TRC #608: Is ‘Sexual Preference’ Offensive? + Book Reviews: Woodward; Cohen; Alinsky; Chomsky

After negative reaction and backlash to Amy Coney Barrett using the term, Adam digs into whether ‘sexual preference’ is offensive. Next, Darren brings us another book review roundup including some titles that recently spawned several headlines: ‘Rage’ by Bob Woodward, ‘Disloyal’ by Michael Cohen, ‘Rules for Radicals’ by Saul Alinsky and ‘What We Say Goes’ by Noam Chomsky.

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Is ‘Sexual Preference’ Offensive?

@SteveKrak on Twitter

Barrett apologizes for causing offense after Sen. Hirono slams her for using term “sexual preference” – CNN

preference – Merriam-Webseter

Why Amy Coney Barrett’s use of the term ‘sexual preference’ at her hearing alarmed so many – MSN

Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language – APA

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4 Responses to TRC #608: Is ‘Sexual Preference’ Offensive? + Book Reviews: Woodward; Cohen; Alinsky; Chomsky

  1. Rich W. says:

    Speaking as an older creature myself, I have to agree that ACB likely didn’t intend any offense. “Sexual Preference” was the colloquial term used by most people when I was younger, and the anti-gay crowd would always use unambiguous terms that are not appropriate for your great website. We just didn’t think much about specific language* in my circles, which also meant the correction to “orientation” was easy to accept once explained. So I can easily give ACB the benefit of the doubt for either not being up to date or just slipping back into old terminology without realizing.

    … like when your mother asks you to go to Woolworth’s with her to get your cousin that Atari game before stopping for dinner at Burger Chef.

    In the end, I believe Sen. Hirono was just looking for an excuse to show outrage where she could have easily offered a correction. Either way they still wouldn’t have had to discuss the truly troublesome leanings of ACB.

    Thanks again for another lovely show.

    * I wish I’d been exposed to Noam Chomsky’s work back then!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Rich. I think I agree with the caveat that I can’t really know what she meant behind what she said. Age could certainly be a factor. If I were 10 or 20 years younger, or more in touch with today’s youth, perhaps I’d already have heard this term!

  2. David Allen says:

    Just my opinion, but I think you give ACB too much credit when you said “she didn’t need to apologize…” by characterizing her statement as an apology.

    In my experience any apology that is “conditional” is NOT an apology. ACB has the conditional clause “if I did…” (cause offense), then I apologize. Since Hirono was taking her to task for making an offensive statement, there was no “if” about it.

    Now we can look at the claim of “intent” and that Barret was “ignorant” of the term, but this is hardly an excuse, given that she is now one of the most powerful judges on the planet and she is SUPPOSED to understand words, and all their nuance.

    An apology should be an admission of offense, and sincere contrition. Anything “qualifying language” that subtly blames the victim, makes excuses, deflects blame, or accepts, then negates responsibility, is NOT an apology.

    • Adam says:

      David I’m sorry you feel that way. I mean I’m sorry if my comments were interpreted in a way. I mean …

      Totally get it. Apologies are tricky and often insincere. I think in most cases apologies don’t really make sense either. What are we to expect here? She knowingly said a bad thing and then a day later had some fundamental change in her own morals and legitimately regrets what she said? Such thinks can happen, usually over longer periods of time. For the most part a person apologizes because they are generally of the same mind and beliefs as they were when they caused the offence and didn’t realize it at the time.

      Apologizing for not knowing is of course a normal form of apology. Accepting one fault (ignorance) rather than another (intentionally causing harm) but many people would rather not admit to any fault. Is that what happened here?

      She could not have intended harm, caused harm and then apologized for it. She more or less said this, though of course she couched it in terms which suggest she may not have done anything wrong.

      We can of course ask the question of whether offence was caused. Should it be assumed? Was Senator Hirono upset? She does not appear to be a member of the LGBTQ community. She labeled the term as offensive but does not herself seem to have been the target of offence. It was a publicly stated comment so perhaps offence was caused by it, or the reaction to it, or my repeating of the comment and its reaction. We’re getting a bit removed here of course. Who’s hurt? Where’s the harm? There could be some by her policies or court decisions of course, and that’s what we’re trying to cut off before it gets there. Did this media circus hurt anyone directly?

      Intent matters of course. There seems to be this huge “intent doesn’t matter movement” which is fundamentally at odds with every legal system I’m aware of as well as common sense. Did she intend this in the sense that Hirono thought she did? That’s kind of the question after all. Not really the point of my segment, but I will allow for the possibility that she did not know or intend that meaning. I will also allow for the possibility that she did, given her background, and deliberately used either a term she knew wasn’t liked or was careless enough not to attempt to use a less offensive term. I don’t know what she knows. Perhaps she should know better and perhaps she does, but so would the other people I mentioned (Joe Biden, CNN …) who have said the same.

      Sorry that got away from me. Well if I was really sorry I’d just go back and change it so I guess that’s another empty apology! Is there a whole apology discourse that I’m unaware of? These are just my immediate thoughts on the topic, not researched outside of my own mind.

      There’s also the idea that apologizing doesn’t work, when it comes to public things. I don’t know if I buy it and that’s worthy of a segment. As a Canadian though I don’t know if I can give up saying sorry!

      Thanks for listening and the nice message.

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