Homophobia is bad, says the AP. (Don’t get excited — it’s not what you think.)

The newest edition of the Associated Press Stylebook, a widely used reference for journalists, online now and due to hit the shelves next year, will specifically exclude words including “homophobia” and all other “-phobia” constructions. The online Stylebook defines the suffix “-phobia” as “an irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness” that should not be used “in political or social contexts.”

Casually conflating phobias with quote-”mental disabilities”-unquote in an interview with Politico, AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn said that “a phobia is a psychiatric or medical term for a severe mental disorder. Those terms have been used quite a bit in the past, and we don’t feel that’s quite accurate.”

“Homophobia especially — it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”

“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing,” [Minthorn] said.

The failures are numerous. The AP uses a very specific and clinical definition of “phobia” that doesn’t represent common usage of the word and bundles all forms, levels, and originators of phobias together under the umbrella “severe mental disorder.” They also confuse phobia the noun with -phobia the suffix. “Hydrophobic” would accurately describe my dog’s fear reaction at the beach; it would also describe his condition if he had rabies, and it describes the treatment that keeps my basement walls from absorbing groundwater and collapsing. Words and word parts can carry multiple denotations and connotations; it’s the difference between meanings and meaning.

Moreover, though, the use of “homophobia” to describe the fear of LGBTQ people or homosexuality isn’t entirely inaccurate. Consider how much anti-LGBTQ sentiment is rooted in fear: Fear that The Gays are going to attack our children. Fear that The Gays are going to attack us. Fear that The Gays are going to spread weird gay diseases. Fear that letting The Gays marry will devalue straight marriages. Fear that somehow The Gays will end human reproduction as we know it. Fear that The Gays will bring down God’s wrath upon anyone who doesn’t oppose them. Fear that letting The Gays go about being Gay unharassed will make other people think being gay is okay, and then gayness will spread, which is a bad thing because obviously it is, right?

And no matter how much evidence is presented to contradict all that, no matter how contrary to logic it is, no matter how cruel and unjust it is to look at a person and think yeah, those people are disgusting and despicable and horrible things should happen to them because of who they are, they still cling to their preconceptions, misconceptions, and indoctrinations. Their conclusions, based as they are on false premises, are unsound. It’s irrational, it’s uncontrollable, and just because it isn’t a panic attack at seeing two women kiss at the mall doesn’t mean it isn’t -phobic.

In situations where the AP has a specific, more precise term for a given display of anti-gay action or sentiment, by all means they should deploy it. I fully accept that such circumstances could arise. But discarding homophobia wholesale as a term in common use on the grounds that it isn’t “precise” is foolish. (“Anti-gay” itself is a nebulous concept — anti-gay what? Anti-gay rights? Anti-gay visibility? Anti-the-sin-but-not-the-sinner?) By discarding the use of the word homophobia to describe instances of homophobia, the AP is, in a way, reinforcing those sentiments — implying that fear of the consequences of Unchecked Gayness might actually not be irrational. They’re leaving room, in the name of neutrality, to consider whether the positions, actions, and abuses taken against LGBTQ people could have a basis in reason and rationality.

A lot of the support the AP will get for this change is sure to come from people who simply don’t like being called out on their homophobia — the ones who hide behind ironic terms like “pro-marriage” and “pro-family.” Some of them are completely conscious of their flat-out hatred of LGBTQ people and just want a less contentious way to talk about it; some are so thoroughly indoctrinated by their churches and peers that they sincerely think their fears are justified and perfectly rational. That doesn’t make it so. That doesn’t make their position “neutral.” And that doesn’t mean we need to buy into some friendly, “precise” term to shield these people and their delicate feelings from the reality that their irrational fear and aversion causes actual harm to actual people and deserves no deference — not from us, and not from one of the largest and most prolific media outlets in the world.

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125 Responses

  1. EG
    EG December 7, 2012 at 11:28 am |

    I don’t know. I think I may prefer “anti-gay.” It seems more direct to me. It doesn’t seem to cut homophobes any more slack than “homophobia” does, and I really don’t see how it implies that a fear of gay people isn’t irrational. Particularly in a political context, anyway, people’s fear seems less relevant than the effects of the policies they support/advocate, which makes “anti-gay” seem more to the point to me. It’s not like I have a problem with “homophobia” the word, and I wouldn’t advocate or carry on for this change, but it doesn’t strike me as a blow against rights or anything.

    But perhaps I’m wrong, and as I don’t identify as gay, I’m missing something important?

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm |

      I think I may prefer “anti-gay.” It seems more direct to me. It doesn’t seem to cut homophobes any more slack than “homophobia” does

      I disagree quite strong, actually. Think about “anti-immigration” and what it’s come to mean. Think about “anti-abortion” and what it really means for the pregnant people involved. You really think those cut people less slack than “xenophobic” and “forced-birth”?

      I fucking hate this change. I really do. It gets me in my gut, for all the reasons Caperton outlined and more.

      1. EG
        EG December 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm |

        I think “anti-immigration” and “anti-abortion” cut less slack than “pro-immigration reform” and “pro-life,” and my initial impression was that this move was analogous to that, but I think we cross-posted; below I answered to you to say that if you and Donna, both directly affected, see it differently, then it is clear to me that my perceptions must be off, so I completely defer to your reading of the change. And I’m sorry.

        1. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm |

          EG, I didn’t mean to make you feel piled-on at all! Sorry if it came off that way.

          I acknowledge that there’s a possibility that this move is one in the right direction, but really, if it is, it’ll be despite the AP, not because of it. But you know, I’ve seen this policy in action: the Indian press tends to use anti-gay. It’s a weasel word extraordinaire when you see it being used.

        2. EG
          EG December 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm |

          Oh, I didn’t feel piled-on! Please don’t be sorry. I felt that clearly I was not seeing something that was self-evident to at least two people whose thoughts and politics I respect and admire deeply, so I felt kind of annoyed at myself.

          I realize that when I use “anti-gay” it tends to be closely followed by “bullshit” (i.e. “That is some anti-gay bullshit right there”), so it’s probably stronger in my mind than it’s actually going to be in use by the AP, as you say, and since you’ve seen how it works in practice and that it is not good, I’m sorry that the AP is going that way.

        3. amblingalong
          amblingalong December 9, 2012 at 8:34 pm |

          The failures are numerous. The AP uses a very specific and clinical definition of “phobia” that doesn’t represent common usage of the word and bundles all forms, levels, and originators of phobias together under the umbrella “severe mental disorder.”

          So it’s ok to use the word ‘lame’ to describe uncool people, because the ‘common usage of the word’ isn’t at all related to disability?

          Nope, sorry, I’m not going to get on board with telling disabled people what words they’re allowed to find ablest. A significant number of people with phobias and related conditions feel that using the -phobia suffix in this way minimizes or erases their condition, just like referring to an erratic friend as ‘totally schizo’ or a detail-oriented coworker as ‘OCD’ is out of bounds. I see no reason not to respect that call.

        4. Donna L
          Donna L December 9, 2012 at 9:16 pm |

          Except that it isn’t really analogous to the improper use of words like OCD and schizophrenic in inappropriate contexts, or the use of “lame” as a pejorative term. The non-clinical use of “phobia” (dating back to the late 18th century) not only preceded its clinical use by at least a century, but, much more importantly, has continued in parallel alongside it all along, so much so that the suffix has never stopped being used in both ways.

          I do understand what you’re saying, though, and I can’t think of any other “phobia” words I’m in the habit of using. But I just can’t see my way to giving up using homophobia and transphobia, in their commonly-used sense of implying a complete absence of rationality; I don’t think most people either mean or interpret them to imply an actual illness, or as belittling people who are phobic in a clinical sense.

          In addition, homophobia and transphobia both convey the idea that it’s not a positive thing to be that way, which anti-gay and anti-trans do not. (At best, those terms are neutral, as others have said; at worst, they imply to me that it’s good to be anti-gay or anti-trans.)

          Plus, if you eliminate “transphobic” in favor of “anti-trans,” then it becomes a lot harder to make the distinction from cissexist or ciscentric — both of which have meanings that are quite different from “transphobic.” Not that I don’t also use anti-trans sometimes; I’d just really hate to have to limit my vocabulary.

        5. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm |

          Nope, sorry, I’m not going to get on board with telling disabled people what words they’re allowed to find ablest.

          Well, disabled people and people who use homophobic are not mutually exclusive groups, but since you’re treating them as such, and basically telling me that I’m not allowed to judge on axes of oppression I personally face, I’m forced to reply thusly:

          LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL no.

        6. amblingalong
          amblingalong December 9, 2012 at 9:30 pm |

          DonnaL-

          I completely understand your point, and I think this is just another example of how language which is the product of an oppressive culture is so often inadequate to carefully express anti-oppressive concepts. I’m both able-bodied and cis, so I’m not going to hold forth about the Right Answer; I guess where I come down is that I understand people who feel that -phobia words are offensive, and also understand people who don’t want to surrender -phobia words as critical to their anti-oppressive work. As unsatisfying as that may be.

