In a "Vancouver Sun" article today, a story about the first openly gay female ever elected mayor in a major U.S. city (Houston, Texas), the word "lifestyle" was used to refer to what the woman lives. The exact line was: "Houston voters are concerned less with lifestyle issues and more with bread-and-butter issues such as the budget, public safety and city services...[Monday, December 14, 2009 issue, p. B5]."
This got me thinking about terms that irritate me when used in connection to gay people. I know what the denotation of the word lifestyle is: According to The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, it's the "way of life of a person or group."
But I don't think that's how most people understand the word when they hear it, and, for that reason, I think it's misused where gay people are concerned, particularly as it relates to the lives gay and lesbian people live. Not only is it misused, it makes it sound like being gay is a whim, an arbitrary choice.
To me, lifestyle sounds like there are options available as far as how to live one's life, and one chooses a particular option that then becomes one's lifestyle.
For example, the term "healthy lifestyle" is often used to refer to people who choose to eat foods that are good for them and to be physically active. The alternative is an unhealthy lifestyle, which is characterized by consuming foods that are bad for you (high in fat and salt content, for instance) and living an inactive life. So, by these definitions, one can actively choose to live either a healthy or an unhealthy lifestyle. In this case, the word lifestyle fits the situation perfectly.
But, when it comes to being gay, there is no choice involved. There's straight and there's gay, and most people are one or the other, not as a matter of choice but as a matter of genetics. You're born straight, or you're born gay (or maybe even bisexual, but that's another story altogether). For most people, it's straightforward. End of story. In the same way that you're born with brown or blue eyes, a big nose or a small one, five toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand. You are one or the other. That's just the way you are.
Have you ever heard anyone refer to the straight lifestyle? I haven't. By using the same quote above, here's how it might sound if the woman elected mayor in Houston were straight: "Houston voters are concerned less with straight lifestyle issues and more with bread-and-butter issues such as the budget, public safety and city services."
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? First, there is no such thing as the straight lifestyle, perhaps because the majority of people on earth are straight, and there's no need to refer to how they live in such an unusual fashion. The assumption is almost always made that people are straight, so there's no need to refer to how they live their lives as a lifestyle. In our society, living your life as a straight human being is preferred and a given, so sexual orientation becomes a non-issue in areas such as being elected to public office.
Second, no one has ever suggested in his or her writing that the issues surrounding being straight might be a concern for people voting someone into elected office. So why would that be a consideration in the case of gay individuals up for election? Why does it matter if a man sleeps with a man or with a woman when it comes to being elected to a civic, provincial, or federal post? He should be elected because of his integrity as a human being, what he stands for, and because of his ability to perform the job effectively and to represent in an upstanding manner the people who elected him.
We need to get to the point when being gay is just the same as being straight, or being bisexual. Not an issue. Not a lifestyle. Doesn't concern anyone. Isn't considered when being elected to public office. End of story.