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All About Everyday Manners

Is the Word 'Straight' Offensive?

What is the etiquette concerning the use of the word straight? I’ve seen that some people find it offensive, yet the LGBT site you've cited for gay etiquette uses the term straight. I feel I should be able to self-identify using a term of my choosing, not one thrust upon me. At the same time, I don't want to offend anyone. And if straight is offensive, do you have a one-syllable alternative? Heterosexual is five too long.

Well, there's a first time for everything and this question about whether "straight" is offensive is the first time I've been asked. No, I don't think it's offensive or a slur — and it's much quicker to say than "heterosexual."

That being said, I'm not clear who are those people who may find it offensive: Gays or straights? For gays (or more broadly LGBT people), the opposite of straight could be considered "bent," which was how homosexuals were referred to generations ago and it was not a compliment. (BTW, there's an amazing play called "Bent," about gays in Nazi Germany, that originally starred Richard Gere.)

Anyway, I've never heard of a gay person saying they were offended by the use of straight.

Do some straight folks find it problematic? I think you are saying that you are and, if so, I'd like to know why. It seems innocuous to me but intent always matters. I guess I could imagine some gay person snarling, "He's so straight ...." to mean "behaving in a conventional manner, holding orthodox views, conventional, standard, normal" (which is one of the Urban Dictionary definitions). Is that so awful?

Originally published in The Washington Post

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