Friday, 2 December 2011

That's Gay

Now some of you might not have been paying attention, but if you haven't noticed, I'm gay. While I don't personally take a great deal of offence to people using the word "gay" to describe anything negative, I can understand why many people do. Now I've been meaning to make a post about this for quite some time now, specifically from around the time an English teacher in my school got somebody to apologize for calling someone gay. They chased this person for this. It's taken me quite a while to discern exactly what is not right about this beyond "but that's wrong!"

I don't really find the word gay offensive on a personal level. It doesn't offend me in the same way insults targeted at my skin colour don't really affect me that much. This doesn't make it ok. So many times have I seen people say "I don't mean anything by it, some of my friends are gay and they don't mind." This only implies that these people don't give a crap about what other people really think about them. It certainly shows that they don't care about all the gay people who DO take offence, and that just makes you seem like a borderline homophobe, as well as enthusiastically stupid. To some people, being gay is integral to their entire identity, and using gay to mean bad is an insult is much the same as using someone's religion, race or gender as an insult, and rightfully so.

Some people dismiss the use of gay, saying that language is just evolving. Gay has changed to mean bad in the same way it once didn't refer to homosexuals. This argument seems fair enough, but falls at one critical level: Gay is still used to refer to homosexuals. The meaning has not changed. Gay people are not being called something else and using it as an insult is concurrent with it rather than replacing it. Sure, some words have more than one meaning, but if that's the case here, why 'Gay' specifically - when it already refers to gay people? If people started saying "That's so Christian" or "That's so Nigerian", I doubt many people would see this as coincidental, and nothing to do with the original meanings of these words. This argument isn't helped when you take into consideration that homosexuals have historically been (and still are) a persecuted group, often associated with depravity, sinfulness and just a general sense of negativity. It's not easy to assume good intentions given how common and natural this prejudice is. 

But why is this such a big deal? Well, let's go back a few sentences. Imagine that, instead of Gay, people were using "Christian" as an insult (in fact, this actually happens with Pagans, but that's for another time). Are people going to immediately understand that Christian is only a bad thing when it refers to things other than actual Christians? Or will people start to make an association between actual Christians and negativity?

Perhaps Christianity is a little too widespread to make it a good example. 

Let's look at Pagan (or Paigon, the pathetic substitute). When it becomes used in a negative context, meaning bad or ridiculous for long enough, only the most impartial people on the planet would not immediately think that actual Pagans are something bad. I was having this discussion with someone the other day, and the idea of association was quite an abstract concept to her until I brought up the example of Pagan and asked her what it actually meant. She guessed "It's a racial slur, isn't it?" See what I mean? Pagan actually refers to a collection of beliefs and traditions, just as valid or invalid as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.

But hasn't language changed already? Whether we like the use of Gay or not, we can't do anything about it. Well, no. We are the ones who use language. It's not as if there is a central body which decides what direction language goes in. Language only changes because humanity changes it, and if people are so thoughtless that they don't even consider what they say, then language would have never developed in the first place.

But, at the end of the day, you have a right to say whatever you like. You have every right to call things gay, why should you care if people are offended. However, this works both ways. Everyone else is free to call you homophobic, a paigon and an idiot. But then again, you probably don't care what people think, after all, they're just words.


  1. This is gay.

  2. I love words . Don't you ?

  3. good point, the accompanying music is quite distraction tho.

  4. Then don't listen to it. I personally quite like it, though it's possibly not the most appropriate choice. I was thinking of another track instead - this:

    As for you, Zara, yes. Words are amazing.

  5. I think I missed this article first time round. Possibly I wasn't following you at the time. Agree that the use of "gay" as a new word for "poor/bad/crap/etc" is dubious in that it's clearly derived at suggesting that things that are "gay" are somehow inferior and less worthy. As such, the way the word has evolved is homophobic. When friends have used it, I've generally called them up on it, and pointed out why I don't like it.

    It's not the first time English language has evolved in such a way. The word "bent" was used to both mean something that was defective, and was also used to describe criminals. It then became used as a homophobic term for anyone who was homosexual - the clear inference being that person was in some way defective.