          The only part I want to push back on a little is this:

          But I just can’t see my way to giving up using homophobia and transphobia, in their commonly-used sense of implying a complete absence of rationality; I don’t think most people either mean or interpret them to imply an actual illness, or as belittling people who are phobic in a clinical sense.

          This logic would seem to suggest words like ‘lame,’ which are totally disconnected from disability in most people’s minds (in fact, I didn’t even know lame could refer to a disability until I was fairly old), are OK. How people ‘mean and interpret’ words can’t be the standard- or if it is, it means a lot of words that we’ve made off-limits in this space need to be re-examined.

          Really, I’m not trying to push a big agenda here; I just feel like there’s a little bit of an internal contradiction here, which I think is worth talking about, even if we don’t update our lexicon as a result.

        7. amblingalong
          amblingalong December 9, 2012 at 9:34 pm |

          Well, disabled people and people who use homophobic are not mutually exclusive groups, but since you’re treating them as such, and basically telling me that I’m not allowed to judge on axes of oppression I personally face, I’m forced to reply thusly:

          LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL no.

          Mac- sorry if what I wrote read that way, because it’s not what I meant. If people who are both lgbt and disabled make that call one way or another, I am absolutely not second-guessing that. I’m also (like I said above) not trying to force people to stop using -phobia words altogether. I was, however, irritated with the idea of dismissing concerns about -phobia words out of hand, especially since I know people who are routinely hurt by that language.

        8. Donna L
          Donna L December 9, 2012 at 9:44 pm |

          I get what you’re saying too, amblingalong. My point about “lame” was simply that (completely unlike homophobia and transphobia) its actual original meaning is a reference to a disability. In fact, when I was growing up that’s the only meaning I knew (perhaps from reading a Victorian children’s book called The Little Lame Prince); the pejorative meaning was something I didn’t learn until much later. I guess the fact that we’re from different generations probably explains our different perception of that word.

  2. JBL55
    JBL55 December 7, 2012 at 11:35 am |

    I believe in accuracy, too, which is why I call “pro-life” people “forced birthers.”

    For a while I’ve been referring to homophobes as bigots simply because it properly lumps them in with racists and sexists. Sure beats “pro-family.”

  3. Donna L
    Donna L December 7, 2012 at 11:40 am |

    Given the stated justification of wanting to be “more neutral,” and given the fact that the AP is also going to ban the use of the word “transphobia,” I responded as follows on another forum when this news came out a couple of weeks ago:


    I’ll think that maybe, just maybe, what the AP just did is OK when they ban the use of “pro-life” for forced birthers, in favor of something “more neutral” like “anti-abortion.” I’m not holding my breath.

    Of course “homophobia” and “transphobia” aren’t “scientifically” accurate, and of course there’s no consensus that hatred of LGBT people is necessarily based on pathological fear. So what? The words have a common, accepted meaning superseding their literal, etymological meaning, and there are no other words having the same meaning that can be used instead, in the interest of some sort of fake neutrality — which actually serves only to promote homophobia and transphobia.

    Are they banning the word “racist” in favor of “anti-black” or “anti-Asian”? So far as I’m concerned, that kind of neutrality isn’t really neutrality at all.

    1. stonebiscuit
      stonebiscuit December 7, 2012 at 11:57 am |

      I’ll think that maybe, just maybe, what the AP just did is OK when they ban the use of “pro-life” for forced birthers, in favor of something “more neutral” like “anti-abortion.

      If my memory serves, AP style does call for the use of “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life.”

      1. EG
        EG December 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm |

        If that’s true, I’m all in favor of that. I hate “pro-life.” I prefer “pro-forced-birth” to “anti-abortion,” because the former takes in their opposition to contraception and sex ed as well, but I’ll take “anti-abortion.” It’s accurate and non-euphemistic, if a bit narrow.

        1. stonebiscuit
          stonebiscuit December 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm |

          I looked it up; it is true. Has been for at least a decade.

      2. Anna
        Anna December 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm |

        If my memory serves, AP style does call for the use of “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life.”

        You are correct. Here is the full entry for “abortion”:

        Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and pro-abortion rights instead of pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.

        It’s been like that since at least 2000, which is the year I first started gaining familiarity with AP style.

    2. EG
      EG December 7, 2012 at 11:57 am |

      I didn’t realize they were banning “transphobia” as well. Donna, I want to ask while recognizing that you may not feel like spelling out something that should be obvious and if so, I completely accept it, if you would explain to me the ways in which “anti-gay” and “anti-trans” are more forgiving of homo- and transphobia. I’m not being condescending–or at least I’m not trying to be. What I mean is I genuinely don’t understand, but I trust that there’s something there because I trust your perceptions, and I would like to understand.

      I think the nearest analog that would affect me isn’t working to help me understand, because if the AP started using “anti-woman” or “misogynist” instead of “sexist,” I’d be good with that.

      1. Beatrice
        Beatrice December 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm |

        EG,

        I think a better analogy would be if AP wanted to ban the word misogyny because “men we call misogynists don’t really hate women, but are just prejudiced against them” or some similar explanation.

        1. Christina
          Christina December 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm |

          Fwiw, that’s actually exactly why I generally don’t like using “misogyny” – it just so likely to give the other person an easy out and derail the conversation. As soon as it’s used people pounce on the etymology to the detriment of meaning. “Anti-woman” on the other hand leaves no room for misconceptions: if you are anti-women you are against half of the world’s population – against their rights, against their bodily autonomy, against equality with men. It allow the conversation to remain where it should be, rather forcing a diversion into a lengthy explanation of how all these things effectively amount to a hatred of women, regardless of whether the subject feels consumed with dark feelings of rage and loathing. I also like “sexist” very much for the same reason.

    3. Drahill
      Drahill December 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

      I think the issue that comes up with the word “racism” is that its really, really broadly defined. The dictionary definition is:

      a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
      2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
      3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

      That is a super-broad definition that could, in theory, encompass a ton of different beliefs, different beliefs and such (like, under this definition, minority race members can be racist against the majority race or against each other). Personally, the term racism is so freakishly broad that its almost, to me, become shorthand for a ton of things, not all of them accurate. The word racism itself has become turned and reapproproated so much that its worrisome. The only advantage I see to words like homophobia or transphobia is that they are harder to take to the other side and twist, because they, at least on a semantic level, more accurate (if not scientifically).

    4. Anna
      Anna December 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm |

      AP style for “pro-life” is “anti-abortion.”

    5. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:06 pm |

      They’re also banning “transphobia”? But…doesn’t that even technically fit the requirements for a phobia? Being irrationally afraid of someone who isn’t 100% assigned-gender-conforming? Because while I acknowledge that there’s non-fear-based homophobia (it’s usually based on hate or irrational religiosity instead) there’s almost no non-fear-based transphobia, IMO. Particularly since there’s so, so many religions that don’t even necessarily condemn non-gender-conforming individuals of any stripe.

      Argh, if I needed more proof that this “explanation” is a load of malarkey.

    6. matlun
      matlun December 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm |

      The words have a common, accepted meaning superseding their literal, etymological meaning

      That is the key argument for me. The etymological argument is just like people arguing that “antisemitism” should include racism against Arabs and other semitic people (typically as part of “Arabs can not be antisemitic”). That is simply not the current meaning of that word – etymology is irrelevant.

      1. EG
        EG December 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm |

        Yes to this. Etymology is interesting and can tell you about histories of meaning and language development, but it is not be-all and end-all of current meaning. The word “vagina” in Latin means “sheath,” but I don’t go around sticking swords in mine.

      2. matlun
        matlun December 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

        Also, even if you do consider etymology I do think that homophobia is often pretty close to a phobia.

        It is often based on a feeling of disgust towards the sexual act. Ie you have
        A. Disgust of the idea of themselves taking part in this act
        B. This is associated with gays performing this act
        C. This is associated with gays as persons

        Note that this type of associating feelings to concepts and especially the feeling of disgust “contaminating” other concepts associated with the original concept is a totally irrational, primitive way of thinking.

        So in these cases, homophobia is a strong, irrational aversion, which is pretty close to the definition of a phobia.

        I will take the chance to link to this TED talk about how the feeling of disgust can irrationally affect our thinking.

      3. Donna L
        Donna L December 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm |

        Not to mention that regardless of etymology, the term “anti-Semitism” was specifically intended by the people who invented it to refer only to Jews, to provide a “scientific”-sounding term for Jew-hatred.

