Saturday, December 3, 2011

That's So Gay

This evening I was browsing photos of a friend on Facebook, when I stumbled across one with my friend and another guy that was wearing a shirt with a picture of a rainbow and the phrase "More like gay-U" on the front. Seeing as he's a KSU fan, I am assuming this is supposed to be some sort of an insult toward KU.

My first reaction was a well-deserved facepalm. Not because he is *attempting to* insult my university of choice but because he thinks "gay" is an insult at all. I attempted to find the vendor that sold these shirts, but as I did more digging it turns out that this shirt is not sold at stores, it was actually a creation of the young man wearing it.

Let's back up a few years. By the time I was in 7th or 8th grade, the phrase "That's so gay!" was thrown around with reckless abandon. Don't like a song? That's gay. Annoyed with the amount of homework you have? That's so gay.

That "insult" doesn't even begin to make sense to me. Either you're referring to something being cheerful (as in pretty and witty and gay) or you're referring to someone who identifies as homosexual. It got to the point where that phrase really annoyed me, so I would try to explain to my peers why I didn't think they should use it anymore.

When one uses the word gay as an insult, it attaches a new connotation to the word. He/she is inferring that "gay" is something detestable or at the very least unlikable. Therefore society starts to attach that connotation to gay people as a whole. This creates a new social stigma and ultimately makes it that much more difficult to be openly gay. In it's simplest form, using gay as an insult is bullying. I have no patience for bullies.

One day in high school, (I think it was my senior year) as we were working on an assignment in class, a student remarked just how gay he thought that assignment was. I rolled my eyes and told him he really shouldn't be using that phrase. He tried to defend himself, and tell me it was just a phrase that people use and that it wasn't insulting to gay people. I told him, just as I've told you here, that he was attaching a bad connotation to "gay" and was in fact insulting gay people even if he didn't mean to. At that point the substitute teacher chimed in, telling me that the student wasn't calling the assignment homosexual, he was just expressing his dislike for it. I tried to explain my reasoning further, but at this point the argument got emotional, and it's not easy to make angry people change their minds.  At one point a different classmate told me I was being too sensitive and said something like "What about when people call something stupid? Isn't that insulting to stupid people?!" He was dead serious. I wanted to headdesk so bad. With my instructor coming to the students' defense, and my frustration growing, I decided to drop the matter, pick up my things and ask to be excused.

I wish I could say that situation was rare, but it wasn't at all. I dealt with this kind of thinking constantly. Not to say that everyone at my high school was like this! It just was not a rarity. Now at KU, I've had the good fortune to be surrounded by (generally speaking) open-minded people and have not heard that phrase used in a long time. Sadly, I know it's still used, and it needs to stop.


  1. How dare you insinuate that gay individuals are offended by the phrase "that's so gay." Unless you are yourself a lesbian, do not take it upon yourself to speak for the gay masses. Just because you wear rainbow t-shirts and wave your flag of atheism gives you no right to play the role of spokesperson for gays. In fact, many of my gay friends use the phrase "that's so gay," and they use it often... but of course, they aren't intellectuals who spend all their time trying to disprove the existence of god, so what the fuck do they know?

  2. @anonymous up there ^, you sir or madam, are a cock. Trying to defame Michaelyn's character by insulting her choice of clothing or worldview, doesn't make your point more valid. Your comment is an attempt at the logical fallacy of ad hominem, but does not even achieve that because the characteristics you pointed out only sound bad because the reader knows you're an asshole who considers things like standing up for gays and being open about atheism bad traits.

    In response to the post, I would also disagree that using "gay" in such a way is really all that offensive. I think the kid in your class who said, "What about when people call something stupid? Isn't that insulting to stupid people?" had a valid if poorly stated point. Let's instead use the word "lame." People use lame in an almost identical sense to the use of gay you are taking issue with. Is this insulting to the physically lame? No, because it is not the same word. When used in the insulting or negative sense, it becomes something totally different. When people say "that's so gay" they aren't talking about homosexuals (as that teacher said), and I think that is generally understood. While I admit I find the phrase juvenile and obnoxious, I do not think it has the significant negative affect on the perception of homosexuals that you are claiming.

