[PBP2013] Words

Words don’t exist for ourselves as individuals. They exist so that we can communicate things, events, and ideas to others. Like it or not, what you think a word should mean is less important than what your audience thinks it means. If your audience is unfamiliar with a word, then sure, you may owe it to them to define it for them, but don’t be surprised if, when you fail to do so, they seek a definition elsewhere and embrace one you dislike, or never intended.

Humans use plenty of words figuratively, metaphorically. When one says “Johnny Depp is a god”, incredibly few literally mean that Johnny Depp stepped down from Olympos to look sexy and act the hell out of whatever character Tim Burton suggests to him; what they mean is “Johnny Depp has qualities that most other people don’t, qualities that are almost or borderline god-like, and is worthy of being looked up to by others in his field”. What a “god” is, in the most literal sense, is an idea that is easily understood by most people –a “god” is a superhuman being that has power over humans and even nature itself and deserves to be worshipped by believers, and so to compare Johnny Depp to a god is generally assumed to be highly flattering. It’s also generally understood that, due to the overwhelming empirical evidence that Johnny Depp is a human being, that to refer to him as a “god” is a use of figurative language –you’re using a word to represent a feeling more than an empirical fact. Figurative language does not change the literal meaning of the words used figuratively; if anything, it reinforces the meanings by making the audience think of what is being figuratively represented in that description of Johnny Depp as a god.

(Of course, Johnny Depp may also be a literal god taking a completely human form and his hypothetical nature as a god may be completely undetectable to modern technology, but that’s irrelevant.)

Now let us take the word “god”. If one would rather un-define “god” not as a superhuman being independent of the human consciousness, but instead as a metaphor itself for an ineffable something within the collective of human experience, one has not eradicated the existence of the gods, nor has one eliminated the idea of what a god is from the human consciousness.

How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? Four. Calling the tail a leg does not make it so.

(Hypothetically) Un-defining “leg” as “any appendage that is not a head” so as to include the tail (you know, to be more-inclusive, and show the tail that it is welcome amongst the legs, I guess –in spite of the fact that it really was always welcome amongst the legs, the whole time) does not change the characteristics of the tail or any of the legs. The tail is still a tail, and serves the functions and purposes of the tail. It will never become a leg, no matter how little the word “leg” comes to mean. The structure and purpose of a leg and a tail are so different, that to list all the differences is not only an objective fact, it’s an empirical fact –if one lacks sight, one can even feel the differences between a dog’s tail and its legs, so broadening the definition of “leg” to include any appendage that is not a head is not only confusing, but potentially dangerous.

Broadly-defined “umbrella terms” serve no purpose outside of political goals, and even then, the empirical observations of many is that there will always be dissent amongst members of the same political groups –TS/TG people may support the Human Rights Council (HRC) in its current primary goals to forward the agenda of same-sex marriage1, but those TS/TG people may still be quick to point out that the HRC’s advocacy of TS/TG interests is incredibly lacking. “The GBLT community” doesn’t account for the vast differences between the subcultures of drag, Bears, butch/femme, twinks, gym bunnies, and so on, but all are accounted for under the umbrella, and maybe only a handful of individuals from each subculture have any intimate knowledge of any other subculture under the umbrella.

“Pagan” has been so loosely defined for so long that it’s an adequate “umbrella term”. On the other hand, “polytheism” means something because it’s a compound word and its components mean something rather specific, when put together.

1: No matter what you might have read on Tumblr or other such echo-chambers for utterly ridiculous people, same-sex marriage (SSM) rights ARE RELEVANT TO THE TS/TG COMMUNITY. Think about it: Not only are there GBL-identified TS/TG persons, including those who may become both legally recognised as the gender they live as and desirous of marrying a now legally same-sexed partner, but there are also literally hundreds, thousands of TS/TG people who are both heterosexually-identified (trans women who exclusively date men, trans men who exclusively date women), and are unable to have their birth certificates legally amended, or the letter on their driver’s license or state/government-issued-ID changed, in order to meet the requirements of the state in order to marry hetero partners –legally, their state recognises them as a same-sex couple. Maybe they were born in Ohio, or Idaho, or one of the other two States that still won’t let trans people amend our birth certificates, no matter how much surgery is had? Maybe they can’t have “the surgery” (for either financial or medical reasons, or, if you’re Anna-Verney Cantodea, you might have spiritual reasons to abstain from surgery) in order to meet state requirements that would allow for their birth certificates to be amended? Maybe some-one isn’t seeking any medical transition at all, not even hormones, but is still able to live full-time (or most of the time) as their preferred gender, but due to being “non-transitioning”, from a medical standpoint, are thus barred from getting their certificate amended or their ID letter altered? Furthermore, within the United States, marriage rights are determined by each State, individually, and there is seriously not a single married TS/TG person in the entire US who, if they were to move to a state that did not recognise SSM, would not have their marriage questioned, come tax season, cos some States won’t recognise a birth certificate that was amended in another State or other “technicalities” –it happens at an alarmingly regular basis, and is such a common occurrence, it rarely makes the news in even the local gaypers. The most pragmatic way to circumvent these laws is universal recognition of SSM. As a trans man, myself, obviously I think that making strides to loosen up on recognition of genders outside the cisgender binary is a good thing that should be striven for, but we’re a lot closer to achieving SSM rights across the Anglosphere than we are to making sure none of those hoops a trans person has to jump through for an ounce of government recognition have to be on fire. I’m also a bit of an outlier to the community in that I think that some hoops at all aren’t necessarily a bad thing.


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