My last entry had a couple good comments, one of which was from a poster who took exception to my usage of the word “gay.” It was a very nice comment, actually, and I’m sorry that I went sort of insane when I saw it. However, I do have a policy of not removing my comments here, because after all, fair is fair. So if you want to see my whole “AHHHH! YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” rampage, just scroll down.
Now that I’ve taken a deep breath, let me address the issue: I myself sometimes cringe when I hear people use the word “gay” in the pejorative sense, most often when it clearly betrays some sort of weird fear of homosexuality on the part of the speaker. (You know what I mean: You’re at a bar with a bunch of straight guys and one guy starts calling another guy gay, to indicate that he himself is much more manly. And also that he would never ever have any interest in his friend’s ass.)
However, when I was a wee lass of eight or so, we used the word “gay” all the time, to mean “lame” or “silly.” We didn’t even know about gay people. (Even some of us who were gay didn’t know about gay people, I’ve been told.) I’m sure that the word had its origins in the culture’s homophobia, but I don’t think we knew about that. It was just another slang term, like saying “burnt!” to indicate that someone had indeed been shown up by one of his peers.
Now, we live in a different world and we know where that term comes from, and maybe we should be required to act differently. Gay people still don’t have the same civil rights as straight people, and I can understand how many people feel that changing our approach to language might help change public perception.
Except for one small problem: I don’t buy it. I don’t think that language creates reality. I think it documents it. So maybe what we’re really saying here, when we get upset at someone using “gay” in a negative way is that we’re mad that things haven’t progressed more. That’s something I could get behind, maybe. Although I still abhor linguistic restrictions of all kinds.
What about the “N” word, you say? Well, here’s the thing. The “N” word never meant ANYTHING good. “Gay” used to mean happy, and then that changed until it meant, “happy, but sort of fey”, and then it meant “homosexual”, and then it meant … something like “limp” or “lame”, reflecting one very negative perception of homosexuals. And that’s pretty gross. But it’s not as bad as the “N” word, which I won’t even write here. It really isn’t.
Also, part of me feels that in order to make real progress for gay people, we need to push ahead and ignore irritating linguistic foibles like “gay meaning bad.” I think that when people get hung up on stuff like that, they’re allowing themselves to get detail-obsessed to the point where we’re not focusing on the big picture. Sometimes it ain’t grassroots; it’s just fixating on the grass.
All this being said, if by NOT using the word gay on this blog to mean anything other than happy or homosexual (in a positive, healthy sense) will make people feel less oppressed, well, that seems like a small price to pay, and I’ll do it. And all apologies to anyone whose feelings I hurt. In the parlance of my third grade memories, I am well and truly “burnt.”