I need to write more on this. Yeah. Anyway, what I want to talk about today is words. Specifically the words ‘gay’ and ‘waitress.’ This is, of course, part of a larger story. ‘Waitress’ is the title of a popular argument between my mother and me. It usually begins like this:
Inkhat: I wonder where the waitress is.
Motherhat: Don’t say waitress. It’s sexist. Say ‘waitstaff.’
Inkhat: But she’s a waitress. She is a female wait-human. You don’t call a lioness a lion-animal. It’s a female lion. It has a word.
Motherhat: That’s not what I mean. It has sexist implications that cannot be separated from the word. Traditionally female roles are separated as unique. Stewardess, actress, waitress.”
Inkhat: So the solution is to delete words from the English language?
Motherhat: It’s a start!
This usually spirals around until the waitress-staff comes back with coffee and we sip it grumpily under furrowy brows. Eventually, after a dozen plays of this super fun game, I realized that my problem is not that I fundamentally disagree about the existence of gendered language, (I don’t. It’s lame), but that I dislike the Newspeak-a-tizing of my language. That’s my art, after all. I do not agree that the solution is to streamline the language.
I was considering this recently as I was considering the problem of same sex marriage. Which is really a problem for the same reason. There is one word and everyone wants it. In this case my mother’s argument works both ways. Marriage is a word with connotations already built into it, and perhaps, instead of fighting those connotations or changing the word, we simply should avoid insult.
Or maybe we should delete it from the vocab all together, as it is causing problems. Maybe we should split it in half, Solomon-wise, and offer each group half. On the other hand, in this case, the connotations are positive. In that case, anyone should have access to it, as they would ‘wait-staff.’
Our problem is categories. This is why ‘gay’ and ‘transexual’ is such a problem. They required new words and new categories and made everyone itchy. They are only a problem because we have already created categories they sit outside of. We are rather mired in the anglo-Christian expectations of culture. Much like Asimov’s “Nightfall,” if we have never considered the stars, we would be terrified by our first sight of them.
But that is not to be used as an excuse. One of the greatest thing my father every gave me was the fact that some cultures had words and roles and expectations for more than two genders - many genders! Why, this allowed a young girl to consider that the problem was not the individuals that would not fit in categories, but the categories themselves. Why not add a dozen words for genders! Why not mix n match! Books of new words every year!
But that ignores the real problem. The real problem is that there are too few words, one actually, and it only belongs to some. The real problem is that some people are trying to keep other people away from a happiness. As with gendered language, women could only act as actresses. They could only serve as waitress. Gay’s can only marry as _____. But, Inkhat, you may say, all this is just arguing in a giant circle that language categories are bad.
Yeah. Exactly. While I hate word-removal and appreciate adding new words by the hundred-full, but my mother is right and I am also right. Words are powerful and their use should be respected. Also, people should just stop being dicks.