Comics / Spotlight / Queer Comics

A Rebuttal and a Resignation

By J. Skyler
February 18, 2013 - 02:14

When I agreed to sign on as the LGBT columnist for ComicBookBin, I did so with the understanding that I wouldn’t simply be writing about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender characters in comics, but the real life history of oppression, alienation and persecution that shape their stories and the flesh and blood human beings they are intended to represent. In such a capacity, I am directly responsible for how LGBT issues are represented by the publisher. It is a mutual responsibility I take very seriously, in the same way I would if I were hired by a major news or entertainment publisher to cover any LGBT topic. Furthermore, publishers have a responsibility as to what they allow as content. It is a responsibility which has far less to do with freedom of speech or censorship and everything to do with respect to basic human dignity.

If the recent debacle in the UK concerning Julie Burchill’s transphobic hate speech being pulled from The Observer has taught us anything, it’s that no one seems to understand what freedom of speech, freedom of the press or censorship actual entail. If an official government agency had stepped in and pulled an article from The Observer or attempted to regulate its content, that would be a blatant infringement of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. A publisher choosing to regulate its own content, is in fact, fulfilling its right to freedom of the press. Editorial standards regarding LGBT terminology are commonplace, even among the world’s most highly respected news sources, such as the Associated Press (AP), The New York Times and The Washington Post, as GLAAD (The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) reports. The following is an excerpt from their media reference guide:

Offensive: "homosexual" (n. or adj.)

Preferred: "gay" (adj.); "gay man" or "lesbian" (n.); "gay person/people"

Please use "gay" or "lesbian" to describe people attracted to members of the same sex. Because of the clinical history of the word "homosexual," it is aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Please avoid using "homosexual" except in direct quotes. Please also avoid using "homosexual" as a style variation simply to avoid repeated use of the word "gay." The Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post restrict use of the term "homosexual" (see AP, New York Times & Washington Post Style).

David Newton writes in Gay and Lesbian Rights: A Reference Handbook (2009): “Within the gay and lesbian community, the term homosexual was rather quickly abandoned as being too clinical and, in many cases, too derogatory.” Both Psychiatric Nursing Skills: A Patient-Centred Approach (2000) by Graham Dexter and Michael Wash and Initiating and Sustaining the Clinical Nurse Leader Role: A Practical Guide (2010) by James L Harris and Linda Roussel note the history of the use of the word “homosexual” as a pejorative term due to its clinical nature and suggest “gay” and “lesbian” respectively as proper labels. Even dating back to 1988, Psychopathology and Psychotherapy in Homosexuality by Michael W. Ross explains the exact same sentiment:

Clinicians, in order to establish and maintain trust in their clients, should always choose their words carefully. In the United States, the term “homosexual” to refer to a person with a same-sex orientation is considered by many as “quaint” at best and offensive at most. As a black gay man once told me, “Homosexual: colored or negro – gay: black.” In other words, the persons using the word “homosexual” are out of touch with current vocabulary and, it would seem, therefore out of touch with gay and lesbian issues.
Thus, when Hervé St-Louis wrote a rebuttal to my article “How to Write Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues: A Guide” it reinforced the idea that the loudest voices that speak most critically of minority groups are often those who have never felt a personal sting of bigotry and lack the empathy to try and find affinity with those that have. St-Louis found my language patronizing. Frankly, I think it should be. Having suffered verbal abuse from people who actively choose to use "homosexual" as derogatory term, I know all too well that words can kill. Had this public embarrassment occurred during my teens when I was overwhelmingly suicidal, it would have been one of a number of instances that could have convinced me life simply was no longer worth living. That is what concerns me most not freedom of speech, freedom of the press, nor academic or philosophical discourse, but the readers who may be negatively impacted by something as "insignificant" as improper terminology. As I stated in my guide, certain individuals may prefer to use archaic or even derogatory labels for themselves. For the individual, that is perfectly fine; for the masses and for those who report to them, it is not. I also realize LGBT cultures vary from country to country (and even within a country they can vary from region to region). Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence In Canada (2005) by Douglas Janoff states that "[a]lthough many younger Canadians feel that homosexual is derogatory, graduate students and faculty use it liberally" adding that it is seen as less pejorative in the French language. Since there appears to be no culture in which it is accepted without controversy, would it not be common sense to err on the side of caution? Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society (1996) by Paul A. B. Clarke and Andrew Linzey notes that "[m]any cultures have colloquial terms to denote a homosexual person (usually a male), most of which are derogatory. In the West, the most acceptable term to refer to a male homosexual is 'gay' and to female homosexuals as 'lesbian'."

I’ve spent nearly a decade as a public speaker educating (predominately heterosexual) students on LGBT issues, who surprisingly, were already in tune with what I had to say. I may not have a PhD, but nonetheless, when invited to speak on Human Sexuality, Psychology, Marriage and Family and a variety of other courses that involve LGBT issues, the professors (at their own discretion) have always made one thing abundantly clear to their students: they are there to learn, my colleges and I are there to teach. That doesn’t mean I reject dialog. The reality is open dialog is my express purpose for speaking to the masses. However, I stand firm in the assertion that extending the courtesy to respect simple rules concerning cultural identities is something that should never require debate. That has nothing to do with “left-leaning” or “rightwing-leaning” politics. It has nothing to do with censorship. As I stated before, it only concerns basic human dignity. I would assume every publisher, writer and public speaker would want to avoid dehumanizing their audience by carefully monitoring the terminology they use. Otherwise, there is no dialog.

If other editors at ComicBookBin, including the publisher, are uncomfortable following basic guidelines regarding terminology that are considered standard by nearly every major media outlet, then I have no reason to write for the Bin, as I can’t risk being associated with anything that can be so easily perceived as anti-gay. As Greg Rucka once said: "At this point, I see no reason why I should have to put up with that, I can sink or swim on my own."

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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