The most respectful way to talk is with open and curious questions.
I have three worlds and terms and vocabulary are very important in all of them.
My three worlds are the Christian Church, the world of counseling and psychology, and the LGBTQ community. In each community, there’s a language we use to describe ourselves, describe others and describe how we experience the world. In all three communities, language is one of our distinctives; the words we use are part of what makes us distinct from other people.
For example, within Christianity, there’s a big difference between Baptist and Pentecostal, Complimentarian and Egalitarian, Biblical and non-Biblical and whether or not by His death on the cross, Jesus made salvation definite or only possible. We like when things are gospel centered, missional, reformed, written by C.S. Lewis and always Biblical.
In the counseling world, there’s a huge distinction between a counselor and a social worker and a psychiatrist and we don’t like being mistook for the other ones. A divide exists(which shouldn’t) between a Mental Health and an Addictions counselor. There’s a difference between problem based and strengths based language. We work hard not to confuse Bipolar with Borderline, anxiety with post-traumatic stress, and we have 6000* words for depression.(*Intentional exaggeration. Really, it’s more like dozens.) We haven’t fully decided if we work with patients, clients or individuals, but we know people are not their diagnoses.We say Voice-hearer instead of schizophrenic. We like client centered, holistic, trauma informed care, and mindfulness, but we don’t talk nearly enough about nutrition. For an incomplete, yet still exhausting(yes exhausting) collection of our words, borrow(don’t buy) the new DSM V.
Names and words are very important in the LGBTQ community, so much so that we call ourselves by an acronym made of some of the many names by which we call ourselves. Our names have evolved as our societal presence has matured. We make distinctions between Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual and recognize that the experience of Transgenderd folks is really quite different then them all. We recognize the vast difference in experience between a sexual minority and a gender minority. Sometimes we like the word Queer, sometimes we don’t because once it was derogatory but now it’s not. When meeting someone for the first time, a courtesy is to ask what pronouns they use, he, she, they, ze, or other. And we have a long list of words we don’t like because they’ve been used as insults, put-downs and derogatory terms. Homosexual, dyke, fag, tranny etc…bad words, very bad.
How we talk and the words we use are powerful and essential. If we’re not careful, how we call things or people tends to determine how they are treated.
Why is language such a big deal? Why are we so attached to our terms? Why has political correctness gotten such a foothold in how we speak and why are the standards or proper communication so precise?
Language and words and terms matter for at least 9 reasons.
- Using proper language shows that you understand a person
- Using proper language demonstrates that you respect a person, even if you disagree with them.
- Using proper language often demonstrates that, more than simply respecting a person, you are working to cultivate a safe space for them.
- Using proper language allows you to identify with a community, either as a member or an ally.
- By calling a person by the name they have chosen, or referring to them by the labels they value, you validate them as a person,
- Using a person or communities proper terminology means that you are not primarily interested in conflict with them over said terms, but that you are interested first in relationship and conversation.
- Using a person or culture’s terminology is especially important if you are in disagreement with some fundamental aspect of their existence. When you use their proper terms, you are saying I acknowledge that we are different, but I don’t hate you because of that difference.
- Perhaps you deep down disagree with a person’s reason for using a particular term. In my experience, I’ve encountered Christians who don’t like that I claim both the terms “Christian” and “Gay.” I’ve also encountered Gay folks who are puzzled by my persistence in claiming the label “Christian. These resistances come from deep set beliefs. But when people call me by the terms I value I perceive they are willing to suspend their beliefs temporarily for the sake of entering into relationship with me. So it is with all of us. Using a person or communities proper terminology doesn’t mean you have to change your own beliefs, but it indicates that for just a moment, the relationship is more important than the terms.
- Using common terms builds kinship. Actually as I’m writing this point, I’m remember when I worked at Starbucks. There were always customers who came in who had no idea how to order a Starbucks drink. And there were always other customers who ordered their drinks barista perfect…and we appreciated them as members of our weird Starbucks family. We could also, often tell other partners by the complexity of their drinks…But seriously, within Christian, Counseling and Queer circles, having common language to describe common beliefs and experiences is a bonding experience. Within all of these communities, we find it easy to welcome a new member or an ally when they know and use all our proper words.
So then we have our languages and terms and we love them and love when outsiders to our communities use them also.
But what happens when people do not use our proper terms or call us by our chosen names or refer to us by our chosen labels?
For the remainder of this discussion, I will be exploring my experience within the Queer community and how I speak about the community with other Queer folk…and with non-Queer folk.
And incidentally, I will be continuing the discussion in tomorrow’s post. Ha! You are officially hooked, and must now join me tomorrow for more thoughts. Excited to see you then!
Equally as excited to see your thoughts in the comments below….. 🙂