  4. Drahill
    Drahill December 7, 2012 at 11:55 am |

    Well, they’re not totally off the mark by linking phobia to a mental condition. The term phobia has become too general – any fear is now termed a phobia. At least when I was in my psych program, we were instructed that a phobia is an irrational fear – rational fear is not phobic, which eliminates a lot of fears. However, homophobia would fit right in, since there is no rational reason to really fear gay people. Secondly, the fear must be so severe that it impacts the person’s functioning. A person who is afraid of needles but can still go and get a vaccine or have blood drawn does not have a phobia of needles. A person who will try to run from the room, attack a medical assistant who comes in with one or who will refuse needed medical care due to a needle has a phobia.

    So basically, I have never gotten why objections to gay rights ever got classified as homophobia in the first place. I mean, sure, true homophobia might exist SOMEWHERE, in somebody. However, like a majority of phobias, its likely incredibly rare. I personally say “anti-gay rights,” because its accurate. Don’t know how a psychological descriptor ever became associated with a right-wing political cause.

  5. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 11:57 am |

    Monday’s agenda: let’s remove “racism” and replace it with “ethnic skew” because we’re all one race really yanno, and how about we round off Wednesday by redefining misogyny as “gender perception bias”, and finish off with an early Thursday of calling transphobia “anti-gender stereotype nonconforming individual” so we can go to our old boys’ club Friday and laugh about how we made those minorities SQUIRM!

    Seriously, though; if you’re LGBT and this redefinition doesn’t make you feel punched in the gut, you’re either seeing something entirely different from what I am, or you’re a little too privileged.

    “Anti-gay” is a nice mild word. Anyone straight but otherwise marginalised might want to wonder why people want to define bigotry, bullying, discrimination, marginalisation, violence and murder with nice mild words, and take note of the parallels.

    And what a lovely masterpiece that statement is. Covering their asses while they peddle bullets apologies to hate-filled fucks.

    1. EG
      EG December 7, 2012 at 12:01 pm |

      I think my perception is that I don’t hear “anti-gay” as nice or mild. I hear it as calling a spade a spade. But I will defer to you and Donna on this as you both are directly affected and I am not. If it comes off as nicer and milder to both of you, then it is my perceptions that are off.

    2. Jadey
      Jadey December 7, 2012 at 12:13 pm |

      Queer and not really seeing this as a gut-punch. I don’t happen to like the term “homophobia” and tend to use anti-gay/anti-queer myself. I agree with Caperton’s point about the different cultural meanings of the -phobia suffix, but I also feel like that one particular definition does tend to be evoked regardless and have never liked the term because of it.

      (I do use “transphobia”, although I will often use “trans hatred” or “cissexism” if one of those seems more apt, but as a cis person I’m less inclined to comment on that one because it’s not my term.)

      The AP write-up does sound a bit smug and dismissive to me and I think that contributes to “anti-gay” sounding like a milder substitute, because when I use that phrase, it definitely isn’t. I think the problem is more with how AP is presenting their decision than the literal word substitution itself. The neutrality comment is bullshit ass-covering – “anti-gay” ISN’T more neutral. In fact, I think it’s less euphemistic and therefore less neutral.

      In research circles, “homophobia” has already largely been replaced with “homonegativity”, which I find to be more blah and clinical-sounding.

      1. Bagelsan
        Bagelsan December 7, 2012 at 12:17 pm |

        Ditto. Not straight, not gut-punched.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm |

        See, I come from a country where “anti-gay” is used far more than “homophobic” and it’s, uh, not really an ideal word when you see it in action, IMO. But like I said, you’re seeing something different. There’s room for interpretation. I just feel, very strongly, that if there’s a betterment in reporting after this, it will be despite, not because of the AP’s intentions.

      3. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

        I don’t happen to like the term “homophobia” and tend to use anti-gay/anti-queer myself.

        See, it’s not so much the death of “homophobia” that bothers me as much as the use of “anti-gay”. Anti- is not a moral judgment, and you bet your ass I want moral judgment attached to hatred against non-straights. I really hate the way it’s presented in Indian politics, and I don’t want to see that become general convention. I mean, you can be “anti-gay” and still be a decent person in your own mind. A “homophobe”? Not really.

        Ideally, I’d love to see “heterosexist” or “gay-hating” take root. That would be my perfect world.

        1. Jadey
          Jadey December 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm |

          Hm, I think that’s where we differ, because I do read a moral judgement into “anti-”. Like, I used to describe myself as “anti-alcohol”, whereas now I would say I’m a “non-drinker”, and I think those convey very different meanings. And when I describe someone as being “anti-choice” or “anti-abortion”, I definitely mean someone who is taking a moral opposition to those things. Anyone who claims to be “anti-” something while also claiming they aren’t making a judgement on it is seriously kidding themselves (which, yes, totally happens anyway).

          So I can see how people could try to take the term and misrepresent in ways that are more difficult with “-phobe” or “hate” appended terms. It doesn’t change how I feel exactly, but I can understand how someone could feel differently about it.

        2. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 1:32 pm |

          See, I see where you’re coming from? And there’s really good arguments all over this thread that “homophobia” isnt’ the best word, and I’m sliding towards agreeing, now. But I just don’t see the moral judgment in “anti” myself. I’m anti a lot of thigns that I don’t really personally hate/fear. Also, like I said, I’m speaking from the experience of seeing this policy in action. Lived bloody experience, that’s supposed to matter, right?

          Anti-gay just feels to me like the new version of “I don’t agree with homosexuality”. It’s a nice way to put “you homofuckers are unnatural and I want to deny you your rights because I’m just awesome like that”, but that’s still exactly what you’re saying… in nice G-rated language that literally can’t be attacked without being met with “well that’s just what I feel, I just don’t AGREE, we can agree to disagree on your basic humanity, that’s what civilised people do, they agree to disagree” in my experience. But maybe I just run in less progressive circles.

        3. SophiaBlue
          SophiaBlue December 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

          Jadey I think you and macavitykitsune might be talking about different things. While someone who is anti-gay is making a moral judgment, the word “anti-gay” is neutral on whether they themselves are moral or not. Compare to, anti-racism, which (for us at least) obviously has positive connotations. “Homophobia” on the other hand, does seem to me to convey the idea that the thing it’s describing is bad.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm |

          Sophia, I love you, that is exactly what I wanted to convey, but couldn’t get into words!

        5. Jadey
          Jadey December 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm |

          Hmm, okay, I can grok that, Sophia. I suppose part of the gap for me is that I don’t care so much about how people view themselves as how *I* view them, so I didn’t think about it from that angle initially. But that’s something of a luxury for me. I have to recognize that I’m privileged in *most* ways, and therefore insulated from certain things.

        6. Lindsay
          Lindsay December 7, 2012 at 5:54 pm |

          @macavitykitsune:

          Anti-gay just feels to me like the new version of ‘I don’t agree with homosexuality’. It’s a nice way to put ‘you homofuckers are unnatural and I want to deny you your rights because I’m just awesome like that’, but that’s still exactly what you’re saying … in nice G-rated language that literally can’t be attacked without being met with ‘well, that’s just what I feel, I just don’t AGREE, we can agree to disagree on your basic humanity

          Yes, I see this too. I also live in a pretty homophobic environment (Kansas, USA), and while it might not be as bad here as it is where you are, but I *definitely* see lots of “oh, they just DISAGREE” or “they’re conservative Christians” or “they have traditional values”, which to my mind confers an awful lot of legitimacy on a bigoted, hateful worldview. It’s like, I want to be left alone and be able to live my life in peace, and they want me not to exist. Those are not equivalent goals, and it does curdle my insides a bit to see newspapers treating them as if they were.

          So I get where you’re coming from, too, even if I’m not especially attached to “homophobia” for the reasons SeanH mentions below.

          (I like the connotation of irrationality, I don’t like the implication that hating queer folks is a mental illness and they just can’t help it).

        7. DouglasG
          DouglasG December 7, 2012 at 9:51 pm |

          I tend to use pretty much a whole rainbow of terms, and have generally found it easier to choose between anti-gay and homophobic than, say, between heterosexist and heterocentric. Generally, thought-based actions or statements that might repay the effort of engagement strike me as anti-gay, and anything gut-based where any change will only come from within as homophobic. I suppose I could squeeze something like gay-hating into the middle, but that would be rather like indigo. I do occasionally use gay-negative as probably the most neutral term at hand.

          Hetero-sexist/centric/normative feel as if they want to centre things from the other side, which could have a lot of uses, but would be unnerving if that became the dominant mode of address.

          This change strikes me as a direct or indirect attempt to influence the conversation in favour of the “I’m Not a Homophobe” crowd. If their feelings are going to be centred, it usually means Bad Things.

  6. SeanH
    SeanH December 7, 2012 at 12:03 pm |

    As a mentally ill person, I welcome this change. The association of moral evil with mental illness is age-old, and it hurts people like me. It also makes heterosexism a personal failing, and thereby gives people who perpetuate it an out – I don’t feel afraid of gay people, so I’m not oppressive!

