Queer Words of the Year 2012

What words bubbled to the surface of our consciousness or exploded out of nowhere? Which lexemes took on special significance as they became associated with a meaningful moment or a surprising announcement? Here's my month-by-month list of LGBTQ words of 2012.
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Every January word geeks wait with bated breath to hear what the "Word of the Year", or WOTY, will be. (Actually, the real word geeks are actively participating in the decision, taking part by campaigning for certain words via blogs and Twitter, and attending the annual meeting of the American Dialect Society.) The WOTY is chosen through an exciting, often hotly contested vote each year; this year the vote will be on Jan. 4. Frontrunners reportedly include "fiscal cliff," "double down" and "hate watching," but anything can happen at the meeting.

All the social media frenzy around the WOTY got me thinking about the LGBTQ year in words, or the Queer Word(s) of the Year. What words bubbled to the surface of our consciousness or exploded onto the scene out of nowhere? Which lexemes took on special significance as they became associated with a meaningful moment or a surprising announcement? Here's my month-by-month list of LGBTQ words of 2012.

January: "Pariah"

OK, so technically it was released Dec. 28, 2011 (and premiered even earlier at Sundance), but the award-winning coming-of-age, coming-out, coming-to-power drama about a 17-year-old African-American woman Alike (Adepero Oduye), written and directed by Dee Rees, began sweeping the country in January 2012, and the word "pariah" was on everyone's lips, including, for example, those of Meryl Streep during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes.

February: "Unconstitutional"

On Feb. 7, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Appeals Court ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional because it violated same-sex couples' rights to equal protection and due process. This federal appeals court ruling upheld a previous lower court's ruling from Judge Vaughn R. Walker. According to a New York Times article about the ruling, Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, writing for the federal appeals court decision, asserted that "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gay men and lesbians in California."

March: "Q High"

The opening of the first LGBTQ high school in Phoenix, Ariz., garnered national attention. The program is offered by One-n-Ten, a nonprofit for LGBTQ youth in Phoenix, and it takes advantage of a fully accredited online charter school (Arizona Virtual Academy). According to One-n-Ten, Q High is designed "to provide our LGBTQ and Straight Allied Youth a welcoming and safe space where they can go to school and earn their high school diploma." An azcentral.com article explains that Q High has been a great alternative for students who have left traditional schools due to harassment, bullying or an unsafe climate and yet want to finish their high school degree.

April: "Savage U"

Confession: I do not watch any reality TV and have never seen an episode of Savage U, but the show, which premiered in April and featured Dan Savage, best known for his Savage Love column and the It Gets Better campaign, drew a lot of attention, criticism and, yes, even some praise. On the one hand it was interesting, because the idea of a gay man travelling the U.S. giving sex advice on college campuses did not seem that outrageous or unbelievable (though it surely upset some folks). On the other hand it is possible that the series might have gone beyond the titillating and shocking to actually raise awareness about, among other things, STIs (sexually transmitted infections), open dialogue and protected sex.

May: "Political Bravery"

In an interview with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America on May 9, President Obama finally came out publicly in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples. In the interview he became the first sitting U.S. President to publicly support marriage equality, about which he had previously said that his opinion was "evolving." Rachel Maddow used the term "political bravery" to describe the president's public affirmation of support during his campaign for reelection in an NBC Today interview with Ann Curry following the president's announcement.

June and July: "Chick-fil-Gay"

Controversy swirled around Dan Cathy, president of the fast food company Chick-fil-A, after he proudly commented "guilty as charged" when asked by the religious news service Baptist Press about his record of (financial) support for anti-gay organizations. There were, of course, calls for a boycott of the restaurant, but for some people who could not imagine life without the chain's signature fried chicken sliders, there was a need for a substitute. Enter Hilah Cooking, an online cooking show, and the "Chick-fil-Gay" recipe. In the video, which made the round of social media outlets, Hilah cheerfully explained that not only did she have friends who were gay but that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday morning ("aka hangover morning"), which is the best time for fried chicken sandwiches.

August: "Spectrum"

In the wake of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," there has no doubt been a number of changes big and small. One that did not make waves in August, when the academic year started, but caught my attention later in the fall, thanks to a New York Times article, was the formation of groups for gay, lesbian and bisexual students at the country's military academies. According to the article, Spectrum is the name of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and allies club not only at the Air Force Academy but at West Point and the Naval Academy.

September: "Lustful Cockmonster"

Chris Kluwe of the Minnesota Vikings employed this colorful phrase in a scathing open letter to Emmet C. Burns, Jr., a Maryland state delegate who had urged the Baltimore Ravens to silence linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo's outspoken support of marriage equality. In the letter, after briefly highlighting three points, Kluwe writes:

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population -- rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

October: "Gay Boxer"

As long as we're talking sports, in October Orlando Cruz, a 31-year-old professional boxer originally from Puerto Rico, became the first professional boxer to come out publicly. Boxing, which, according to Cruz, is "largely dominated by machos," would seem to be as hostile to openly gay athletes as other professional sports, from football to soccer to rugby, which have only seen a handful of athletes come out after retirement. Hearing and reading the expression "gay boxer" in the coverage of Cruz's coming out made me smile, as it sounded and looked to me like the shattering of stereotypes.

November: "Homophobia"

In an interview with Politico, the AP deputy standards editor David Minthorn announced that the forthcoming edition of the association's influential style book would discourage the use of "homophobia" in order to "be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing." The move received some support but was roundly criticized by most in the LGBTQ community.

December: "Ethnically Straight"

Nate Silver, statistician and "it" boy of the 2012 presidential election, drew a good deal of criticism when, in an interview with Out magazine, which had declared him their Person of the Year, he was quoted as saying, "To my friends, I'm kind of sexually gay but ethnically straight." The interview unfortunately gives very little context for the quote, although others, including Guy Branum, have attempted to understand what he might have meant and what that means for other queer folks.

Of course, real word geeks will notice that, unlike the American Dialect Society, I did not self-impose the requirement that the words be "demonstrably new or newly popular in 2012," as some are quite general and not at all new (e.g., "pariah" and "unconstitutional"), and some were not even that popular (e.g., "spectrum"). Also, any list is partial and reflects the experience of its author. Mine is likely more politics and sports than entertainment, definitely more nerd than cool. In the end, if I had to pick an overall Queer Word of the Year, it might be "lustful cockmonsters," which might be too juvenile for some, or too (ahem) vivid for others. I just love the way it encapsulates the moment when an ally (who happens to play professional football) jumped to the aid of another ally with the same energy and, frankly, rage that you feel when someone does something so unfair to hurt an individual or a community that you care about. It's mean and heartwarming all at once, not to mention creative.

What were the words that stuck out for you in 2012? What do you anticipate to be on everyone's lips in 2013?

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