Central PA's LGBT News Source

Our hyperattention to language

Do we have a ‘word police’ problem?


One veteran activist with impeccable credentials wonders aloud if we have a ‘word police’ problem.  Peter Staley is an American HIV/AIDS-LGBT rights activist, known for his work with ACT UP and founding both the Treatment Action Group and the educational website AIDSmeds.com. He is a primary figure in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague. He is currently at work on his memoir.

 Staley isn’t the only person wondering if our hyperattention to language is actually forestalling the kind of change many seek. For example, at the recent Milford Readers and Writers Book Festival, bona fide feminist Susan Faludi said she thought we were having lots of discussions about how to have a discussion, but not the discussions themselves. In other words, she’s asking if our hyper sensitivity to words is inhibiting us to the point where we’re not actually talking to one another for fear of being chastised rather than enlightened?

 No one is suggesting there are no "no-no" words. No one is suggesting that language isn’t important. Staley is suggesting, as are others, that maybe we’re too sensitive to making ‘word mistakes’ that we’re not having the discussions we should.

 Even so, some folks are tackling the situation as evidenced by the Internet exchange below posted by Staley:

Peter Staley Word policing will be the death of progressive politics. We have got to nip this in the bud at some point.

Peter Staley I do it too, and I need to reassess how I go about it going forward, or just start letting stuff slide. We're up against basic human nature. No one likes being told what they can and cannot say. NO ONE. Have you seen the recent polling on this? It is by far the left's biggest liability.

Kevin Lees "Problematic Peter!"

Jeff Zarrillo Omg yes!!!!!!!!!

Sean Sala PREACH

Peter Staley 80% of Americans think "political correctness has gone too far." EIGHTY PERCENT!

Gregg Kapuscinski I'm offended by your use of the word nip

Tom Gualtieri AMEN. I've been saying this for a couple of years now and I'm always told to "take a seat" and "check my privilege," which is equally offensive.

Peter Staley I know some "activists" that spend almost 90% of their time on word policing. THAT'S FUCKING CRAZY. 
We need to stop it with the snowflake mentality, realize that ALL humans are flawed, especially in how we communicate, and just LET SHIT SLIDE while we methodically attempt to change hearts and minds over time.

Peter Staley End of rant. 

Anakh Sul Rama I think words matter differently depending on our priveleges. Growing up the term faggot meant “your going to get beaten if I can catch you” a far cry from fabulous self acceptance of today. (And even further from a bundle of sticks)

Tom Gualtieri There's also a black and white mentality - if you say something wrong, you're the worst person in the world and should be shamed and shunned. It didn't work for the Puritans, it's not going to work for Progressives. It's truly more dangerous than it seems. 
We are all - on both sides - just steps away from Thought Police, which are always driven by self-righteousness.

Mike Friedman I agree with you but when people get called on shit they should not be defensive. This happens all too often. 
But listen. So many of us (me included) are terrible at listening. Especially on-line.

Terry Beswick Yeah there’s something to be said for the brashness of a New Yorker. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning in SF, words choked off, silenced. You know the old trope, if you go far enough to the left, you meet the right.

Chris Rico We constantly let the perfect be the enemy of the good

John Weir I’m a raging word cop, and it exhausts me. Maybe there’s a 12-step program for that.
Still, though, being the target of micro-aggressions is a real and ongoing issue for people of color and transgender people, and so I think that cis gay white guys l know could be more understanding.

Tom Viola YES!!!!

Rick Guasco It must get exhausting policing other people's words; I know it's exhausting have to police my own so that others don't do it for me.

Steven Jack Cheslik-DeMeyer We missed the bud. It's in full flower now. We need a hedge trimmer.

Jody Barnofsky It's not always easy but it's important to try to speak to people, not at them. Many folks have been told of phenomenon like demographic changes and are concerned for various reasons, as so many of us are.

Frank Pizzoli Susan Faludi said at recent Milford Readers and Writers Festival: paraphrase - We're having more discussions about how to have a discussion than actually talking to one another.