    1. Bagelsan
      Bagelsan December 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm |

      Yes, I’d love if people would look at this from an ableist perspective — this is a step in the right direction, moving away from blaming “an irrational fear” (oh, were my childhood panic attacks secretly bigotry?) for pure hatred. They just aren’t synonymous, and never should have been. “Homophobia” is an unproductive word to ever start with, frankly.

      1. Palaverer
        Palaverer December 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm |

        Thank you. This article seems hypocritical to me. I admit I tend to feel this way about certain ableist terms, that they no longer carry a clinical connotation so I don’t have a problem with their usage (though I respect the concerns of disabled individuals, so in practice, I avoid them). But come on, be consistent in applying that reasoning! If it’s not okay to use “cr@zy” as a political epithet because of it’s association with mental disability, then phobia should also be off-limits. Or is there something I’m missing?

        1. Meropi
          Meropi December 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm |

          I don’t think this is the case here, I’m inclined to think both current uses of the suffix ‘-phobia’ developed in parallel. Checking with an etymology dictionary (etymonline, not the best but the only one I have at hand right now) it lists 1786 as the entry-date for the word “phobia”, meaning “irrational fear, aversion, horror” in the English language. The same dictionary also lists “Anglophobia”, attested as early as 1793, meaning hatred or fear of England and English people, while the clinical use of the suffix “-phobia” became standard throughout and later in the 19th century. The way I see it, the suffix didn’t initially refer only to mental disability, it was versatile from the beginning.

      2. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm |

        Oh, for fuck’s sake. I’m going to echo you on my comment: not neurotypical, not welcoming this. Seriously, the “ableism” in calling an irrational fear of something an irrational fear of something: I don’t see it.

        Depends what you’re having panic about, doesn’t it? The bigoted notion that the Gays Will Get You or, I dunno, an actual panic attack, which I’ve had and which weren’t actually motivated by wanting to string boys up on fences?

    2. Bagelsan
      Bagelsan December 7, 2012 at 12:15 pm |

      For one, I’ve never been so irrationally afraid that I’ve murdered someone. And no one ever is — calling a hatred-motivated violent assault a “phobic” response is technically bullshit. Aren’t we trying to push back against things like the “trans panic” defense? This seems like a step in that direction.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

        Like I said upthread, though, I wouldn’t mind getting rid of homophobia if it’s replaced with heterosexism, or “gay hatred” (and bi hatred, lesbian hatred, trans hatred, etc). Anti-gay doesn’t convey enough of a judgment to me, and while homophobia isn’t perfect, it’s better than that. And I can deal with the “ableism” (fucking what? Like you seriously think there aren’t bigots out there who are sincerely afraid of gay people and hate them because of it?) quite nicely in the meantime.

        Signed, a multiphobic anxiety sufferer.

        1. SeanH
          SeanH December 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm |

          Certainly I think there are such people. But I’m equally sure that it’s not all such people, and I doubt it’s most such people. I don’t think people who casually insult gay people are afraid of gay people. I don’t think people who pass laws banning state schools from discussing homosexuality are afraid of gay people. And more to the point, if they were it wouldn’t be the fear that was bad, it would be their actions.

    3. wembley
      wembley December 7, 2012 at 8:33 pm |

      Just raising my hand as a crazy (depression, anxiety, OCD) who’s got no problem with the word “homophobia.” This somewhat misnamed but entirely useful word does nothing to denigrate my depression, my anxiety, my OCD, or the paralyzing terror I feel upon seeing spiders.

      While I’m at it, I’m a crazy who’s gonna keep on saying “crazy” as a synonym for “foolish and irrational” (seeing as my depressive & anxious episodes rob me of my rationality — I am not my symptoms and while my disease makes me who I am, I’d be happy to have it excised and be somebody entirely different, since my disease is entirely negative (unlike the neutral or even positive things that also make me who I am, like my gender (lady), my sexual orientation (bi), my Judaism, my brown hair, etc.). Society’s denigration of mental illness sucks. You know what sucks even more? My mental illness. This derail brought to you by my huge metric fuckton of problems with the social model of disability. Viva la homophobia. The word, that is. Actual homophobia can go die in a fire.

      1. EG
        EG December 8, 2012 at 11:33 am |

        While I’m at it, I’m a crazy who’s gonna keep on saying “crazy” as a synonym for “foolish and irrational” (seeing as my depressive & anxious episodes rob me of my rationality — I am not my symptoms and while my disease makes me who I am, I’d be happy to have it excised and be somebody entirely different, since my disease is entirely negative

        As somebody who is dysthymic and depressive, I completely agree with this, and why I continue to use “crazy” as a synonym for “disconnected from reality.” My depressive thinking is completely disconnected from reality. It doesn’t make any sense and is, in a word, crazy.

    4. Tom Foolery
      Tom Foolery December 8, 2012 at 4:25 am |

      I can’t help but laugh at this whole line of conversation. All the arguments being leveled in favor of retaining the word homophobia in the face of the accusation of ableism would be shouted down if they were used in the same way to defend different terms. Pulling out dictionary definitions? “I’m non-neurotypical, and I say this term is OK?” See how far that gets somebody who’s called out for describing a Republican fiscal plan as “insanity.”

      It’s like you folks have never even seen one of these debates play out before.

  7. stonebiscuit
    stonebiscuit December 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm |

    They’re leaving room, in the name of neutrality, to consider whether the positions, actions, and abuses taken against LGBTQ people could have a basis in reason and rationality.

    That’s a pretty huge leap. They’re substituted “anti-gay” (and similar phrases), which is pretty unequivocal, for “homophobia,” which arguably leaves room for people to excuse bad behavior on the basis of fear. That doesn’t strike me as an invitation to declare those bad behaviors are rational.

  8. A.Y. Siu
    A.Y. Siu December 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm |

    The whole rationale of “it’s not scientific” is a baloney basis for not using the term homophobic. Why do we have to dissect the origins of word parts to use words properly? English is an ever-evolving language, and consensus (not etymology) dictates meaning.

    That said, as an albeit hetero-privileged person, I don’t see why anti-gay is more nebulous or less desirable-to-use a term than homophobic.

  9. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

    So, maybe I’m wildly off-base here, but here’s how I see the roots of most of the bigotry non-straights experience, through the narratives:

    1) “The gay is catching” = fear that traditional masculinity/femininity will be destroyed if people take on different relationship models. Leads to ostracism.

    2) “The gays want the kids!” = fear that the current social model will not survive, because children are gullible. Leads to persecution.

    3) “The gays are pedophiles!” = basically a major smear campaign to hide the fact that people are terrified their kids will be gay somehow.

    4) “Gay people want to destroy straight marriage!” = fear that “traditional” marriage’s death will take away Straight Speshulness.

    5) “My religion forbids it!” = hiding behind social ostracism (which isn’t even real, as most if not all religions have gay-friendly branches now) in order to hide the other fears above.

    6) “People won’t procreate!” = fear that women in particular won’t be subject to the patriarchy’s demand for births. Leads to Quiverfull-like crap.

    7) “Gays will ruin society!” = fear that the current social model which privileges them will give way to equality, which is perceived as a loss, because clearly human rights are a zero-sum game.

    I dunno, seems like pretty much every major narrative against gay people is based in fear. And unless someone wants to argue that this is a rational fear, I think it fits the bill of a phobia really quite well, actually.

    1. Jadey
      Jadey December 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm |

      I totally agree with existence of the examples you give, but they don’t cover the whole gamut of my experience. I know plenty of ignorant, heterosexist haters who just think being gay is gross and stupid because it’s not their experience. The ideological narratives are prominent and memorable, but IME the everyday “homophobia” I encounter is of a much more mundane, non-fearful variety: entitled, narrow-minded ignorance. They are aware of the ideological narratives and will spout them to justify their ignorance and narrow-mindedness, but not with any conviction greater than sheer convenience (“Well, isn’t that what everyone thinks?”). They don’t seem to actually embody the emotions that go with them. It’s just another easy way for them to get through their day as the “normal” one.

      Again, that isn’t to say there aren’t people who sincerely endorse both the beliefs and the feelings that go with them, but in my experience those people are the extreme cases.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 7, 2012 at 1:38 pm |

        LOL, well, central Alberta isn’t like that, as I’m sure you know, but I can see how that would shape your views.

        Personally, I just…

        “He’s a nice guy, he just has some gay-hating beliefs.”
        vs
        “He’s a nice guy, he just has some anti-gay beliefs.”
        Or
        “She just thinks that there’s some really valid gay-hating arguments out there.”
        vs
        “She just thinks that there’s some really valid anti-gay arguments out there.”
        Or
        “They just want people to understand that gay hate is also a valid moral standpoint.”
        vs
        “They just want people to understand that being anti-gay is also a valid moral standpoint.”

