A General Semantics Approach to Homosexuality

By Brooks, Allan Laurence | ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, July 2009 | Go to article overview

A General Semantics Approach to Homosexuality


Brooks, Allan Laurence, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics


A major practical value of general semantics is its usefulness for evaluating hot-button issues. One such issue is homosexuality. Though awareness of this condition has existed throughout the ages, it has been at various times quietly accepted and winked at ("You know, he's that wayl") or railed against, depending on the circumstances. In recent years in America, it has been brought to the fore in politics and so has generated the expression of the strongly held, opposing views of many people. Beliefs and attitudes are powerful determinants of opinions and these can be difficult to change. A person may be more or less tolerant of certain ideas, but opinions can carry weight for one's welfare. We cannot abdicate the rationality we are capable of, therefore, by leaving it to subjective viewpoints to examine these troubling issues. So it is appropriate that we bring a rational system (G.S.) to bear in discussing the topic.

Time-binding points out how language allows us to think of the subject question in terms of how the present has been affected by the past and how this helps to generate the future. The Bible declares homosexuality an abomination, and this proscription continues to the present time. Yet, we know that in ancient classical Greece, male homo- (that is, same-sex) behavior was commonly accepted. Even today, in many countries the practice continues with open toleration, while it is acknowledged less openly in others. In prisons, where men are in close contact with one another but do not have access to women, homosexuality is often practiced. However, many men involved in these circumstances do not think of themselves as gay and can form stable heterosexual relationships when they return to society. Applying the time-binding concept tells us that this long-standing double standard that exists up to the present is fraught with the potential for more enlightened attitudes to emerge. So perhaps we should think of this past, present, and undoubtedly continuing, behavior as simply mere sexuality. (At a Mexican agricultural fair I once saw a bull mount another bull!) This would be in keeping with the general semantics precept to think "extensionally," that is, in broad, experiential terms, rather than in subjective "intensional" ways.

The governing watchword of general semantics, "the map is not the territory," is an umbrella for other of its tenets. It implies that the word "homosexuality" does not give us specific details about it. G.S. cautions us not to be fooled into thinking that a word tells us what a thing "is" for that would be simplistic and misleading. Nor does the word tell us all about the subject.

Furthermore, we are directed by general semantics to avoid characterizing people by labels, referring to their behaviors instead. If one could plot a distribution of the frequencies of all types of sexual behavior, one would develop a "bell curve." At its center, the peak would represent the frequency of the majority of strictly heterosexual patterns. Even so, the peak would be at the center of a range representing all the variations of heterosexual styles. At one end of the curve would be gay behaviors, and at the other end would be lesbian behaviors. (Note that the curve would never touch zero!) What of the portions of the curve between the limits and the "central tendency?" These would reflect all those degrees and different occasions when--let's face it--variations of same-sex and/or bi-sexual behavior occur.

We are abjured by general semantics to not take polar positions. The bell curve reference implies that even gender may not be entirely an either/or situation.

The bell curve would also tell us something about how we refer to homosexuality. "Straight" people understandably might think of it as so contradictory to expected impulses and behavior that it is beyond what nature has designed. …

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