Free Admission!

I’ve been reading the magazine Entertainment Weekly for years now. I like to keep up with pop culture, and EW is well-informed, free of gossip and rumor, and usually really well-written. The back page’s “The Bullseye” section always makes me laugh, and the recent cover story about “the new coming-out” was sensitive and unsensational.

So I was surprised by what I regard as a pretty big lapse in its July 20, 2012 issue. In a story about singer Frank Ocean headlined “The Bravest Man in Hip-Hop,” writer Melissa Maerz wrote that he “…admitted that his ‘first love’ was another man.” In a sidebar review of Ocean’s new album, Maerz also wrote “…he just recently admitted he was once in love with a man…”

Do you see what happened there? Maerz used the verb “admitted,” and that’s really not okay. A same-sex attraction or relationship is not something to be “admitted,” as if it were a crime or something shameful. In the 21st century, you may “reveal” you’re gay, or “declare” it, or “announce” it, or even “celebrate” it, but “admit” should be off the table. It’s especially disappointing since Jess Cagle, the magazine’s managing editor, is himself openly gay.

I don’t think I’m being oversensitive here. Words matter, whether you want them to or not. Trademark attorneys know this; people only use “facial tissue” on television, except in Kleenex ads. Don’t call someone a “liar” in public unless you want to invite a libel suit. They also matter in less overt ways.

When you use the language of criminality or shame in describing people who are neither criminals nor shame worthy, you’re projecting a belief (intentional or not) that they should feel bad about what they are. It emphasizes their otherness and brings them down, in ways that probably aren’t quantifiable but are nonetheless real and hurtful.

This is the first post in an occasional series where I’ll examine language and words, especially as they relate to the LGBT community.