Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Elaine and I went to a political debate last night, in which two candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives answered questions chosen by moderators from audience submissions. One direct question: are you an LGBTQ ally? The question was prefaced by a brief, clear definition of ally. One candidate answered “Yes,” spoke about bullying and discrimination, expressed a commitment to supporting LGBTQ issues, and avowed that LGBTQ people would be represented on her staff. The other candidate dodged the question of allyship. Instead, he avowed his belief in the Fourteenth Amendment, which, he said, meant that the question didn’t concern him. But then: he added that his family had had “a practicing homosexual” at dinner the other night. Good grief. Elaine and I just looked at each other. Other people looked at one another. A friend in front of us put her head in her hands. I think she was attempting to stifle her disbelief. We had just been given a reminder of where we live.

What I want to know: What was this “practicing homosexual” practicing? And why at the dinner table? And why couldn’t the candidate and his family have found someone already accomplished enough not to need practice?

Related reading
Stylebook entries for practicing and homosexual (NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists)

[An exchange from The Honeymooners inspired this post. From “A Matter of Life and Death” (October 29, 1955): “Dr. Norton, just exactly where do you practice medicine?“ “Oh, I don’t have to practice it, I know it.”]

comments: 9

The Crow said...

"And why couldn’t the candidate and his family have found someone already accomplished enough not to need practice?"


Pete said...

Is that like a homosexual in training? I can’t help thinking of Bill Murray’s character in Stripes, who tells the Army recruiting officer, “No, sir, we’re not homosexuals, but we are willing to learn.”

Michael Leddy said...

As I suspected, it’s the language of conservative Christianity. It seems to reduce a person’s identity to sex acts. But as a friend once observed, he was gay twenty-four hours a day.

Frex said...

Having read two (!) authors who write about cannibalism this week (Cabeza de Vaca & Jean Genet), it occurs to me to wonder if the politician by saying his family "had" a practicing homosexual at dinner could mean they ate him?

Frex said...

P.S. The Catholic Church makes a distinction, as you probably know, between a gay person who is celibate (not sinful) and one who engages in sex (sinful).
I don't know how it is in evangelical circles, but perhaps a real live *practicing* homosexual = bonus tolerance points for the host family?

Frex said...

P.P.S. Oh, you said "conservative Christianity" not "evangelical." So that could include Catholic.

Michael Leddy said...

I thought of cannibalism, but it didn’t occur to me when I was at the debate, so I skipped it here. But thank you for raising the question. I sure hope they weren’t practicing cannibals. The claim of having a gay guest seemed very much along the lines of “Some of my best friends are” — if it was even true. (I have my doubts.)

The “practicing” language seems to show up in both Catholic and non-Catholic contexts. But it’s pretty antique: Google has only 34,200 results for “practicing homosexual.” Hearing these words at the debate reminded me of hearing a student, white, rural, refer to “the colored people” in a class discussion. That was somewhere in the last ten years. I took the opportunity to talk (with kindness) about how language changes and why.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

You may be amused to learn that I heard a lot of 'and practice makes perfect' jokes in the LGBTQ community in the late 90s.

It was already archaic 20 years ago.

Michael Leddy said...

As is this candidate for office. If he’s elected, he’ll be even worse than the current officeholder.