Key difference: Gay is a term commonly used to refer to homosexuals. The term 'homosexual' was first used by Victorian scientists who regarded same-sex attraction and sexual behavior as symptoms of mental disorders or moral deficiency. This is the reason that many LGBT prefer to be referred to as ‘gay’, instead of ‘homosexual’; in an attempt to distance themselves from being labeled as somehow abnormal or mentally ill.
Gay is a term commonly used to refer to homosexuals. Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. It is when a person, whether male or female is attracted to a person of the same sex. According to the American Psychological Association, homosexuality ‘also refers to an individual's sense of personal and social identity based on those attractions, behaviors expressing them, and membership in a community of others who share them.’
Homosexuality, along with bisexuality and heterosexuality, is the three main categories of sexual orientation. Asexuality is sometimes considered as a fourth category. According to prevalent scientific and medical understanding, sexual orientation is not a choice. It is in fact a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Many believe that homosexuality is unnatural; however, research has shown that homosexuality is an example of a normal and natural variation in human sexuality. In fact, homosexual behavior has also been noted in many other animal species. So, in fact it is quite a ordinary and normal occurrence in nature.
Homosexuals are commonly termed as lesbian for females and gay for males; however, gay is now generally used to refer to both males and females, e.g. the gay community, gay rights, gay pride, etc.
Still, many of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community prefer to be referred to as gay instead of homosexual. The reason for this is that the term homosexuality is more so a clinical term, with a negative connotation. The term ‘homosexuality’ is used to refer to the sexual orientation which at a time was considered a mental illness diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
The term 'homosexual' was first used by Victorian scientists who regarded same-sex attraction and sexual behavior as symptoms of mental disorders or moral deficiency. This is the reason that many LGBT prefer to be referred to as ‘gay’, instead of ‘homosexual’; in an attempt to distance themselves from being labeled as somehow abnormal or mentally ill.
‘Gay’ has a less negative connotation than ‘homosexual.’ ‘Gay’ was originally used to refer to feelings of being ‘carefree’, ‘happy’, or ‘bright and showy’. By the end of the 20th century, the term then was carried over to mean "homosexual", as an extension of the word's sexualized connotation of "carefree and uninhibited". This implied a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores.
Since the end of the 19th century, there has been a global movement towards increased visibility, recognition and legal rights for homosexual people, including the rights to marriage and civil unions, adoption and parenting, employment, military service, equal access to health care, and the introduction of anti-bullying legislation to protect LGBT minors. The LGBT community has also since promoted the term ‘gay’ to refer to themselves as a community. This was due to its more positive connotation, than the more negative connotation of homosexual. A number of gays might even get offended if they are referred to as homosexuals.
However, like all words, ‘gay’ has also picked up other meanings over the years. In modern English, gay has come to be used as an adjective, and as a noun, referring to the people, especially to men, and the practices and cultures associated with homosexuality. In modern slang, the term ‘gay’ has also come to denote something that is awkward, stupid, bad or lame. It has also been often used as a derogatory term, aimed as homosexuals; however, this is mainly in the way it is used, like a slur. Still, as many homosexuals have accepted the term ‘gay’, it has came to represent a word with no negative connotations but associated with a positive and proud sense of identity.
However, not all homosexuals think of or classify themselves as “gay”. This is because ‘gay’ is a with decidedly sociopolitical overtones, one that is as much about identifying oneself as a member of a community than identifying oneself by sexual orientation. Some men and women who experience homoerotic desires, fantasies, and attractions are sometimes likely to identify themselves just as homosexual, not as gays, i.e. part of the community. According to Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, some men “experience conflict between their values and their sexual orientation.” These individuals would never be comfortable claiming a gay identity.
Still, many modern style guides recommend against using homosexual as a noun, instead using gay or lesbian, as homosexual has a negative, clinical history and because the word only refers to one's sexual behavior (as opposed to romantic feelings).
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