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Sunday, November 04, 2018

Homosexuality vs. Homophilia

We are all familiar with the word "homosexual," which means "same sex (or gender)" in Greek. However, few among us have ever heard, or used the word "homophile." In the strictest sense, the word means "same love," growing out of the Greek prefix "homo" and the Greek suffix "phile." There is a negative connotation as it has that -philia in it.  It means "love".


Homosexuality simply refers to sex between two (or more) members of the same gender. Homophilia, on the other hand, refers to love between two (or more) members of the same gender. Why is it that we have all heard, and used, the word homosexual but never, or rarely, use the word homophile?

Historian Michel Foucault argues that homosexual and heterosexual identities emerged during the 19th century; before that time terms described practices and not identity. "Homosexuality" was a carryover and described the practice (the act) of sex between two (or more) members of the same gender. As it was the most popular term among psychiatrists, who still maintained it was a mental illness, it made its way into popular culture as a means of identifying those individuals who were attracted (physically) to the same gender. Love was never a part of the equation.

Popular in the 1950s and 1960s (and still in occasional use today, particularly in writing by Anglican clergy), the term homophile was an attempt to avoid the clinical implications of sexual pathology found with the word homosexual, emphasizing love ("phile") instead. The term homophile began to disappear with the emergence of the Gay Liberation movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, replaced by a new set of terminology such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, (LGBT), although some original homophile groups survived until the 1980s, 1990s and even the present day.

In almost all languages where the words "homophile" and "homosexual" were both in use (i.e., their cognate equivalents: German Homophil and Homosexuel, Italian omofilo and omosessuale, etc.), "homosexual" won out as the modern conventional neutral term. One exception is Norwegian, where the opposite happened, and "homofil[i]" is the modern conventional neutral term for "homosexual[ity]" in Norwegian.

Today, in stark contrast to the original meaning, the word homophile is used to describe an individual who accepts homosexuals, a supporter of certain rights of homosexuals, one who has positive thoughts about homosexuality, or an advocate of its social acceptance.

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