The H-Word
Paul Niquette
excerpt from 
Sophistication: How to get it...then what!
(c) Copyright 1996 by Resource Books, all rights reserved.
Version 2.1, January 12, 2004

ffection does not come from the heart. Nor courage from the intestines.  Anger does not spill from the spleen.  Sophisticated people know that emotions are brain functions. Same for mind and soul -- if soul there be. Complexity mocks our struggle to comprehend the mind's inner workings. The ultimate self-referent question may be: Is the brain sophisticated enough to understand itself?

Take sexual orientation. The brain probably owns that too. Was it Racquel Welch who described the mind as the "most important erogenous zone"?  No person -- not even the most sophisticated person -- wants to analyze the subject all that much. Still, one aspect deserves thoughtful consideration -- a controversial zone, where the English Language interferes with perceptions: homosexuality.

Same or Different

While 'heart' and 'guts' merely preserve flawed ideas in charming metaphors, 'homosexuality' harms understanding.

    The root 'homo' denotes 'same.' But sameness insinuates an unwholesome sexual condition.
That The H-word applies to either gender compounds its iniquity. Sameness again. Is homosexuality the same in men and women? Probably not. No more than heterosexuality.

The differentiation afforded by 'lesbian' goes only part way in clearing things up. Sameness continues to cast its semantic shadow across our discernment: females attracted to females, thwarting their reproductive missions. Same for the rarely used 'urning.' {Definition}

Two New Words

Permit me to coin two new words:

  1. gynotaxis n. The responsive movement of an organism toward a female; attraction of either gender to a woman.
  2. androtaxis n. The responsive movement of an organism toward a male; attraction of either gender to a man. {Derivation}
These terms relocate the distinction in sexual orientation from the attractee to the attractor.  They dare to suppose that awareness of 'self' does not influence sexual orientation.
A gynotaxic male is drawn to a female because the latter is a female -- not because she is unlike himself.
A gynotaxic female is drawn to a female because the latter is a female -- not because she is like herself.
A gynotaxic male and a gynotaxic female have a common sexual orientation, whereas the former is classified as 'straight' and the latter 'gay' by today's conventions.

The mechanisms of response reside within the individuals to whom the terms apply. Mostly in their brains, one might assume. Movement is toward the respective stimulus. Attributes of self are not taken into account.

Thus, I am proposing terminology consistent with nature and simpler than the 'homo' model. Simplex sigillum veri, simplicity is the seal of truth (but not sophistication). In and of themselves, however, words do not expand our knowledge. They are mere tools.

Scaffold for Misunderstanding

Is sexual preference voluntary? Let's go to work on that question. I have grouped the conventional expressions alongside my proposed alternatives:

Heterosexual Male
Gynotaxic Male 
Heterosexual Female
Androtaxic Female
Homosexual Male
Androtaxic Male
Homosexual Female
Gynotaxic Female

Until the middle of the Twentieth Century, only the first two, the heterosexuals, were judged to be 'normal.'   The language supported a convenient category -- all homosexuals -- for use by heterosexuals in classifying individuals of either gender as 'abnormal' and therefore in need of ...

    • cure or
    • repentance or
    • punishment or
    • categorical rejection.
Much has changed. But even today and probably well into the next century, heterosexuals will continue to hold those views, perpetuating laws and practices and proscriptions against homosexuals, abetted by an outdated word convention -- The H-word -- a scaffold for misunderstanding.

any heterosexuals -- many of the people I know -- consider homosexuality to be voluntary. Heterosexuality, which is so obviously a sine qua non for reproductive competence, is taken to be 'natural,' and, being innate in the heterosexual's experience, is taken to be -- well, innate.  A heterosexual finds conversion to homosexuality unthinkable -- but not vice versa.   Homosexuality can be 'cured,' some say emphatically -- despite credible data to the contrary.

    If you have been in the audience for a performance of Torch Song Trilogy, you witnessed a compelling portrayal of the opposite view: Sexual preference is not chosen, any more than the color of one's eyes. The play depicts 'gay' as a cruel misnomer, wherein puberty reveals a painful reality -- that one's self-perceived normality is regarded by a vocal majority as decidedly abnormal.
Considering the pressures to conform with heterosexual patterns of behavior -- social and religious and legal -- why would anyone elect to cross over voluntarily into homosexuality?

First Principles Apply

First, a first principle: Females have a monopoly on the uterus.  How am I doing so far?

The second first principle: All persons, male or female, begin life inside a female. That, presumably, makes being a female embryo somewhat easier.

A male embryo developing within a female environment finds himself bathed in feminine fluids. At some stage during gestation, a male must, in effect, assert his maleness. Available evidence suggests that a mild chemical struggle ensues, which inconveniences the mother, prolongs the pregnancy, and endangers the fetus.