        Personally, I find the first to be much more impactful and accurate than the second in each case.

        1. Jadey
          Jadey December 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm |

          Well, I am in the prairies right now! But spending a lot of time in academic settings where most of the crap I run into is very subtle and coded or just blatant ignorant crap from a 19-year-old straight white middle-class kid who has never questioned their assumptions about anything, much less their own privilege.

          I dunno, I don’t get the same different feeling as you do off those statements – I read “anti” as just as negative as “hate”. But I think we can chalk this one up to purely different experiences and I would never want to over-write yours, especially when based on what you say in India “anti-” has been successfully co-opted. And I do understand how someone could find it easier to try explaining away “anti” in a way they can’t with “hate” or “hatred”, though I think that enough people play silly games with “-phobia” too that the trade-off between that and “anti-” isn’t so huge. If I had my druthers, I’d go with “hate” every time.

        2. piny
          piny December 8, 2012 at 6:04 am |

          But why one or the other? We get to have “male privilege,” “sexism,” and “misogyny,” right? Why can’t we use “homophobia,” “anti-gay,” “bigotry,” and “hatred,” where appropriate?

          I’m not with the AP. I think that homophobia is a valuable term, and I have a problem with “anti-gay” being formulated in the same way as “anti-rape.” I don’t think there are reasonable arguments to be made against homosexuality, and I don’t think straight people pay enough attention to the fear and disgust aspects of homophobia.

        3. Jadey
          Jadey December 8, 2012 at 9:31 am |

          Actually, that is where I have the most problems with “homophobia” as a term, because the “-phobic” suffix to me does NOT signal disgust and fear. It signals “mental disorder”.

          I do not think that “homophobia” as it is intended is a mental disorder in anyway, but I don’t like conflating the terminology at all. I don’t want to associate “-phobia” with a dehumanization response in any context. To me that sounds like the argument, “But when I say ‘that’s gay’ I just mean ‘that’s bad’!”.

          (Also, I’m kind of sick of it being implied, intentionally or otherwise, that I am a bad queer person/not a queer person for not fully agreeing. I don’t think you intended to do that, but replying to my comment directly with the phrase “I don’t think straight people pay enough attention” is kind of feeding into that effect. Can we just stop with the sexuality policing and universalizing on this thread already?)

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 9, 2012 at 12:51 am |

          And I do understand how someone could find it easier to try explaining away “anti” in a way they can’t with “hate” or “hatred”, though I think that enough people play silly games with “-phobia” too that the trade-off between that and “anti-” isn’t so huge. If I had my druthers, I’d go with “hate” every time.

          I don’t think the trade-off between phobia and anti- is huge. I would rather see “heterosexist” or ideally “gay-hating” but we both know that’s never going to happen.

          Also, I’m kind of sick of it being implied, intentionally or otherwise, that I am a bad queer person/not a queer person for not fully agreeing.

          Umm…I know you were talking to piny, but you seem to be responding to my comment too, so…I did point out specifically in my initial comment that it was entirely possible other LGBT people were seeing something completely different from me (e.g. Bagelsan’s points about mental disorders, yours about anti- vs -phobic, which, while I disagree, I still consider to be valid). It wasn’t intended to judge you. Sorry if it came off that way.

    2. Jadey
      Jadey December 7, 2012 at 1:24 pm |

      I should say, I don’t want to suggest that my experiences are universal either. Obviously I spend my time in particular places and go through the world with other characteristics that affect how I interact with it.

  10. Brandy
    Brandy December 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

    There was a short-lived blog on this topic: Bigotry is Not a Mental Illness, run by “a group of trans*, queer, disabled SJ activists with phobias.” I’m not sure how I feel about it but it seems worth sharing here.

  11. Valoniel
    Valoniel December 7, 2012 at 1:33 pm |

    I think that what the pushback here is about is that, while ‘homophobia’ has its issues as a descriptor (leaving space to justify shit like ‘trans panic’, etc.), it’s well-known and does encompass the baseless fear which motivates so much of the associated behaviours and ideas, while ‘anti-gay’ doesn’t really go far enough to incorporate that fear and the hatred that goes along with it.

    Like some people have said upthread, ‘anti-gay’ is a bit too neutral, leaving room for whatever interpretations people wish to put on it. I think that we’ve all seen how easy it is to co-opt ‘anti-abortion’ that way (“I’m not a misogynist, I’m just anti-abortion!”, but the fact is that anti-abortion is necessarily anti-woman, and the term just isn’t concrete enough to stand up against redefinition), and I think that the gut reaction here is that we’re taking away something that has a definite negative connotation and replacing it with something so open to redefinition that it’s basically useless in terms of describing all the hatred and baseless fear and anger that ‘homophobic’ has come to mean. It leaves too much room for “People can have reasons for opposing equal rights for gays that aren’t homophobic”, and that’s just not okay.

    Yes, being anti-gay should be necessarily bad, but humans have this lovely way of twisting things, and if we leave too much room for making rope, we may just wind up with a darling macrame plant hanger, instead.

    A new word. We need it.

    (Heterosexist seems decent, IMO)

  12. A4
    A4 December 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm |

    Straight people telling gay people which words are objectively acceptable when describing their experiences of oppression.

    Forcing a discussion on whether we are being fair enough to homophobes in our descriptions of them.

    Attempting to be more “value-neutral” in discussions of homophobic attitudes and actions.

    Further devaluing one of the most common English words used to describe oppression against LGBTQ people, thereby contributing to the devaluation of writings that use this word when attempting to combat homophobia.

    These are the reasons why this is a homophobic thing for the AP to be doing. This unilateral decision works to diffuse established narratives combating homophobia and removes support from those individuals who feel this word is accurate in describing their experiences of oppression.

  13. Paul
    Paul December 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm |

    Before discussing “homophobia,” how about outlawing the hundreds of nonsense “-phobias” that exist only to make smug word nerds feel smart at trivia nights?

    While I’m at it, collective nouns also need to go.

    1. Rhoanna
      Rhoanna December 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm |

      Most of those collective nouns do not exist for most English speakers. If you said “a leash of rabbits” or “a parcel of crows”, and weren’t talking about an actual leash or parcel, people would look at you like “WTF?”.

    2. SophiaBlue
      SophiaBlue December 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm |

      I’m sorry, that site has only convinced me that collective nouns are the best thing ever. I’m trying to decide if I like “A parliament of owls” or “An unkindness of ravens” more.

      1. (BFing)Sarah
        (BFing)Sarah December 7, 2012 at 9:34 pm |

        Personally, I prefer an unkindness of ravens.

    3. Chataya
      Chataya December 7, 2012 at 4:56 pm |

      I will shank the first person to suggest getting rid of “murder of crows”, “business of ferrets”, or “mischief of rats”. Them’s fightin’ words.

    4. librarygoose
      librarygoose December 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm |

      Girls like swarms of things, don’t they?

  14. gratuitous_violet
    gratuitous_violet December 7, 2012 at 3:04 pm |

    …people actually follow the AP guidelines? According to my 2009 stylebook, one should refer to a person by the gender they express in public, and yet journalists across the country sure seem to be comfortable misgendering people. But hey, the AP gets to feel noble and a bunch of straights get to do their favorite thing, pontificate academically about the lives of others!

    Ahh, journalism. Where they tell you on the first day that your goal is “to afflict the powerful and comfort the powerless,” then on the second day they tell you your real goal is to not upset your bosses/the paper’s owner.

    1. Donna L
      Donna L December 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm |

      Thank you, I was just thinking exactly the same thing. Instead of banning terms like “transphobia,” maybe they should expend more effort in making sure that their own guidelines are followed, so that every time something awful happens to a trans woman, there isn’t a story referring to her as “he,” a “man in women’s clothing,” etc.

    2. stonebiscuit
      stonebiscuit December 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm |

      Well, they are only guidelines. All publications have their own house rules and their own editors making their own judgement based on the style guide. It’s not like the AP has a dedicated force of Style Enforcers (though NGL I would read that webcomic religiously).

      1. Donna L
        Donna L December 7, 2012 at 3:39 pm |

        I meant that I’m not sure that those particular guidelines are always followed even in AP stories, never mind other publications that have their own rules.

    3. AK
      AK December 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

      Yeah, that’s also a really good point. Misgendering does happen in AP articles even though it’s not supposed to, and it’s not like that’s a small mistake that is just overlooked.

      I imagine most news outlets that would normally allow their writers to use “homophobia” probably aren’t going to enforce this change. I know a couple of regional publications I write for have already stated that they won’t. But I also imagine that it will be used by some to subtly influence editorial policy when it comes to articles about gay rights without seeming openly bigoted.

