On Monday, I pointed several times (and here) to John Allen's curious use (with the approval of National Catholic Reporter's editors, one assumes) of the term "homosexuals" when he reported about what Pope Francis said to journalists on the airplane that day: "Pope on Homosexuals: 'Who Am I to Judge?'" As I noted, Father James Martin finds it significant that the pope did not use the word "homosexuals" when he made his statement about not judging gay human beings: he used the word "gays."
Here's Max Lindenman at his Diary of a Wimpy Catholic site on the day the pope said "gay":
As a relatively recent convert, I still have about as many gay close friends as Catholic ones. Referring to them by the words they choose themselves seems like nothing more than simple good manners. It helps throw a positive light on my conversion, indeed, on the whole notion of conversion. Insisting on using terms they find distasteful seems a positive insult, not to mention a sure conversation-stopper, on the order of "His mama calls him 'Clay,' so I call him 'Clay.'"
And so I ask--and I intend to keep asking: if it's self-evident to so many folks that calling people what they ask to be called is "nothing more than simple good manners," why do major Catholic journalists like John Allen and major Catholic publications like National Catholic Reporter continue to use a term that most members of the gay community have long since critiqued and discarded--the word "homosexual"--to identify members of the gay community? When these journalists are reporting on papal remarks that did not use that term?
I see a lot of ruffled feathers at the major Catholic blog sites in the past several days about those who are pressing this point. I hear a lot of defensiveness among Catholic journalists who are obviously discontent that increasing numbers of Catholics wonder why even our best and brightest journalists seem stuck in bad-manners mode when it comes to speaking of their gay brothers and sisters.
Increasing numbers of Catholics wonder why even our best and brightest journalists seem stuck in othering mode and remain intent on speaking of those who are gay as if they are other than who and what normal Catholics are . . . .
Interestingly enough, almost every one of those I hear grousing about those pressing this critique in the last several days are straight men. Personally, I don't think it's in the least beside the point to note this: if we're going to take seriously the other word that the pope used in his interview with journalists when he spoke of how gay human beings should be treated by the church--the word "marginalization"--we're necessarily going to have to engage questions about who has power and who doesn't, about who wields power to keep others powerless, about who defines whom and who benefits from controlling definitions. We're going to have to take seriously what Edward Said and Cornel West call the "normative gaze" that those with power use as they talk about, analyze, define, and, ultimately, dismiss anyone who is not part of their power circle--as they apply terms to the marginalized that, by their very nature, reflect and uphold the normativity of the definers, when they tag the marginalized as sub-normal.
We're going to have to engage questions of straight male power and privilege within the Catholic community and in the world at large. That is, if we're really serious about overcoming marginalization and about deploring injustice--or about behaving, as Cardinal Dolan informs us we should behave, with mercy, graciousness, and respect towards those who happen to have been made
homosexual gay by God . . . .