Word in Edgewise
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
I’ve learned a new word: doxa. According to author Hanne Blank in her most informative new, Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, “When anthropologists talk about this ‘stuff everyone knows,’ they use the term doxa.” She goes on to explain that the word comes from the Greek for “common knowledge,” and is basically what “goes without saying.”
More specifically, doxa is what goes without saying in a particular culture at a particular time–like today’s legalizing gay marriage will destroy the family; children must have one mother and one father; or, all the (insert the persecuted group of the designated period) are ignorant, lazy, dirty, oversexed, etc. Here in our own country those slots have been filled at one time or another by Jews, Irish, Blacks, Chinese, Poles, Greeks, to name a few.
As Blank points out, we didn’t even have heterosexuals (or, for that matter homosexuals) until May 6, 1868, when Austro-Hungarian Karl Maria Kertbeny used those classifications in a letter to Karl Ulrichs (read Straight to learn more about Paragraph 143 of the Prussian Penal Code under discussion). A Minnesotan homesteader in 1858 would not have described himself as “heterosexual,” and while British gays in the early 1800s might have called themselves “mollies,” they wouldn’t have used “homosexuals.”
When heterosexual did come into common usage, as late as 1923 it meant an “abnormal or perverted appetite towards the opposite sex;” not until Merriam-Webster’s 1934 edition had it morphed to “normal sexuality.” Not exactly always and forever.
While all this makes for interesting reading, the light that flashed on upon learning about doxa was that this is exactly what bigots use–or try to use–to create believers. Marriage has always been between one man and one woman. No, it hasn’t, not even in the Bible. Legal same-sex unions will ruin heterosexual marriage. Oh? I have never seen one sensible reason to support that statement. After warning that gays will next want to marry their cocker spaniels, their argument is pretty much spent.
The extremists first work to create doxa through repetition, then use it to manipulate public opinion. The best defense and offense in this war of words? Ask, “How?” “Show me,” “What actual proof have you?” Listen carefully to their answers.