The first time I got called out for saying, “That’s gay,” was freshman year of college. I didn’t get what the fuss was about. I believed LGBT folks should be treated equal, had many of them in my life and they never seemed to be bothered by it. So why was it a big deal all of a sudden? I also didn’t understand, as my roommate explained, why she got so upset when guys would joke at each other, “Stop acting like a girl.” I just didn’t get it.
It took me a lot of reading and thinking for my brain to make the connection and to understand how we use language to hurt people without even realizing it. June is Pride Month so I wanted to open a discussion about your feelings on this.
Using one group of people to insult or joke about something essentially implies that the group of people is negative. It may not seem like a big deal but it sort of is. On a personal level, I imagine it’s like this one time my friends were going on and on about how this one guy had a gap between his teeth, about how he’d be so much better looking if it weren’t for that gap in his teeth.
(This was before every model had a gap in their teeth, this was around the same time Tyra Banks forced a girl to surgically close the gap between her teeth even though the model loved it. A few seasons later, Tyra was surgically widening gaps in model’s teeth. Ugh!)
Anyway, I bring this up because I have a gap between my teeth. My friends were talking about how hideous they were on this guy, so obviously they were implying that mine was something I should be self-conscious about as well. Except, I would amplify that feeling I had by a million because you are insulting someone’s identity in a culture where 50% of its citizens hate that identity. So when you and your friends are saying, “That’s gay!” to discuss something negative or stupid or bad, another person in the room might be cringing because of it.
I don’t know where the, “That’s gay,” thing started. I don’t know why so many of us use it as an all purpose term to say something is lame. I mean, honestly, we use it to talk about things that aren’t the least bit homosexual related. It’s like, someone offers you a nasty plate of food and I’m like, “No that’s gay.” Someone wants to go to a lame party, I’m like, “Nah, that sounds gay.” It’s not like I’m watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and the shirtless, hunky “pit crew” come out and start twerking on each other, and I’m like, “That’s gay!” That is gay. That would be the most appropriate time to say, this is gay. No, I only used this term to say something was wack. I have no idea why? None of my gay friends are wack, they are anything but.
When I saw Hilary Duff’s PSAs, I thought: “These PSAs are gay.” Then I realized she was right and I was a jerk. It wasn’t until I learned about microagressions, which are the sneaky little ways that we passively communicate hostility towards people that I decided I needed to stop saying a phrase that had become so a part of my speech. It’s hurtful and even if my queer friends are OK when I say it, I still shouldn’t.
I am not always around my friends, who understand my intensions or sense of humor. I don’t want to be a part of a problem that I would like to actively participate in finding a solution for. I have no interest in being a bigot, so even though it was hard to stop saying it and even though it feels harmless when I say it, it still has power. Words have power, if they didn’t a snide comment from a stranger or an insult from a friend wouldn’t sting. I don’t want to put that kind of negativity into the universe, so even though sometimes I may slip up, I try not to say, “That’s so gay.”
What do you think? Do you use the phrase? Do you believe it’s hurtful? Would you ever try to stop saying it? Has anyone ever called you out on saying something “ignorant” to your shock or dismay?