    At birth, the male brain is less well developed, which may explain a higher incidence of stuttering and dyslexia in boys. The corpus colossum, that large bundle of nerves between the brain's hemispheres, is supposed to get connected up before birth; a male fetus accomplishes that less completely than a female, leaving a boy infant typically more 'lateralized' than a girl.
It takes 'guts' to say this, but connectivity inside the brain may account for some gender differences in mental attributes. Better let it go at that.{Reference}

Speculation or Fact?

Another difference may result -- not a difference between males and females but between males and males.  If, say, the assertion-of-maleness must follow a genetically prescribed course in order to produce a gynotaxic male and if that course is impeded, say, by substances transcending the placental barrier or prenatal stress in the mother, then an androtaxic male might result.  That won't be known until puberty, which is preceded by a range of external events, each a nominee for cause.

    Hardly wild speculation, here: There is a growing body of evidence, surely familiar to sophisticated readers, which supports this hypothesis. At least one study has disclosed anatomical differences between gynotaxic and androtaxic brains at a site in the hypothalamus known to control sex drive.
It is tempting to place an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence.  And others.

Linguistic Payoff

et forth above is a plausible explanation for the appearance of two kinds of males, gynotaxic and androtaxic.  Both innate, by the way (I meant to point that out).  The assumption of voluntary sexual orientation will be foreclosed if further research confirms such an in utero hypothesis.  Now, here is where the new words come into use: How about females?

You deserve an answer to the question: What physiological process operates to produce gynotaxic females -- lesbians?  My answer is, I don't know. A female embryo has no need to engage in chemical warfare inside the womb. How, then, do we observe two kinds of females? Again, I don't know.

    But where does it say that the same explanation has to apply to both genders?  There's no 'homo' lurking in my mind. How about yours?
The proposed designation gynotaxic female admits -- invites! -- a different explanation from that offered above for androtaxic male.   Calling both 'homosexuals' implies consistency -- if not "foolish consistency," Emerson's "hobgoblin of little minds."  You will excuse me for saying what I often say:
    Differences are more important than similarities.
Readers are invited to help me answer this question here.

Ignorance is Some Excuse

Having admitted ignorance, I find the temptation to speculate irresistible.  Suppose -- some guts music, please -- just suppose that developing into a gynotaxic female indeed results from a voluntary process. Or, for that matter, developing into an androtaxic female.  Maybe all females are born gynotaxic.  Maybe they have to learn how to become androtaxic.  Most do, some don't.   To test this model, one might begin by simply asking gynotaxic females. If I knew any well enough, I would.

    One thing for sure: the androtaxic females I do know strongly oppose the explanation I offer for the appearance of androtaxic males -- mostly, they say, because it makes sexual preference into a congenital trait. Is that because a typical introspective woman perceives her own sexual preference as indeed voluntary?
If gynotaxic females can choose otherwise and androtaxic males cannot, regarding them the same is unfair to both.   A 'homophobic' society in the past coerced androtaxic males into the closet. Would a 'homomanic' society exhort gynotaxic females to accept a false inevitability?

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Background -- And Foreground

he first version of this essay was drafted in the eighties and rejected by various publications.  My hope was that publishing these views would contribute to public discourse and hasten the ultimate outcome -- that with increasing public tolerance nourished by enlightenment, the semantic vexations inflicted by The H-Word would just go away.  Not so.

A sequel to The H-Word has been in preparation ever since 1996, the objective being to attenuate the emerging issue of same-sex marriages.  There is a genuine need, I think, to preserve the term marriage for its conventional duty, expressing a valued -- even sacred -- meaning.  My thought continues to be that a neologism would facilitate a key distinction -- that a new word would facilitate ungrudging social and legal benefits for both gynotaxic female couples and androtaxic male couples.  After all, legalizing same-sex bondings as "marriages" would impose a new linguistic requirement on old ones.  A wife must be sure to describe her spouse as a man.  When asked, a husband must answer, "Yes, I am married -- to a woman."  Again, I thought the issue would have long passed into oblivion by now.  Again, not so.

In the summer of 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States made a decision that decriminalized the private behaviors of both gynotaxic females and androtaxic males.  Fine.  But that decision immediately set off a flurry of public pronouncements, revealing how strongly political figures favor a Constitutionl Amendment to forbid same-sex marriages (a presidential reassurance that all persons are "sinners" -- intended, no doubt, to be compassionate -- only confirmed that the Scoffold for Misunderstanding has not yet been dismantled).  And then, and then...See "parriage" in 101 Words I Don't Use.

Evidence Updates from the scientific literature through 2003.

