Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That's so... straight?

FranSheIs, one of the best christians evah!, has done a couple of great posts about language, name-calling. and self esteem. Bloggy pal Spartacus also discussed the lowering of the public discourse that inevitably occurs when name-calling dominates political discussions. If you haven't read these, run along and do that soon.

One of the links Fran included was to this site, ThinkB4YouSpeak, and it really struck a nerve for me. For the last ten years or so, I've noticed the phrase "that's so gay" has crept into the American vernacular, used by both children and adults to describe something that is distasteful, stupid, silly, or otherwise not to their liking. Many of these people don't even realize what they're saying; for them, it's no different from saying "you know" or "like" as they chatter away--a verbal "tic" they don't even notice anymore.

But isn't it different?

A couple of years ago, a woman in the cubicle across from me used this phrase constantly when she spoke on the phone to family or friends. Someone had a gay dog, a gay car, or a gay driveway even! The driveway one was the last straw. I told her how ridiculous, inaccurate, and insulting her habit was; how could a driveway be gay? I saw a tiny shadow of realization creeping across her face, but I knew she wasn't fully convinced. I made her a deal: I would stop saying "godddammit" in her presence (I swear. A lot. Even at work. Under my breath. Or not.), if she stopped using the word "gay" in this derogatory way. We made a deal, and we've both stuck to it. It's helped us both keep our language on a level befitting mature adults.

Just yesterday, a girl in the dollar store told her mother that a certain hair bow was "so gay." And did the mother say anything? Nope. It was like she understood the kid on some insane level! I cleared my throat and glared at them, about to launch into a lecture--but they quickly left the aisle. Dangit! Another "teaching moment" lost!

A long time ago, the word -- oh gees I can't even type it -- "the N-word" --was used as a perfectly acceptable description for people of color. I still hear "spic" used to describe me and my fellow hispanics (though not so much up here in rural PA, where I'm one of the few hispanic people around!). How is saying that something is "gay" any less offensive to the millions of us who happen to be gay?

I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir, knowing all of you who regularly read this blog. Still--do me a favor. If you hear "that's so gay" coming out of someone's mouth--in a store, at the movies, wherever--give 'em a lecture for me. Or even just a glare. Just do something to show that it's not okay to use "gay" as a synonym for "wrong."


enc said...

I've noticed it too.

I remember this "that's so gay" thing going around when I was in 5th grade, in 1975. Zoinks, that's sad. It went away for awhile, and is now experiencing this resurgence of popularity you mention.

Where I live, right next to the Mexico border, we hear slurs of all sorts. I tend to look someone in the eye and just raise an eyebrow. Surprisingly, that works.

Randal Graves said...

This post is so gay. You know, lighthearted and happy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link DG. As Randal alludes, there was a time when "gay" meant being in a happy mood. But like many words in the English language, over time they transform and take on derogatory meanings. Good for you for making a point to your co-worker about the use of the "G" word and for doing so by extending an olive-leaf. We'll never know if this gesture will have a viral effect, but all change happens in increments.

Mauigirl said...

Good reminder that we all need to think about what we say.

I'm older, so when I was young the kids weren't saying things were "so gay" - but they were calling each other "queers."

When I was young, my mother did use it as a teaching moment - when she heard my friend and I saying someone was "queer," she told us (we were about 9 at the time) that we shouldn't be calling people queers but didn't explain why.

Nowadays I think she would have been more forthcoming about it. Years later I realized my mother had good friends who were gay, so she was more sensitized to this than other moms of the time.

So my little friend and I were left wondering to ourselves what queer meant that was such a big deal.

So when we asked my friend's older sister, who was about 12, she explained to us that "queer" meant people of the same sex who "liked each other."

So my friend and I decided we were queer because we liked each other. We were cool with it.

Strange how these things trickle down to kids who don't even know what they're saying.

KELSO'S NUTS said...

Excellent post. Thanks, Randal!

I don't hear that phrase because I live in South America and when I lived in the USA it's wasn't so prevalent.

The Latino manners culture prevents most "group-identity" name-calling or joking. The word for "gay" in contemporary Spanish is "gay" and it's descriptive not normative. It's is a huge breach of social etiquette even in an all-straight environment to use words like "marica, maricon, or mariposalito". That's part of a past best left in the past.

I'm of the belief that it is the province of the cohort itself in question to use or not use perjorative names. I liked power move of reclaiming the word "queer" some years ago.

I'm Jewish and I'll joke with Jewish and Arab friends in a very coarse ethnic way but that's among friends who have felt the sting of the slurs. But I even in a joking way use slurs that hurt people of other identity cohorts.

Everybody should insist on being called what they want to be called.

I also think the phrase "it's so gay" meaning something bad is rancid and banal and says plenty about the person using it.

Dusty said...

Oh woman...I did just that the other night..some jackass in the next yard over was yelling the your so gay horseshit and I jumped out of bed, hit the back door and screamed at him that the guy wasn't gay and to knock it the fuck off because he had no idea who he was dealing with on my side of the fence.

Didn't hear another peep all night. Assholes.

Here in the reddest part of Cali, we Hispanic's are referred to as:


Isn't that cute? fuckers..

GETkristiLOVE said...

Can I say, "That's so 'mo!" instead?


FranIAm said...

Well thanks for the link - but wow, you did so much more justice to this subject.

dguzman said...

Enc--we're the same age! I remember "fag/faggot" being a big insult too. Yeah, I think I scared that woman and her kids with my look.

Randal--as are you, my friend!

Spartacus--well, she doesn't say "that's so gay" anymore, at least around me. So it's a start.

Mauigirl--I never even KNEW what "gay" or "fag" meant until I was in high school. How sad is that!? I just thought it meant when guys did girly things. I didn't connect it to sex (or to me!) until college!

Kelso--sadly, I think polite society is fading from prominence. If only people just had a little respect for one another. Thanks for visiting the bloggy!

Dusty--"Jose's"? Are you serious? Wow. That's just--wow.

GKL--ha! I may use that one! (kidding!)

Fran--your treatment was just as good, and obviously thought-provoking!