Rhymes With Fuchsia

Monday, August 18, 2008

Straight Up

Do you know the Boy Scout Oath? It says:
On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

To the Boy Scouts of America, morally straight means, among other things, heterosexual, or at least not noticeably homosexual. This has led them afoul of state and local governments that have added homosexuality to their nondiscrimination laws, which imho is a good thing: as a private organization, the BSA can in theory discriminate against anyone they like, but if they choose to exclude people on the basis of sexual orientation (or religion) they shouldn't benefit from public largesse in any form, including the use of public buildings. Since I have no intention of becoming a Boy Scout, though, the question doesn't concern me (although we have stopped buying Christmas wreaths from them).

News stories and blog posts on the topic have, however, gotten me thinking about the word straight, as in heterosexual. I never thought about it much, but undeniably the word connotes goodness or correctness, and its antonyms, bent, crooked, twisted, connote the opposite. Of the 39(!) definitions of straight given by Dictionary.com Unabridged, 11 have to do with moral value; here, for example, are definitions 5 through 9:
  1. without circumlocution; frank; candid: straight speaking.
  2. honest, honorable, or upright, as conduct, dealings, methods, or persons.
  3. Informal. reliable, as a report or information.
  4. right or correct, as reasoning, thinking, or a thinker.
  5. in the proper order or condition: Things are straight now.
Straight does have the virtues of clarity and brevity: everyone knows what it means in context, and it's one syllable as opposed to the six-syllable heterosexual (you can probably get the latter down to four and a half syllables if you're British).

So what do you think? Do I have something here, or have I gone all the way around the politically correct bend? If you agree with me, what term do you use instead of straight? I sometimes say het, but it feels a little too trendy to me; maybe I just need to get used to it.


  • I say you've gone around the PC bend. I have many close gay friends and a gay sibling - none of them have a problem with the term "straight". I think it becomes worse when people mince words trying to be overly PC about it.

    Also it's not so much what you say but what the intent is behind it!

    So I say straight - I've never had anyone offended by it.

    By Blogger Stariel, at 12:25 AM  

  • The term "straight" doesn't bug me at all unless I'm hearing it used like it's a bad thing to be.

    I have issues with the Scouts. I won't support the organization because of their stance on gay members. But it's tough because my dad is an Eagle Scout, and my family has a long history of scouting participation. I think they do something very valuable for the boys and communities they serve, but I'm not willing to support them as long as they are excluding people because of orientation.

    By Blogger Will Pillage For Yarn, at 2:51 AM  

  • Can't say I've really thought about it- I'm not sure many people do. It's just too middle of the road. But I've known too many obnoxious straight edge kids (which begs the question, is there any other kind of straight edge kid?) to completely dismiss the moral undertones that often go along with some of the other definitions of straight! This sounds like a good topic for an "On Language" column!

    By Anonymous Erin, at 8:26 AM  

  • If you think about it 'gay' has some problems to. It means happy, and quite often a gay persons situation is far from happy, feeling the need to hide who they are, and being on the fringes.
    Far from the definition: cheery: bright

    By Blogger Sorka, at 9:19 AM  

  • Language has power - it guides ideas and determines how we think about things. There's a reason we don't use the N-word anymore, why only homophobic people use the word faggot and why no one calls me a cripple (to my face, at least). So yes, 'straight' does have the implication that you descibre.

    On the other hand, though, language and cultural change tends to be driven by the people affected and I haven't heard the gay community talk about this one - not recently, anyway, although I do remember reading about it years ago. Of course, I am not immersed in the community, so I could be wrong. Inetresting post.

    By Blogger Lene Andersen, at 11:47 AM  

  • Mostly I say "straight". Sometimes "hetero". Sometimes "not gay". Sometimes I don't say anything. Let folks figure out on their own what "partner" means... sometimes it is a gay partner, sometimes an unmarried hetero partner, and sometimes a married straight partner...

    By Blogger knitnzu, at 9:00 PM  

  • I'm not gay. does that mean that I'm morose, gloomy and depressed? My friend is not straight. That doesn't mean she is warped, bent or imperfect. I don't think we need to dwell on the negative meanings.

    By Blogger Roxie, at 9:11 AM  

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