  • More than seven studies support a genetic component to homosexuality.  The journal Personality and Individual Differences published an exhaustive review of the literature entitled "Born Gay?"
  • Identical twins offer a virtual laboratory for the study of genetic influences.  Twin studies show that 50 to 60 percent of sexual orientation to be genetic (Nota bene, that the correlation is not 100% invites consideration of the in uturo effect outlined in The H-Word).
  • Studies suggest that sexual orientation may be linked to differences in brain anatomy. Some geneticists hold that sexual orientation in men (though not women) may be determined in part by markers in what they refer to as "the Xq28 chromosomal region."
  • Compared with gynotaxic males, androtaxic males appear to have a larger suprachiasmatic nucleus, a part of the brain that affects behavior, and some studies show most androtaxic males have a larger isthmus of the corpus callosum which may also be true of left-handed people. By the way, androtaxic males are 39 percent more likely to be left-handed than gynotaxic males.
  • An article in Behavioral Neuroscience reports that when males and females are exposed to a loud noise, they blink in somewhat different ways except that gynotaxic females appear to blink like males, not like females.
  • Males typically have a ring finger that is longer than the index finger, while in females the two are about the same length. Two studies have suggested that gynotaxic females have finger-length ratios that are more like those of males than females.
  • Studies suggest that ring-finger length has to do with the level of androgens in the mother's womb, which bears on the speculations published herein.  According to a review in The New York Times, some scientists speculate that a woman's body adjusts the androgen level in her womb as she has more sons, and that the androgens interact with genes to produce androtaxis.
  • A male is more likely to be androtaxic if he has older brothers (older sisters don't count).  For each older brother a male has, he is about 33 percent more likely to be androtaxic -- raising the question: What impact on the chemistry of a mother's womb do older siblings have on the sexual orientation of younger sisters?
Nicholas D. Kristoff comments about the implication of some studies as follows::
A basic principle of our social covenant is that we do not discriminate against people on the basis of circumstances that they cannot choose, like race, sex and disability. If sexual orientation belongs on that list..., then should we still prohibit gay marriage and bar gays from serving openly in the armed forces?  Can we countenance discrimination against people for something so basic as how they blink or whom they love?
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homosexual n. (1892) 1: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex 2: of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex; n (1902): a homosexual person and esp. a male. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

    homo n, [by shortening] (1929): homosexual-- often used disparagingly; hom- or homo-combining form [L, fr. Gk, fr. homos] 1: one and the same: similar: alike <homograph> <homosporous> 2: homosexual <homophobia>; contrast with heteron (1933): heterosexual;adj heter- or hetero-combining form [MF or LL; MF, fr. LL, fr. Gk, fr. heteros; akin to Gk heis one] 1: other than usual: other: different <heterophyllous> 2: containing atoms of different kinds <heterocyclic>
lesbian adj, often capitalized (1591) 1: of or relating to Lesbos 2 [fr. the reputed homosexual band associated with Sappho of Lesbos]: of or relating to homosexuality between females; n, often capitalized (ca. 1890): a female homosexual. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

urning n. Male homosexual. The equivalent of lesbian, which exclusively refers to a female homosexual.

  • An extremely rare word, urning was reintroduced in Theodore M. Bernstein's Dos, Don'ts & Maybes of English Usage, a term hunted down in reaction to the common belief that there was no English word for exclusievely male homosexuality.
  • Another alternative exaggerates the 'sameness' issue: comasculation appears in Josefa Heifetz Byrne's Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary, and is defined as "homosexuality between men."
The discovery of both terms in Paul Dickson's A Connoisseur's Collection of Old and New, Weird and Wonderful, Useful and Outlandish Words served as an inspiration to the present author for The H-Word. {Return}


andro- combining form [L, fr. Gk, fr. andr-, aner; akin to Oscan ner- man, Skt nar-, OIr nertstrength] 1: male human being <androcentric> 2: male <androecium> Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

gyno- combining form [Gk gyn-, fr. gyne woman]: female reproductive organ: ovary <gynophore>Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

-taxis combining form [Gk, lit., arrangement, order, fr. tassein to arrange] (1758) 1: reflex translational or orientational movement by a freely motile and usually simple organism in relation to a source of stimulation (as a light or a temperature or chemical gradient) 2: a reflex reaction involving a taxis Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

The suffix -philia [N.L. from Gk, friendship] was considered but rejected back in 1996.  Since the first publication of The H-word, the terms androphilia and gynophilia have achieved wide currency; however, both bring an unwelcome suggestion of abnormality, even pathology, to the mind of this author, probably attributable to such common terms as 'haemophilia', 'necrophilia', and 'pedophilia'.  Indeed some dictionaries are quite explicit in that respect, defining -philia as "an abnormal liking for or tendency towards a given thing." {Return}

ReferenceIn The Right Brain, Tom Blakeslee, confronts this question with more courage -- and references -- than I have. {Return}