  3. To the 2nd anonymous, I appreciate the respectful disagreement. You have a valid point. Actually I never said it was "offensive" to use gay as an insult. I think it is hurtful to the gay community as a whole in that it comes from homophobic ideals (even if the person saying it isn't homophobic). I still stand by what I said about using "gay" in that way adds a negative connotation to the word gay, and ultimately to those that claim to be gay. It's ignorant, and I really think it's a simple change that people could make in order to push for a change of the perception of the gay community.

  4. Words aren't typically co-opted, unless sarcastically, for pejorative purposes unless the original sense of the word carries a negative connotation. "Lame" and "stupid" were originally used in the pejorative sense because of the negative connotation either of those words had in the first place. The only way the sense or connotation of a word changes is if the use of the pejoration of the word persists beyond the original use of the word (in the way "lame" is no longer used to describe physical disability, but "lame" is still used to describe something negatively). On the other hand, if someone says something is "stupid", they are either saying it is the sort of thing we would expect from a stupid person, or I'm using a metaphor to compare it to someone stupid, or I'm saying that it is the result of poor reasoning. I think if I said you were being lame, you would not take it to mean I think you are literally unable to walk, but if I said you were being stupid, especially in regards to a written argument, you would take that to mean I think you are not intelligent.

    The point is, "gay" as a generic pejorative term assumed its negative connotation by referring to a sexual orientation, or stereotypes of it. The word is still used to describe a sexual orientation, and the pejoration of the word still carries this connotation (if not for you, then certainly for some people). It's also hard for me to think that it started becoming popular to refer to things as "gay" as anything other than a substitution for the word "faggot".

    Finally, it's a big mistake to think that because someone says otherwise, they aren't actually offended by something. If there's a fear of some kind of social reprisal for confronting the use of the term, I'm betting a lot of people will say nothing, or even agree to its use. Gay youths are bullied, viciously at times, and in cases like these they are not likely going to want to risk confrontations with their friends or risk bringing on more attacks. Pervasive use of someone's sexuality as a pejorative creates a hostile environment, in the same way that pervasive misogynist attitudes and phrasing create hostility at a workplace or school: even if it isn't directed at anyone in particular, and speaking up or detracting is usually a sure way of bringing retaliation.

  5. *even if it isn't directed at anyone in particular, speaking up or detracting is usually a sure way of bringing retaliation.

  6. One other thing. The rainbow attached to the "gay-U" insult, or for example the use of "as a rainbow" to qualify something's perceived "gayness" (as in, "as gay as a rainbow") both make it clear that the word's pejorative use is still meant to refer to sexual orientation. It seems in both cases to be an obvious reference to LGBT pride colors.

  7. @Anonymous: She wasn't speaking for the gay masses. She was making a general statement that is not always true, although it is true a lot more often than you think. You can disagree with her statement (and I suppose you make a valid point), but to take a perfectly innocuous statement as "she is speaking for all GLBT people everywhere" shows a lack of consideration on your part. This post (or rather, a discussion of it) prompted a post of my own where I go into this concept in more depth:

    On another note, your blog is excellent Michaelyn! I'm your newest fan/subscriber :)

  8. I love that you said I'm cock. :) You sound like my kind of guy/gal.

  9. **** I'm a cock

    OOPSIE. Love you, Mike. You know.

  10. @Anonymous, I'm sorry, do I know you? Very few of my friends call me Mike, and if you're my friend, I don't understand why you would insult me like you did, or why you wouldn't discuss this with me in a different way. Long story short, if I know you, I'd like to know who you are. You don't have to reveal yourself here (obviously I wouldn't force you to do that).

  11. The other day, something nice happened, and I tried to say "Oh, good" and "Oh, hurray" simultaneously. It came out "Oh, gay". I clearly meant it in this sense:

  12. It's always disturbed me when people refer to something as ``gay," but I've never been able to articulate why. Thank you for this post.

  13. Hello,
    I came across your blog post today whilst reading about the use of this word. I challenged a facebook friend today on their use of it and their response was quite unpleasant and along the lines that I am too politically correct.
    My friend on my teacher training course was gay and he found the constant use of 'gay' as an insult to be upsetting and homophobic. A British radio DJ uses this term a lot.
    Other people argue that the word has altered its meaning over time. Personally, I find it homophobic to use the word as a pejorative for something being not very good.
    I with you on this one.