  15. AK
    AK December 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm |

    I have mixed feelings about this, as a writer who often writes for outlets that use AP style. I do think that “anti-gay” is more neutral than “homophobic,” but I also do think it’s more accurate and more appropriate for a news piece, which should strive for neutrality in a perfect world.

    But on the other hand, this is far from a perfect world and clearly a lot of bias exists in the news, and it tends to lean towards bigotry. So with reality in mind, I would prefer to still be able to use the word “homophobia” when I feel it is appropriate.

    And, at the same time, I kind of wonder if it is that big of a deal. I know in my writing, I tend to use “anti-gay” or “anti-gay sentiment” in any writing more formal than my own blog (where of course I don’t have to follow AP guidelines), but my writing is still very biased in favor of gay rights. I prefer to keep my own words neutral and instead share the hateful things people say and do to show their bigotry. I think it’s effective, personally (of course I would though). So in my own writing, it won’t change much. It also seems like most of the formal articles I read outside of special-interest publications (I’m thinking Huffington Post as an example of general news, The Advocate as an example of special interest) do the same way, but I will have to research that now. The other side of this coin, of course, is that if not much changes and “anti-gay” was already more common in mainstream news outlets, why the need to ban “homophobia” at all?

    And reading how outraged a lot of people are, and keeping in mind that a lot of terms are still okay, a part of me hopes we’ll just start calling homophobes out in harsher language. I’m pretty sure calling someone a bigot is still okay, after all, and that makes it rather unambiguous. ;)

    I appreciate reading everyone’s thoughts on the matter, and it really has made me think (especially mac, thank you for sharing your experience with media that has that guideline). It also interests me how differently we all react to various terms–I have a mental illness too (including panic attacks) and would never have thought of homophobia as an ableist term, for example–so thank you all for sharing that too.

  16. Confused
    Confused December 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm |

    AP is on the money here. I was actually ambivalent about this until I read their explanation, which I found to be much more compelling than this critique.

    “Homophobia” is mostly a political attempt to medicalize those with whom you have political disagreement. Even if you disagree with those who think homosexuality is unnatural, dirty, or whatever, it’s beyond a stretch to view them as mentally ill in the same way as someone who, e.g., has a fear of flying. “Homophobia” makes about as much sense as deeming liberals to suffer from “conservaphobia.”

    Now, I don’t doubt there are actually people with legitimately pathological responses to homosexuals. But those people are probably relatively rare and most people to whom the “homophobe” label is applied do not come close to that.

    Just because we disagree with someone we shouldn’t resort to cheap and silly language games.

    1. tomek
      tomek December 7, 2012 at 4:02 pm |

      haha gladly i will admit to conservaphobia :)

    2. gratuitous_violet
      gratuitous_violet December 7, 2012 at 4:25 pm |

      Yeah, I disagree entirely about the tone of their explanation because I can’t decide if they’re trying to not offend -phobics by cheapening our suffix or trying to not offend bigots by associating them with mental disorders. One would bother me less than the other, obviously, but let me just say that my (official!) claustrophobia is a hell of a lot more rational than any anti-gay bigotry so I’m not entirely comfortable with the change being put forth supposedly in benefit of the feelings of people like me. Mostly, though, in a world where bias only seems to roll downhill and the press still holds disproportionate power to sway discourse, I’m not comfortable with the AP attempting to diminish our semantic arsenal against bigotry. This claustrophobic finds all interpretations of their explanation uncompelling.

      (But also I agree 100% with Safiya. “Islamophobic” needs to be gone, since at least 2001.)

      1. gratuitous_violet
        gratuitous_violet December 7, 2012 at 4:31 pm |

        Ach, Safiya, I misread your comment at first. “Islamophobia” has always rubbed me the wrong way, but the fact that Muslims have fought to get it recognized to distinguish the sentiment from plain-ol racism makes a lot of sense and I will definitely be reconsidering in the future.

        1. Beatrice
          Beatrice December 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm |

          Sorry, didn’t refresh before posting

      2. Beatrice
        Beatrice December 7, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

        I don’t read Safiya as being against the word Islamophobia. She just says that the word would also go if the same logic is followed, not that it would be a good thing.
        And if I’m reading her correctly, I would agree with her.

        1. Safiya Outlines
          Safiya Outlines December 8, 2012 at 6:22 am |

          Yes, just to to clarify, I think Islamophobia is an important word and correctly describes both the source of hostility towards Muslims as well as how this hostility manifests itself in practice.

          Much anti-Muslim/Islamophobic legislation or campaigning runs on the basis that Muslims must be stopped in some way or… (insert doom of western society here), the widely-circuted youtube video, claiming that Muslims were “outbreeding” everyone in Europe was a pretty good example of this.

  17. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines December 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

    “Islamophobia” is another word that would go, which is a word the Muslim community has had to fight to be acknowledged, as it describes how the fear-mongering against us works.

    -hatred or anti- doesn’t cut it, IMO, because it ignores the fear aspect and also, because lots of them would be happy as being described as anti-Muslim,would see it as a point of pride. Islamophobia as a term hasn’t been worn in that way.

    1. matlun
      matlun December 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

      I have never really like “Islamophobia”, actually.

      “Homophobia” and “transphobia” are both directly referencing groups of people, while “Islamophobia” is referencing an ideology. That is different – taking a position against an ideology is much different from being against a group of people.

      “Anti-Muslim” seems better to me. It will include also cultural Muslims who do not have strong religious convictions, and it makes it much clearer that it is an attitude similar to racism and other bigotry, antipathy against a cultural group as opposed to a disagreement about religion and politics.

      1. Safiya Outlines
        Safiya Outlines December 7, 2012 at 8:57 pm |

        So Muslims aren’t a group of people then? Also that “it’s the ideology we’re criticising” is exactly what Islamophobes say, along with “Islam isn’t a race so we’re aren’t being racist” – even though they’ll often be using racist/orientalist tropes.

        Especially as that “taking a position against an ideology” is not mere academic discourse, but something that has caused real harm to many Muslims, whether it’s putting hateful posters on the subway, banning face veils to violent foreign policy.

        1. matlun
          matlun December 8, 2012 at 5:53 am |

          Also that “it’s the ideology we’re criticising” is exactly what Islamophobes say

          Yes, but isn’t it just unnecessary to give them that excuse?

          Very often it is just a classical anti-immigrant position, and they are criticizing Islam not because of the nature of the religion, but because it is a associated with the other. The bigotry is not necessarily associated with Islam any more than antisemitism is associated with the teachings of Judaism.

          On the other hand, criticizing Islam and Islamic norms is in principle as acceptable as criticizing for example Christian churches and their reactionary, patriarchal attitudes.

          While Muslims are defined through a heritage within Islam, there is a difference between the cultural group and the religion.

          I think the term “islamophobia” just confuses the issue.

        2. amblingalong
          amblingalong December 10, 2012 at 1:44 am |

          Exactly. I’m an athiest and I actually have pretty good reasons to be afraid of establishment religions, including Islam; I’ve lived in places where my lack of faith was, at least technically, illegal. So I think it’s very important to distinguish between hatred of or discrimination against Muslims, and sustained critique of Islam, because I actually think a lot about Islam is seriously fucked up (it has plenty of company in Christianity and Judaism and pretty much every other major religion).

          If someone wants to talk about how irrational and objectively false (and violent and homophobic and misogynistic) the Koran is, a lot of people are going to call that Islamiphobic, but I don’t see that as particularly problematic, so long as they’re not trying to make the Bible or Torah look good by comparison (because they’re really, really, not).

    2. tomek
      tomek December 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm |

      is possible for one to disagree with aims of political islam, such like the situation current in europe. this is not islamophobia. it just differs of opinion. i have no problem with muslim in general or peaceful muslim who wish not to exact there beliefs upon other. most people whom are disagree with islam is disagree with militat political islam who wish to subjugate other

      1. Safiya Outlines
        Safiya Outlines December 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

        Considering only today Pamela Geller has released details of her latest Islamophobic poster, which features a quote from the Qur’an pulled out of context, I think you are missing the point.

        There’s also the fact that it is incredibly rare that I’ve seen one of these supposed “critiques” of Islam the religion that did not lapse into orientalism/racism against Muslims the people.

        You’re argument smacks of hair-splitting and since I distinctly recall you denying away Islamophobia on here before, I’m not inclined to engage with you further on this.

        1. amblingalong
          amblingalong December 10, 2012 at 1:52 am |

          There’s also the fact that it is incredibly rare that I’ve seen one of these supposed “critiques” of Islam the religion that did not lapse into orientalism/racism against Muslims the people.

          Totally valid, but this depends on where you’re looking. Politically, a lot of anti-Islam talk is also Christian supremacist and anti-immigrant, but there a huge body of literature on the myriad ways Islam (or religion in general) makes the world a worse place that is neither of those things.

