“Bonjour. Aujourd’hui je vais vous presenter quelques gays”. (trans: “Hi. Today i’ll be introducing you to some gays”)
Huh? What is the bint going on about? Well, i’m making a point – which is, if you look closely, that in French, “Gay” appears to be a noun. It probably isn’t. But that’s how it looks.
And this is my long overdue taking issue with the whole “don’t write about gays, trans, etc. as though they are nouns, because that is disrespectful”.
No, if you’ll pardon my French, it fecking is not. However, it does appear to me that two issues have got inflated, alongside a very old-fashioned and, dare i suggest it, paternalistic pre-chomsky view of grammar.
Sometimes a noun…is just a noun
The basic argument i encounter often is “don’t write about ‘a gay'” cause its disrespectful. Well, it MAY be…but the disrespect is nothing to do with the grammatical usage.
The French sentence above exemplifies something that French does often, and which you can tell they’re doing because they have grammatical gender.
In a bar, you might ask for “un creme”. Wassat? Its a coffee with milk in it. OK. Look closely: its “un”…grammatically masculine. Only “creme” is feminine: so shouldn’t it be “une creme”?
Nope: because French drops words out…and “un creme” is shorthand for “un café creme”: “creme” is acting adjectivally, though it has the function of a noun in that request.
Ditto my intro. Trans Aide (just renamed to Association Nationale Transgenre) quite happily write about “les gays”. They seem to be “nouning” the term…but my guess is that in origin the underlying thought is a sentence referencing “un type gay”.
Back to English. The basic grammar pedant claims that noun and adjective are two totally separate categories. No they ain’t: you got that view from doing English grammar, itself borrowed, in large extent, from a 19th century model of Latin grammar – and its just wrong. Too absolute…too lacking in fluidity to cover language comprehensively.
English abounds with adjectives acting as though they are nouns. Colours, f’rinstance. Snooker: how often does a commentator suggest someone is planning to “pot the black”.
They mean “black ball”…but it would be tedious if they kept inserting balls into their voice-over. If you see what i mean.
Loads and loads of other instances of adjectives acting nounally. “I read two books last week: the more dangerous was by the Marquis de Sade”.
Basically, in loads of situations, language is quite happy to drop trivial words, like “one”, “person” and so on if it speeds up and makes sentences that bit faster.
Just think of police reports: “the suspect is a female”. really? How disrespectful! Only its not. Its just usage…
Respect is the key
Which leaves us where on talking about “gays” and “trans”? First up, i think the regular squawk about nounifying has a lot to do with fashion and follow-the-herd stuff. There’s not a real grammar issue there…and its slightly disingenuous to claim there is.
However, if an individual i am talking to objects to a particular usage, i’ll respect that: there is no need to be rude face-to-face, and if someone dislikes “trans” as noun (or just “trans”) when we’re chatting, i’m not so crass as to force my usage on them.
That’s a bit like gender and titles: if someone identifies as female, identifies as “Ms” its crass to insist on addressing them as other.
In general journalistic use…i’m not impressed by the (enforced) pedantry. I know that there are some much bigger arguments around the language used in respect of any minority and if particular words become viewed as generally disrespectful, i’d go with not using them.
I won’t write “mong”, “poof” or “tranny” unless…there’s a point to be made or some irony somewhere in there. I certainly do not regard those as acceptable terms for everyday journalism.
Otherwise, there is another, possibly more important point. Refering to someone as “a gay” can be perceived to be reducing them to their sexual orientation. I synmpathise…having early in this transition process fallen out with calling myself transsexual. It felt far too limiting and sort of defined me by my gender identity.
That’s a bigger, fairer point…though not totally sure how to get round it. Since it isn’t solved by inserting a noun: calling me a “trans woman” is no better, in this respect, than calling me “trans”: its still limiting.
Dunno. Will be interested in comments. I suspect this one leaves me at odds with a certain community view…but grammar, language, words…those are all, in their way, obsessions of mine…and i dislike restrictions, espesh when they are created on the back of a misunderstanding of what grammar is.