruing of our lives and the surrender of queers to labeling by outsiders and insiders. We take back the night, we take up our cause. Now we need to take back our words, because they are still being used against us.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

January 2012

29 Responses to “Lee Lynch’s The Amazon Trail”


  1. 1 Devlyn January 26, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    Lee you are the smartest gay I know. I too dislike how the word gay is treated and I consider myself a gay womyn. Or boi or dyke. You always make perfect sense to me.
    Kudos
    Devlyn

    Like

  2. 4 Laydin Michaels January 26, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    I really enjoyed your blog Lee. I agree wholeheartedly that as a culture we have to define ourselves and own the words used to describe us. Even a they embody us they segregate us. Powerful things aren’t they?

    Like

  3. 5 Carsen Taite January 26, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    There is simply no substitute for the power of words. Thanks for the insightful, as always, blog.

    Like

  4. 6 Cate Culpepper January 26, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Great thoughts to ponder, Lee. How do you feel about “queer?” That’s the word a lot of the kids at ISIS use, both male and female, and I’ve come to like it — it’s a term reclaimed, a kind of friendly/defiant and open referenece.

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  5. 7 Tam January 26, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Just wanted to say thanks for this blog post. As a gay womyn who never fits into any single box they try to squeeze me into, I concur wholeheartedly. I do not understand why straights bring my bedroom activities into the mix once their suspicions are confirmed. I do not think of their “choice” to act hetero when I converse about the weather or what is on the news and

    Like

  6. 8 Jan January 26, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    I so agree with you. Why have labels? Also, why are people afraid of us? Thanks for writing an expressive piece.

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  7. 9 Morgayne January 26, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    Well said, Lee! Your blog read like a righteous author taking up her cause.

    Like

  8. 10 clifford henderson January 26, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    Nice! And I always refer to myself as gay. But then, people see my name and think I’m a guy. Sheesh.

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    • 11 joey January 26, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      And I just pictured the big red dog. 🙂 Seriously though, I have always liked “gay” better because it seems the term encompasses more than just sexuality. “Lesbian” seems to carry sex with it. While gay is more of a lifestyle or way of being. I don’t know why that is.

      I just filled out a job application that had items I was not obligated to fill in, but that if I wished to disclose I could. Religion and Sexual Preference. I wanted to write, “No” in the first space, and “Yes” in the 2nd. But Jane said that they probably wouldn’t be amused. I then thought about writing, Lesbian under Religion. And “No organized affiliation” under the other, but again…job application should be taken more seriously. So I almost put “gay” but then thought they may think I’m a French gay man. So I put Lesbian. I’m civilized officially declared and legal — so I’m a registered lesbian.

      Thanks Lee. I like reading your blog, and everyone’s comments. Makes me feel like I’m back in Feminist Theory classes. Sure enjoyed those days!

      Like

  9. 12 trish January 26, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    I think I get what you’re saying, although I always think that only people I care about can hurt me with words, and if I’m at peace with myself then even they can’t hurt me. The more we ‘let’ people hurt us, the more they will, even those that are intending to.

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  10. 13 trish January 26, 2012 at 12:35 PM

    Whoops! I meant to say “even those thare are NOT intending to”!

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  11. 14 AmericanCheese January 26, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Even though I prefer to call myself a dyke, gay, or lesbian, I wonder why we can’t all just be called people.

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  12. 15 Chris January 26, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    Great blog. There’s another word that really get’s to me, it’s homosexual lifestyle (maybe a european issue, since we don’t use it here?), as if every gay person would live the same way. A lifestyle is something you choose and live very individually, independently of your sexual preference.

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  13. 16 Beth January 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM

    Another thoughtful column. I much prefer gay to any other term.

    Like

  14. 17 kathiatbsb January 26, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    I totally agree. i remember in college the labels that the Feminist movement tried to create for women. I totally understand why, but it always felt like a divider. Now I think labels separate us more than bring us together. But I have to say, I hated the word “wife” until I got legally married. Funny as it seems, that made me feel more like everyone else. I think we can be individuals with our own identities without labels.

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    • 18 joey January 26, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      Nice idea, but it seems to be human nature to label things. I mean there can’t just be dogs & cats — they’re divided into breeds. Some breeds are “better” than others for various reasons. Words are what we put into them. A Staffy or Staffordshire Bull terrier is one of my favorite breed of dogs. They are cute cuddly neighborhood pub dogs here. In the states they are Pit Bulls – killers! It is media. It is society. It is pop culture. I’ve run in to more straight couples that use the term “partner” for their spouse or significant other, than gay couples. I still slip and say “girlfriend” rather than partner because I’m so used to it.

      When I was in college, two English teachers, at the beginning of a term, decided that they would use the gender neutral term “partner” to refer to their husbands, so that gay students wouldn’t feel “othered”. Neither of them made it a week before slipping or mentioning their husbands. They couldn’t do it because they never had to “hide” their husbands.

      Labels make it easier to communicate, we may try to avoid them, but it is hard because of habit and because language is limiting: The small furry creature that seeks food by the riverside after the sun goes down has a striped tail and a masked face came and ate all Ginger’s food. The raccoon ate the cat’s food.

      Am I on a tangent? Perhaps. But why should “gay” hold any more or less power, negative or positive connotations, than say “Raccoon”?