    3. konkonsn
      konkonsn December 7, 2012 at 9:30 pm |

      This is also why I have a problem with anti-gay. It does not, at all, convey how absolutely disgusting the anti-gay person is being.

      But I also can see by other arguments in this thread how the “phobic” side is ableist because I definitely hate it when people use OCD and bi-polar casually.

      There needs to be a middle ground. Heterosexist sounds really good. But the Islamophobia…I’m not sure. Because, yes, I have heard people use “anti-Muslim” as a point of pride. Being anti something is just your “opinion.” In the US at least, we already have negative attachments to -ists from racist, sexist, misogynist, and -phobic from homophobic. Those tags bring up more of the hatred, remind us of people picking and shouting slurs and denying people the right to vote and other basic liberties.

  18. Philip Finn
    Philip Finn December 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |

    Perhaps the inmates have taken over the asylum…

  19. Joe
    Joe December 7, 2012 at 5:49 pm |

    I like this. Homophobia is offensive to people with mental illnesses and minimizes both the discrimination and the moral culpability of those who engage in it. Anti-gay is neutral, precise and forceful.

    (FWIW, I’m gay and have a mental illness.)

    1. Ben
      Ben December 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm |

      I don’t like this. I don’t understand the minimization argument. Why does “homophobia” minimize discrimination? That’s counterintuitive to me. I’m not concerned about “moral culpability” though I suspect some readers are and I look forward to their thoughts.

      Eliminating the term “homophobia” is not:

      neutral – I don’t know what neutrality means here. In fact, using the term “homophobe” allows us to distinguish between rational arguments against gays (for example, population decline) and irrational, (for example, wrath of God). But I suspect I’m missing something. Can anyone explain why this is a neutral move?

      precise – Well, see the previous paragraph for why this is imprecise. Furthermore, as a straight, I am by definition “anti-” (opposite of) “gay”. However I am not “anti-gay” and have worked for more than 20 years to expand gay rights. The distinction between rational and irrational arguments against the lgbtq* community are critical and rejecting the term that distinguishes them leads to imprecision.

      forceful – Huh? Polarizing is the word I would use. I do not, however, equate polarization with force. I guess polarization might be a tactic to stem the rising tide of gay rights. (I loves me some mixed metaphores)

      Help me understand your point. You made several broad claims that don’t make sense to me.

      1. Joe
        Joe December 8, 2012 at 1:03 am |

        Hi, and I apologize for the overly cryptic reply.

        Minimization – homophobia sounds like a reflex reaction of aversion and plays into the whole anti-gay narrative about how they just don’t want gays in their whatever. In my opinion, anti-gay attitudes are actively propagated and enforced and these people aren’t simply reacting but in some cases even actively trying to increase discrimination.

        Neutral – homophobia implies that opposition to gays is born out of irrational fear (and not, say, ideology). Anti-gay doesn’t present theories about its genesis.

        Precise – if I said I was anti-woman and anti-semitic, would you think I was just a non-Jewish man? Also, I can’t really see why population decline is any better as a rationale for discrimination.

  20. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos December 7, 2012 at 6:12 pm |

    One problem I think they have with these changes is that “ethnic cleansing” is a term of art in international law to describe illegal activities that were not originally covered by the definition of genocide.

    I think the AP is stepping right into the etymological fallacy. I’m not overly fond of the word, but the language used to describe lgbtq* people is defined by lgbtq* people and there’s 41 years of history and theory using homophobia to describe a certain type of prejudice. An earlier generation of lgbtq* people did what subcultures did, they claimed and redefined language for their own needs (and mine). We can advocate that alternate words should be used, but we can’t and shouldn’t attempt to roll back the linguistic clock and say that it means something different from what 40 years of queer theory and activism has done with it.

    Queer language is defined by queers. This isn’t something that the AP (or the APA) has an authority over, nor is “homophobia” something that should added to a list of items to be routinely modified by copyeditors. The nuances, politics, and stakeholders in this matter are things that need to be discussed among the sources using the word, the reporters who know the story, and the editors who know the audience.

    The mass media, including the AP, routinely gets it wrong because they refuse to listen to our voices, understand our language, or do the homework on its history. (It’s not just an lbgtq*, they often don’t grok science or religion either.) I don’t see this as an exception.

  21. Au Contraire
    Au Contraire December 7, 2012 at 7:24 pm |

    Homophobia is not a mental illness and should not be conflated with phobia disorders. As a word, it technically means “fear of”, but even the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people”. Not a fear, not a disease.

    Homophobia is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The main criteria for a specific phobia is extreme anxiety (i.e. panic attacks) and avoidance of the phobic stimulus.

    Homophobes refusing to leaves their houses and crossing the street to avoid gay people, while problematic, is not the same thing as homophobes voting against gay marriage and other civil rights and, you know, ASSAULTING AND MURDERING gay people.

    1. Au Contraire
      Au Contraire December 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm |

      And because I forgot to say it before, I really appreciate this post. I love me some Oxford comma, but fuck you AP.

  22. snorkellingfish
    snorkellingfish December 7, 2012 at 9:03 pm |

    I’m in agreement with macavitykitsune on this one. To me, anti-gay feels more neutral and doesn’t carry the same moral judgment. I don’t think that somebody who hates gay people would object to being called anti-gay in the same way they object to being called a homophobe: the latter is regarded in our society as a condemnation while the first is merely a statement of their position. I disagree anti-gay positions, so I’ll personally judge, but the language itself doesn’t have the same connotations.

    I also think that there’s a lot of power in having a word to describe something. Having a single, concise word to describe anti-gay sentiments – homophobia – conveys the sense that it’s a real enough problem for language to recognise. It validates our fear of homophobic prejudice. To me, “anti-gay” minimises the systematic and widespread reality of homophobia.

    As someone who’s neurotypical, I’d be more accepting of the ableism argument – after all, it’s not my place to decide what’s ableist – but that doesn’t look like where AP is coming from. I hate that they’re calling for something “more neutral”. Hatred of gay people isn’t neutral. It’s not an issue that has two sides. I don’t give a fuck about the feelings of homophobes, and a discussion of homophobia shouldn’t be a “neutral” affair that places the feelings of homophobes on the same level as the feelings of gay people.

  23. konkonsn
    konkonsn December 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm |

    All the arguments here are great, and this is actually just a minor pet peeve of mine in comparison to the discussion, but…

    I hate it when a group of people decide they’re going to govern language and tell us stupid masses what’s right and wrong to use because etymology and science and, “I’m just better educated than you so shut up.”

    If this was a group of people with mental illnesses or an TGLB group (or if they had consulted either of the groups), yes, I would be fine with that. But honestly, I studied English at a college level for seven years, and the only people I’ve ever had tell me that academic standards on language are important were older, white men who had some extremely bloated egos.

  24. Li
    Li December 7, 2012 at 11:56 pm |

    So, I think it’s important to recognise the context of “homophobia” when it first started being used. It’s absolutely designed to pathologise heterosexism, but the reason that pathologisation was so useful as a political tactic is because for most of the twentieth century queer people were themselves pathologised as mentally ill. It’s really easy to say that homophobia has always been an unproductive word, as Bagelsan does above, but that argument glosses over the fact that queer people were, in the period in which the term arose, consistently treated as being sick and therefore had an interest in moving the locus of disfunction away from themselves and onto their oppressors.

    Now, I don’t think that sickness or mental illness are as widespread and institutionalised as understandings of queerness as they have been in earlier decades, but they’re still there. Many queer people still get coerced into ‘treatment’ programs or have family and community ostracise them as sick. And while that intersection of ableism and heterosexism remains, I don’t think it’s necessarily worthwhile denying people the opportunity to use “homophobia” as a way of exorcising the toxic narratives of illness that some queer people are made to live under and shifting them onto their oppressors.

  25. igglanova
    igglanova December 8, 2012 at 12:13 am |

    This decision stinks of pandering. The only people ‘pathologized’ by the label of homophobia are homophobes themselves. And they have earned that stigma.

  26. FYouMudFlaps
    FYouMudFlaps December 8, 2012 at 2:44 am |

    Yeah, we don’t need any more NPR “All things Considered” polite crap. Enough.

  27. nivedita
    nivedita December 8, 2012 at 2:02 pm |

    Homophobes and bullies need to be fined 10,000 US dollars if they commit crime against gays. All gay friendly organisations and gay friendly celebrities should come forward and ensure that the fined amount is paid. Homophobes and bullies feel that they can get away with their crimes. Those who commit crime against gays go on to commit crimes against heterosexuals too. In case of child bullies, their parents must be fined. This is because homophobic parents teach their children to hate. All parents are responsible for their child’s behaviour. Crime against gays is a loophole in the society that needs to be corrected.

