How Language Bullies, But When It Might Be OK To Say “That’s So Gay”

“Say Something” seems to be Australia’s equivalent of the “It Gets Better” Project, a youtube campaign that was started Dan Savage, a Seattle columnist, after the rash of gay teen suicides last year.  “Say Something” has been set up as part of the 2011 Sydney Mardi Gras, one of the largest gay events anywhere in the world.

Matthew Mitcham, an out, gold medal diving champion in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has created his video, short though it is, for the Say Something project.  In it he advocates for eliminating the use of the phrase “It’s so gay” in a negative way.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this phrase used, except maybe on TV.  I’m not much around the age group, teens or younger, that probably uses this phrase.  However, I know I wouldn’t like it if I were a gay kid in middle or high school and had to hear it all the time.  Frankly, there are far worse words as derogatory syn0nyms for gay people, when they are trying to demean either gay people or even others that are not gay.

For the most part, kids use these stronger perjoratives because they got them from hearing adults say them.  When I was a kid, the “n”-word was the harshest, but  most often used, word that we called each other on the playground.  Strange though it sounds, we could use that word without admonishment, but knew better than to use “real” swear words, which today are commonplace in movies and the music on the radio.  There’s nothing surprising thses days about hearing them in so many rap and hip-hop songs, where they sort of get bleeped out.  But when I hear them come in songs like Enrique Iglesias’ latest hit, I get uncomfortable.

We used the “n”-word, not because we had ever met even one Black person, but because we heard the word at home.  “That’s so gay” seems to be somewhat like that.  The kids that use the phrase aren’t directly trying to be offensive to gay people because they are just saying something like “That’s so lame,” which was used not so long ago, and I expect, still is used by some kids.

And speaking of “lame”, what if the phrase being used were “That’s so disabled” or “That’s so physically challenged”?  Most people probably would find that more offensive than “That’s so gay.”  However, when”That’s retarded” was so popular, there weren’t too many negative ripples.

When it comes to being politically correct (though really I think it has more to do with civility than politics), it’s hard to keep up.  I seem to remember Lyndon Johnson using nigras (which doesn’t sound that different from the “n” word), and he was the President who signed the major civil rights laws in the mid-1960s.  Colored People was once OK; there’s still the NAACP.  Then there’s still the question of African-American (or Afro-American) or Black.

There’s a similar problem with people and newspapers using the term homosexual.  In fact, it has a very specific, somewhat clinical or academic meaning, but most of the time when used outside of certain fields of study, homosexual come with a negative connotation for labeling people, in a way that “colored” was once used by whites, when they knew that there was a more appropriate word.

Just like many use homosexual as a way of emphasizing the “sexual” aspect, as if that the only quality that characterizes us, they also employ the word to hit other people’s buttons that its the “same” sex.  And, “you know, doing with the same sex, well, that’s something so bad, because, you know, the preacher said it in church, and it’s in the Bible, you know.”

So it’s not are far stretch to the same negativity inherent in “That’s so gay.”  The negative connotation from homosexual is carried over to the word “gay.”

It’s really not much different than expressions that have applied to other groups.  I grew up with people using the expression of “jewing someone down,” not having any idea that it came from the negative stereotype of Jewish people.  I’m sure there are kids out there who, when comparing the sizes of dips on their ice cream cones, are screaming, “I got gypped (or jipped),” having no idea that the word came from negative stereotype of gypsies cheating or robbing people.

There are two sides to these pejoratives.  On the one hand, they make the language colorful and precise.  With the internet and other forms of technology, the English language is already being “dummied down” with all its LOLs and other shortcuts.   (Oops, can I say “dummied down”?)  On the other hand, words can hurt, and we know it.  People, especially adults, who use these words to belittle others know what they are doing. 

Newspapers, politicians, and preachers who use the word homosexual know that gay people don’t like to be called that, but they do it anyway.  In reality, it’s just a subtle way to bully.  Isn’t there a verse in the Bible that says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?  Doesn’t that mean civility and respect?

It all comes back to civility, doesn’t it?

If people want to use the line “That’s so gay,” they should really use it with the meaning “That’s so creative” because that’s a positive stereotype of gay people.  Think of all creativity put out by hair stylists (let’s go with those straight-thinking stereotypes), artists, playwrights, and composers.  Let’s don’t forget to mention Michalangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander the Great or some current creative gay people like Elton John, Ricky Martin, or Ellen Degeneres.

