The Weapon of Language

The metadata of language fascinates me. The way in which the choice of particular words and phrases reinforces particular ideas or modes of thought. I suspect that my fascination for it was shaped by the experience of growing up gay at a time when the language used to describe people like myself was unrelentingly negative. I began to realise that there was a dissonance between the language used to describe people like myself and my own experience from the inside.
 
I was reminded about this by an interesting article in The Guardian today about how the British Armed Forces dealt with "the problem" (see, there’s the metadata in action) of gays and lesbians in their ranks during the 1950s through to the 1990s.
 
The language used at the time is so very revealing (I’ve highlighted the key metadata words): "a nest of homosexuals", "the homosexual cannot exist in isolation; he must have an accomplice, and usually several – in this lies his greatest threat to the service; given suitable conditions the evil multiplies alarmingly" – written in the 1950s. "[lesbianism] was not properly acknowledged as a problem until 1956", the "abnormal woman who enters the service already perverted" – written in 1971.
 
And just in case you think that this sort of language has died out, I refer you to judge John Freeman’s ruling in the case of a gay asylum seeker. Freeman (what an ironic name) has refused the man’s appeal to stay in Britain and has ruled that he must be returned to Iran – where, of course, homosexuals are still executed for being homosexuals. In his ruling, Freeman wrote: "He [the asylum seeker] says he fled when he realised a member of his coterie  had been arrested by them, apparently leaving an incriminating video in their hands, showing unseemly activity on the part of this appellant and others." (my emphasis on the metadata). Freeman also writes of "engaging in buggery" and describes the apellant’s sexuality as "a predilection". With attitudes like these, it is small wonder that Stonewall has concerns about the case.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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