  28. Donna L
    Donna L December 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm |

    I think the only practical effect this change will have is temporarily placating the religious right, which has been pushing for a long time to end the use of words like homophobia and, more recently, transphobia. In fact, I would be willing to bet that 99.9% of the time that the word homophobia has been used in AP articles, given the non-editorial nature of most of what the AP does, it’s been in the course of quoting somebody’s statement, rather than being used by the author of the article. (The same is probably true for transphobia, although I suspect that the total number of AP articles using that word at all in the history of the world is probably tiny.) And that isn’t going to change, since I don’t think the AP is about to start altering the words of people’s statements or the names of organizations or events.

    So this is almost entirely a symbolic change in policy, and I don’t like what it symbolizes for all the reasons others have said.

    1. Donna L
      Donna L December 9, 2012 at 12:36 am |

      Here’s just one example of how the homophobic religious right is applauding this change, which they’ve been advocating for a long time. They see it as a victory for them, and I agree:

      http://americansfortruth.com/2012/12/04/ap-style-book-ends-use-of-smear-term-homophobia/

      AP Style Book Ends Use of Smear Term ‘Homophobia’ in Political and Social Contexts

      Needless to say, we at AFTAH are pleased that the Associated Press has dispensed with the use of the pejorative term “homophobia” in its official and influential Style Book. “Homophobia” is usually employed by pro-”gay” advocates to denigrate sincere and well-meaning opponents of homosexuality as irrational bigots.

      Predictably, homosexual activists like John Aravosis — the very types who routinely smear pro-family advocates like this writer (and organizations like the Boy Scouts) as “homophobes” — are disappointed with AP’s decision.

      We at Americans For Truth, like our peers in the pro-family, conservative movement who stand in principled and faith-based opposition to the LGBT political and cultural agenda, do not “fear” homosexuals. We simply disagree profoundly with the normalization of homosexual behavior and the elevation of homosexuality and “gay” identity to “civil rights” status.

      Of course, there are people who do fear homosexuals, but there are also people who fear conservative Christians. So isn’t it odd that “homophobia” (and “Islamophobia”) became mainstreamed in America’s media-driven lexicon, while “Christian-phobia” did not? (And now transgender activists, piggybacking off the semantic success of their homosexual allies, are pushing the equally dubious “transphobia” to advance their agenda.) . . . .

      We will have more on this story. For now, it is gratifying to see AP make a move toward neutrality, objectivity and fairness in its coverage of homosexuality.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune December 9, 2012 at 12:44 am |

        Thank you for digging this up and posting, Donna.

        Just…thanks.

        I’ve been avoiding certain sites simply because I didn’t want to encounter their coverage of how the cesspit of homophobic (ooh, I think I just oppressed my phobic self there!) bile on the internet would react to this.

      2. Chataya
        Chataya December 9, 2012 at 1:52 am |

        Just an FYI, I got a malicious site warning when I clicked on that link.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L December 9, 2012 at 2:28 am |

          No question it’s a malicious site, but not in that way so far as I know!

        2. Chataya
          Chataya December 9, 2012 at 2:36 am |

          @ Donna, no question about that!

          I think Chrome is just being over protective, it does that occasionally. It did not give me a warning the second time I clicked.

  29. a lawyer
    a lawyer December 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm |

    It seems like a relevant distinction because it distinguishes between internal thoughts and external actions.

    A set of ACTIONS can have a pro-gay or anti-gay effect irrespective of what the ACTORS thought about them at the time, and irrespective of what the actors intended to happen.

    IOW: Not every anti-gay action is motivated by homophobia… and not every action of a homophobe is actually, in the end, anti-gay. It’s good not to confuse them.

    1. Miss S
      Miss S December 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm |

      Can you elaborate? What anti gay actions aren’t motivated by homophobia, and what actions of homophobes aren’t anti gay?

      1. a lawyer
        a lawyer December 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm |

        Political votes are great examples.

        Officials can compromise and trade votes which have the effect of supporting or opposing gay rights. Assuming you’re not an idealist, you presumably acknowledge that not every political vote is a precise match for the personal beliefs of the official who casts it.

        The important aspect of an anti-gay-marriage vote is that it’s anti-gay. You don’t know just from the vote whether the official is a homophobic asswipe (though it’s the most likely scenario)… or whether he’s somewhat in support of gay rights, but is not yet powerful enough to do something about it. Or whether he could only throw his political capital at one issue this year, and decided to go with “stop the war” instead of gay rights, because he knew the vote wasn’t anywhere close to passing and he felt like it would do more social good somewhere else.

        Making a decision that you’ll spend your political capital on Important Subject A rather than on gay rights isn’t necessarily homophobic (though it often is) but it still is anti-gay.

        Similarly: If it becomes obvious that a gay rights vote will win, there will probably be some people who will join the vote in favor. Maybe they want to vote on the winning side, or they want to get other compromises in exchange for a yes vote, or whatever. Making a pro-gay-rights vote is in fact pro-gay but it doesn’t preclude any of those folks from being homophobic or from holding a generally anti-gay agenda.

  30. Miss S
    Miss S December 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm |

    I never thought the term homophobia made sense, because I associate phobias with anxiety and irrational fear. I don’t think the people we describe as homophobic are phobic in the true sense of the word- I think they’re bigoted. As someone who has anxiety, (which I believe is at least somewhat similar to phobias) I would imagine that someone with a phobia would actively avoid the things that scares them- not build political platforms out of hatred.

    So from an ableist perspective, this makes sense to me. That said, I appreciate the perspectives of others who disagree.

    I would be curious to know how people with phobias feel about this, and whether they believe that the term homophobic is ableist or contributes to stigma.

    1. macavitykitsune
      macavitykitsune December 9, 2012 at 12:47 am |

      I would be curious to know how people with phobias feel about this, and whether they believe that the term homophobic is ableist or contributes to stigma.

      I have phobias (at least two that fuck with my life, a couple other fears that verge on them). I hate this change. I think it’s a victory for people who want to move to “neutral” (i.e. weaselly) coverage of gay issues. Honestly, I don’t care if it’s ableist or not (though I would, for reasons I outlined above, argue it isn’t ableist). The thought of using “anti-gay” to describe the shit I see around me, instead of “homophobic” makes me sick, because I’m apparently required to be nice to people who want to hurt me, hurt my family, my child.

      1. Miss S
        Miss S December 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm |

        The thought of using “anti-gay” to describe the shit I see around me, instead of “homophobic” makes me sick, because I’m apparently required to be nice to people who want to hurt me, hurt my family, my child.

        This is where we differ though- I don’t see anti gay as nice, although I did note your explanations above as to why you do.

      2. sabrina
        sabrina December 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm |

        I also have phobias and I find the term homophobia incredibly ableist and offensive. I don’t agree with this change in particular because I agree with you on the root of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that this term in particular is pretty bad. I would prefer to change to the term orientationist personally.

    2. Chataya
      Chataya December 9, 2012 at 2:07 am |

      As someone with rather extreme anxiety and the occasional hallucination (bugs crawling on me, waking multiple times in the night to make sure my partner is still breathing, obsessing over whether I locked the door, etc.), I appreciate the move away from the ableism. My anxieties are the result of my brain being stupid, they are uncontrollable and unintentional. For someone who hates LGBT people, intentionally, maliciously, deliberately, to be put on the same level as someone like me; to pretend that those people are not calculatingly, rationally, and willingly evil but just “phobic” drastically underestimates the enemy.

      1. Miss S
        Miss S December 9, 2012 at 3:14 pm |

        Chataya, these are the lines I was thinking along. Phobias are involuntary. I feel like homophobia suggests these people can’t help it. THEY CAN. It’s not an involuntary reaction to commit a hate crime. It’s not an involuntary reaction to build a political platform around denying people rights. It doesn’t look like irrational fear- it looks deliberate and strategic.

      2. sabrina
        sabrina December 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm |

        This. So. Much

  31. Weekend Linkroll « M. Fenn
    Weekend Linkroll « M. Fenn December 9, 2012 at 9:49 am |

    [...] Homophobia is bad, says the AP. (Don’t get excited — it’s not what you think.) I’ve always preferred heterosexist to homophobic, myself, but this doesn’t seem good to me. Of course, it’s the AP. We shouldn’t expect anything good. [...]

  32. sabrina
    sabrina December 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm |

    The AP is way off here on attempting to create neutrality where there should be none. Being a bigot is unacceptable. You do not get to try and deny someone their rights just because you choose to hate them. Here’s the thing though. The term homophobia is not only extremely inaccurate specifically for the reason that MissA spoke about above, but it’s also incredibly hurtful to me as someone with a phobia. I have a mental illness. A bigot does not and I really don’t like sharing a term with people who choose to maltreat and hate other people.

  33. Pseudonym
    Pseudonym December 12, 2012 at 3:42 am |

    Personally I would go with heterosupremacist.

Comments are closed.