So maybe when (or if) you read something on here that makes you think a bit, you’ll say, “That’s so gay.”  But, hey, you gotta put the right tone in your voice or it won’t work.

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I Want My Gay TV (and I Want My Damn Computer To Work Right)

The sun came out today.  I’m not sure when because I was tied up inside (not literally, mind you) most of the day, but I felt almost gleeful turning down the visors in the car on my way home this evening.  The rain has been good for the garden, and hopefully, some of it is getting down for some of those deep tree roots that must have been needing it after the long dry spell in the fall.

With the cloudless sky and the days getting just a bit longer, this was the first evening that Annie and I got to make the rounds and back home again before it was completely dark.  Walking a dog when it’s already dark is just that–walking a dog.  But when there’s still some daylight, there a chance to take a look at what’s growing, or not, in people’s yards, and maybe even say “hello” to a neighbor that’s also outside.

Speaking of “gleeful” (I think that word is coming back), Tuesday is my night to watch Glee, so it was a bit disappointing to find out that tonight’s wasn’t a new episode.  Still it was a good re-run, with Kurt’s bully getting kicked out of school and all the underlying weirdness going on because the bully had kissed him.  Then there was Kurt’s dad’s wedding with all the guy-guy dance preparations and actual wedding dancing. 

Last night was 90210 night.  This second rendition seems much lighter on storyline than the previous 90210 of a number of years back.  But Teddy, the rich boy tennis player-slash-surfer, is coming out, and even though we only get a couple minutes of that–if any–per show, we’ve gotten to see him put the lip-lock on cute-boy Ian, who is already out.  And last night’s episode was a new one, with lots of teasing the viewers about who will be involved with whom during the rest of the season.

I don’t want to lament about the past.  But I wouldn’t have minded growing up and being able to watch shows like these.  The best that I could do when I was in high school was The Monkees and Flipper, and you can bet I wasn’t watching that last one just to see the damn dolphin.

I know I paid that bill!

Just as a side note–if it’s even that–my DSL has been so crappy the last couple of days.  It was getting worse than early dial-up.  I was thinking that all the rain had affected some lines somewhere.  Good grief, don’t we just panic when our computer is out-of-whack for even a little bit?  Last night I just gave up; everything was so slow, but tonight I decided to call AT&T.

Well, don’t ya know it.  I had barely started playing with the recorded message man, when he gave me the suggestion that I needed:  disconnect the modem for it to reset.  That and a restart of the computer and voilà!  Here we are, almost like the sunshine after too many wet, cloudy days.

On the Road Home: Shut Up and Hang Up, or Why Don’t You Just Stop for a Psychic Reading?

They should pass a law that mini-vans always stay to the right.  The people (I’ll avoid stereotyping, but we all know who they are) that drive them are never going to drive anywhere near the speed limit.  With SUVs, though, it’s unpredictable.  Some of those drivers are the bullies of the highway and will never give the right-of-way to another vehicle.  On the other hand, sometimes, you’ll get stuck behind an SUV barely moving down the road, and you can almost predict who’s driving it–a soccer mom jawing away, waving her hands talking on the cell phone, oblivious to everything else happening on the road.

Tonight on my commute home, I wondered if there haven’t been surveys made that deal with the effect of cell phone drivers on the overall speed of the traffic.

Just in the middle of that thought, I had to stop at a red light, and noticed a business I had never seen before.  Right there in a semi-industrial area sits a Psychic Reader/Fortune Teller.  It’s close to a very busy intersection, but how many pull over in the middle of the morning or evening commute to get scammed out of few bucks to hear some fairy tale about their future?

I’m sure it’s mostly people for whom the $10 or $25 would be better spent on groceries or some other necessity.

But I went to a reader once, one time when I was feeling poor and low.  I didn’t feel any better after I had heard my fortune and was on my way home.  Nope, not better, just had even less money in my pocket.

Seeing that Palm Reader place tonight made me think of two other things that I’ve tried, and after a bit, decided that like fortune telling, they too have a lot of  hocus pocus involved:  gambling and religion.  Though others might not put them in the same category, both seem to make a lot of promises without any proof, and left me with less money in my pocket.

If others feel good for getting all the hocus pocus and pocket-fleecing, more power to them, but I’ll take a little dog’s lick on the ear to these any time.

And, yes, there have been surveys.  They say drivers using cell phones make our commute about 5-10% longer.  So all you yappers:  shut up and drive!