While I was flipping through what seemed like a mountainous pile of college forms last week, I found myself staring at a "discrimination disclaimer" -- the standard fair that colleges, and employers, like to stamp all over applications. If you've read one, you've read them all: "The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, gender, age or sexual orientation..." (etc.)
These kind of things are everywhere, but for some reason this one made me stop and think. Why was it necessary to specify all of these things? Why not simply say "The University does not discriminate"? This simple approach would have many benefits, not the least of which would be showcasing the college as taking an unequivocal stand against any discrimination, and the opportunity to use a larger font than the standard 'small print' legal stuff.
Joking aside, it is interesting to examine the way that these disclaimers treat homosexuality and other types of sexuality. What exactly does "sexual orientation" mean, anyway? The image that comes to my mind is that of a compass: it is oriented North if you are heterosexual, perhaps East if you are homosexual, et cetera. In fact, this is a definition of orientation, according to my Random House dictionary: "one's position in relation to true north, to points on the compass, or to a specific place or object."
Unfortunately, the compass analogy is incomplete at best. There can only be one North, and in this case it is the standard by which all others are judged. Applied to sexuality, it would appear that homosexuality and bisexuality are merely other points on the compass, other positions, not "true north". This ties in with another label used in relation to homo- and bisexuality: the term "straight".
"Straight" is commonly used by just about everyone to refer to an exclusively heterosexual individual. Yet, like the "true north" example, this implies that others are somehow not straight. If I am gay, am I "bent"? Even more misguided labeling can be found in other commonly used, "politically correct" terms like "sexual preference," "lifestyle choice," and "alternative lifestyle."
To take all of these terms as a whole, they all imply one thing: everyone started out "straight", and at some time may have made a "choice", or developed a "preference" and became gay. We all know that this is not the case. There was never any choice involved. If a gay male were to say "I like men," that would be fact, not opinion. How insulting for this physical attraction, something completely separate from choice and decision, to be termed an "alternative".
Perhaps the individuals who came up with these terms were well-meaning. Perhaps not. In either case, they were wrong. Heterosexual people need to accept the difference that is us and deal with it directly. If the college does not want to use a broad denial of discrimination, use the word "sexuality" instead.
As for myself, I have decided to not use any labels at all. I would personally have to describe myself as "a nice guy who happens to like men." I recommend the same simple approach to others, because after all, there is no better alternative.