So, the Government has finally abolished homosexuals.
According to Barbara Roche, the minister for women and equality, objections were raised to the use of the world “homosexual” during the consultation on the new anti-discrimination legislation and so the Government has decided to say Orientation Towards People of the Same Sex (OTPOTSS) instead.
Ms Roche says “homosexual” will now not be used in official reports, legislation or press releases. She insists it has nothing to do with political correctness. “You are actually making a statement that these issues have moved on,” she says. (Richard Littlejohn in The Sun also made a statement – that otpotss is an anagram of tosspot.)
The Daily Telegraph then reported that the Lesbian and Gay Police Association has dropped the word “lesbian” from its title, and will henceforth be known as the Gay Police Association “following a three-month consultation with members, the police service and other homosexual groups.” Lesbian was considered old-fashioned and loaded down with too many sexual connotations – whereas “gay is more a lifestyle word”.
Meanwhile, the Crown Prosecution Service has issued a report, urging lawyers and court officials to stop using the word homosexual, too, and instead use the initials LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered). The report says that ‘homosexual’ is “outdated and offensive”.
It is now, therefore, official – “homosexual” is yesterday’s word, and so is lesbian. Too clinical, too medical, too sexual and altogether no good at all.
But there are dissenters. The London Evening Standard told us that the senior editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Jeremy Marshall, was dismayed by these developments. He is quoted as saying: “The word homosexual was coined as a neutral term and it is a pity to lose it. It is said that people don’t call themselves homosexual so it is an inappropriate label. But I don’t call myself a member of the public and that doesn’t make it an inappropriate label.”
Inevitably, Ms Roche’s announcement sparked a bit of a debate in the press about the whole issue of “thought policing” by the Government and whether, in fact, it was within their gift to change the language by fiat.
“By controlling words, governments believe they can control what we think because we basically construct ideas with words and language,” wrote Emma Jones in The Sun.
Ms Jones is of the opinion that language is something that evolves naturally and is not open to official diktats. If people want to continue saying “homosexual”, they will do so, and the Government can’t stop them.
Ms Jones points to George Orwell’s novel 1984. In the nightmare world of Big Brother (the all-seeing, all-controlling Tony Blair figure), the word ‘sex’ was replaced by “artsem” (artificial insemination) in an attempt to stop people thinking about love and relationships.
She tells us that media pundit Naom Chomsky discovered that Governments are always looking for euphemisms to try to take the sting out of their less pleasant policies. Try, for instance, “collateral damage” as a term for the incidental slaughter of civilians during wars.
She then goes off on a tangent of fantasy, by recalling the days of the “loony left” in the eighties, when local councils, supposedly under the control of politically correct maniacs, changed “blackboard” to “chalk board” and outlawed the recitation of “baa baa black sheep”.
From her photograph, Ms Jones looks about eighteen and obviously wasn’t around at the time of the “loony left”. If she had been, she would have been aware that it was almost entirely a creation of the newspaper she currently writes for. Indeed, there is little The Sun doesn’t know about manipulating words to mean whatever it wants them to mean.
However, she does make the legitimate point that: “Modern language is a melting pot of quick-changing jargon, street talk, Americanisms and ethnic patois”. As such, it makes its own rules. But those rules change rapidly, and words and phrases that are on everyone’s lips one day are consigned to the linguistic dustbin the next. So how are we spot the ones that will endure?
Philip Hensher, who frequently writes on otpotss matters for the Independent, thinks, for instance, that “gay” is finished because it “seems a bit ludicrous these days”. He says it has a “euphemistic feel” and has become a synonym for everything “hopelessly naff among young people”. Therefore, we should “quietly drop it”.
Of course, playground slang changes faster than other aspects of popular-speak, and so the fact that all the school kids apparently use “gay” to mean “naff” is a temporary state of affairs. After all “naff” was all the rage two years ago, but now it’s absolutely gay to use such a word. Next year the school kids will have discarded gay and gone on to something else (“minging” was popular for a while, but that has already fallen into the Call My Bluff category.)
Hensher, though, accepts that there are words that members of minorities can use about each other that would be offensive if used by outsiders (“nigger” being a case in point among the black community, and the “nancy”, “bitch”, “queen”, “faggot” etc. for our community).
He admits that these developments matter, and points to an incident in E.M. Forster’s book “Maurice” when the hero admits that he doesn’t know the name for the feelings he has. “He learns it; and, like anyone afterwards, if it is a name he can use, he can start to live properly. His word was ‘Uranian’, but it won’t be ours, I think.”
Mr Hensher says that we should use words that describe what we do rather than what we are, and in the end suggests that we “return to our roots” and adopt “sodomite” as our sobriquet.
Can you imagine it – going into W.H. Smith and purchasing your favourite magazine, Sodomite Times each month? I’m sure sales would rise with a title like that, but I’m not sure the content would quite live up to the promise.
But if we are going to describe ourselves as what we do, then we’ll all be called something different: are you a rimmer or a sucker? A shagger or a shagee? And would you want your mother to know quite so much about you?
On balance, I think Philip is going to have to shove that suggestion where most sodomites like to shove things.
Charlie Potter, meanwhile in The Guardian tells us that “the latest favourite” way of describing ourselves is to shorten “homo” to “mo”. That can have all kinds of applications. A heterosexual who is mistaken for an otpotss, for instance, can be called a “faux mo”; and gay-friendly areas, such as Old Compton Street and Canal Street become called “mo-town”; someone who is late coming out of the closet is a “slow-mo”, and so forth. Sounds like a reinvention of polari to me, and just as funny.
Charlie Porter says that in days gone by “the proud appropriation of harsh labels such as queer was essential to a community driven by the fight for liberation.
“Thanks to the efforts of these previous generations, twenty-something otpotss are more visible than they have ever been before. But because the big-ticket battles, such as that for an equal age of consent, have been won, a once highly-politicised community has dropped the campaigning and turned into one focused on consumerism, celebration and hedonism. Labels that used to carry a defiant punch now sound queasy and awkward.”
In the end, Charlie admits that we have lost sight of the real issues. “Otpotsses have become too interested in insulting ourselves to realise that there are those in the country who are quite happy to do it for us.”
One of the chief reasons “gay” has managed to survive for so long, of course, is that it is useful for newspaper headlines.
With gay issues taking up such a huge amount of space in newspapers over the past couple of decades, “gay” has been a god-send to sub-editors. “Homosexual” was far too long, and crowded out a decent description of the story below. “Sod” wouldn’t be an adequate replacement.
For years, reactionary papers like The Times and The Telegraph resisted the idea of using ‘gay’ in their headlines, and persisted with ‘homosexual’. “Gay” was just too friendly, too humanising. It was the word that buggers and sodomites had adopted for themselves, and therefore dangerous.
In the end, they gave in. Gay has become the word, and I think it will stay the word. Despite what the “modernisers” might say, it is useful, universal, and widely accepted. It is cuddly, friendly and unencumbered with hate and prejudice. We ditch it at our peril.
‘Homosexual’ might fall into obscurity, although I hope it doesn’t, mainly because I wouldn’t know what to do about my book “How to be a Happy Homosexual”, which has been selling for twenty years under that title. How to be a Happy Otpotss doesn’t quite have the same ring. How to be a Successful Sodomite is OK as far as it goes, but I wouldn’t want young gay men to have to come out to their parents using these terms. Can you imagine it: “Mum, dad, I’m a bugger.”
Mum would just say: “I’ve been telling you that since you were five.”