      Like

  15. 19 Rand Hall January 26, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Lee, I think you are usually right on but you missed it this time. In the years of the gay liberation movement the issues were mostly related to gay MALES and gay MALE sex. The media spoke of “gay” issues: AIDS-the gay plague, park sex, man-boy love, promiscuity, hepatitis, t-rooms, etc. These may be gay issue but have nothing to do with me or with most lesbians. A “gay” book or movie or publication is by, for and about men. If “gay” by itself denotes gay male, why would I want to be a “gay woman?” Why are people more comfortable with the dominant word used by male homosexuals than with the word that is exclusively for women. Does it sound better to be “gay” than lesbian?

    The word gay, supposed to be inclusive, made “lesbians” invisible, just as words like “men” and “mankind” supposed to mean all humans, make women invisible. Even in our Constitution and laws, “men” does not include women. When issues like marriage, adoption, etc that also affect lesbians are discussed, the media often uses the term “same-sex.”

    Language is visibility and I fought many years to make women visible. I am not gay, though I am very happy. I am a woman-loving-woman, a dyke. a lesbian.

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    • 20 joey January 29, 2012 at 10:16 AM

      Rand,

      Very interesting point. Insightful — “The word gay, supposed to be inclusive, made “lesbians” invisible, just as words like “men” and “mankind” supposed to mean all humans, make women invisible.” I had not considered this. Thank you.

      Like

  16. 21 Bookgeek January 26, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    Thanks Lee for your Great reflections on the Power of words and Gay in itself is a Great word

    Like

  17. 22 Sheri Campbell January 26, 2012 at 8:43 PM

    I’m rereading and rereading your blog and it is powerful. Languages/Words are powerful. I despise labels used to identify people who have different ideas from the majority. Now what is the label for a bisexual…gay,man, woman, dyke, queer? huh I identify myself as a good person.
    Thanks Lee.

    Like

  18. 23 lynchly January 26, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    What exciting responses! Thank you all for putting your thoughts and opinions into words. There is a lot more to discuss and think about than I can put into a column/blog so it’s your turns to carry on! And if you’ve a mind to, please come visit me tomorrow – Friday January 27 – at the Bold Strokes Books Facebook page. This week is devoted to writers of general fiction, sometimes called literary fiction, but always, in my case, as Ms. Culpepper would say, very Queer fiction. And, by the way, somewhere in my career, I wrote a short story or column or essay that I titled “Queer to the Bone.” I love you all, by any name.

    Like

  19. 24 @mochamaker01 January 29, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post.

    Like

  20. 25 Lilaine January 29, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    Let’s see…

    Word :
    Er… come on! We all use(or misuse) them powerful, meaningful ‘gadgets'(French tech geek speaking, here, there must be another word, though…;)), some of us in several languages. Heck, even the M$ Bill’s one!😉
    Label:
    Oh, no! Alas! I don’t do Labelle, not even in my craziest dreams🙂
    Gay:
    Gender unifying(blending, confusing, muddling, …), with kind of a ‘lifestyle’ air to it, and a definite male connotation in most people’s media-perverted basic common knowledge(mine included). Might not be true to people who had their basic knowledge ingrained before the mass-media brainwashing era(I’m not saying you’re old, there. Just that you escaped the damaging influence:p).To top it all, the initial joyful meaning of this word is slowly disappearing from common usage(not only in English), at least in oral speech, I’m afraid.
    Homosexual, same-sex:
    Gender unifying, kinda administrative jargon, and a definite sexual connotation(I wonder why…)
    Dyke:
    Used as an insult by some outsiders, and a claim by some insiders. Confuses the hell out well-intended friendly people who don’t know if they can or cannot use it…😉
    Lesbian:
    Gender affirming, but historically ‘charged’ with all kinds of heavy concepts/ideas/events/bias/pickyourfav. since back then, in a time of ancient gods…
    Woman:
    Of course, silly me! :p
    Womyn:
    Well, yes, but will always be a typo for many people… ^^
    Woman-loving(eventually women-loving):
    Would be my favorite, so far. Not overtly sexual, with a large span of possibilities as far as loving is concerned. As far as women are concerned, too…;) And conveys well Lee’s feelings when she’s around women: she loves it!🙂

    Now, Mesdames et Mesdemoiselles(allez, Messieurs, aussi;)), nobody told us we couldn’t invent a new word(wouldn’t be the first one, right?).
    Unless no one here feels like playing with words? 😮

    Thank you Lee, for this thought provoking blog.
    Had my neurons smoking….

    Like

  21. 26 gvnett February 28, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    So affirming to read your blog and all the comments re preferring “gay” to lesbian. For so long it seemed to be disrespectful to the feminist movement and the equal rights movement to not show your womyn loving pride by using the word lesbian. Nice to see so many responses agreeing we can be gay and proud.

    Like

  22. 27 lynchly February 28, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    More thanks to the continued comments. I am enjoying each and every one, Lee

    Like

  23. 28 Sandy Rice March 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    I like the word “gay”. Not only does it refer to me but it also means happy. That’s me too.

    Like


  1. 1 Link Round Up « The Lesbrary Trackback on February 1, 2012 at 11:39 AM

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