Now that I 'm old,
Older than dirt
As I am told,
I can still be hurt.
Words sharp and witty,
As well as stones,
Despite the ditty,
Can break my bones
The central field of battle in every revolution is language. The way we talk about things impacts the way we think about them, and the way we think about things determines what we do about them – both on a personal and a collective level. Ultimately it is the way we organize our world in language that determines how we behave as individuals and how we organize our societies. If we pause to think about the major social revolutions within the United States that have achieved significant results, the importance of language becomes evident. Both the civil rights movement and the feminist revolution put great emphasis on the words that we use in talking about the groups that they represent. The same is true of the struggle of people with disabilities for their civil liberties and their access to all public places within our society. And we find the same emphasis regarding the way we must speak about things in gay liberation.
None of these groups made gains with regard to their place in society with soft-spoken appeals that were geared to avoid offending those defending the status quo. If Martin Luther King Jr. had worried unduly about offending those in positions of power, blacks and whites would still be drinking from separate and unequal water fountains. We do not demand that people speak differently about things than they have become accustomed to without irritating them. Real revolutionary efforts will ruffle feathers. It goes with the turf.
Prior to Stonewall, the gay movement attempted to improve the situation of gay people through small incremental gains that did not demand that mainstream society radically alter its way of understanding and talking about gays. On occasions they even had mental health professionals come to their meetings to explain to them how they ended up with their gender and orientation disabilities. It was only after they demanded – quite un-graciously at times – that they would be the ones who would define themselves, that they made significant progress. This new self-definition required, of course, that the language structures of the mainstream be reformed.
MAPs in prison in the present day who are called “chomos” (or in my case “skinners”) are in the same situation that earlier people were when they were called “niggers” “crips,” “retards,” or “fags.” Even the previously more or less neutral term, “pedophile” has come to mean “piece of shit”. Such terms are dehumanizing in the extreme. They not only determine the individual's position within, or sometimes outside of, the social structure, but in large measure they determine the individual's own personal sense of identity. A person who is called a “skinner” or a “chomo” is hard-pressed not to think of himself as the scum that these terms connote.
The same social and psychological impact of language is evident not only with regard to the labeling of individuals, but also with the labeling of their behavior. Whenever we refer to mutually desired sexual contact between adults and minors as “abuse” or “molestation” or even “rape” we support the mainstream's conviction that their way of perceiving us is accurate. We do not achieve major advances with regard to human rights by using the language of oppression in order to avoid offending those in power.
It is by the use of the language of hysteria and fantasy that the sex offender is murdered socially, and at times, physically. He is stripped of his legal rights and must henceforth live as a homo sacer – a man (or much less often, a woman) who is outside the protection of the law.* Once he has been labeled by society's mental health experts, and (without the scientific pretensions) by ordinary citizens as both sub-human and dangerous, he is cast out of society and must wander in an interpersonal wilderness without any right to normal human relationships, and be subjected daily to intolerable constraints and humiliations that would not be deemed acceptable to a full citizen.
These constraints and humiliations are made possible by the main stream's usurption of language.
*See Dale Spencer, “Sex offenders as homo sacer,” Punishment and Society, Vol 11, Issue 2, 2009.