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 (Part IV)

The Maury Povich Show helps quench the thrst for personal dirt.

The Maury Povich Show helps quench the thirst for personal dirt.

I had a chance last week to watch some daytime TV. I like to get my dose of the “judge” shows every once in a while; then I’m good until my next time off comes along. Even a few of the “DNA-who’s the daddy” Maury Povich Shows can glue me to the sofa for a bit.

The daytime talk shows, though, do nothing for me. Years ago Oprah might have been OK, but in that time slot, I will take Judge Judy over Oprah with or without the exclamation point.

Last Friday, my flipper finger did pause a bit and left The Ellen Degeneres Show stay on for a moment. As I said, I’m not really into daytime talk shows, not even Ellen. She’s funny as a comedian, but her talk show, even the dancing, doesn’t make me want to watch. I really haven’t seen her for maybe six months, so what has happened to her look? Why is she wearing all that makeup? Actually, she looks like Twiggy’s twin–today’s Twiggy, not the young Twiggy of the 1960s. All that makeup and pixie haircut on Ellen just doesn’t fit her personality. And it makes her look old.

Is somebody telling these high-profile lesbians that they need to “priss up”? I mean everybody knows Ellen Degeneres is not the lipstick lesbian in that family; her other half is Portia de Rossi after all!

And just now I was watching MSNBC, and there was another “not a lipstick lesbian” Rachel Maddow with her eyes all mascaraed up, cheeks blushed out, and lips over-evident with gloss. I watched The Rachel Maddow Show just last week and her makeup wasn’t shouting out through the TV screen.

I have nothing against makeup, but it needs to be done right and be appropriate for the person. I don’t see that with Ellen and Rachel.

Greek comes on at 7 PM on ABC Family.

Greek comes on at 7 PM on ABC Family.

Monday night two of my favorite shows are on; unfortunately, they start at the same time. The Big Bang Theory on CBS has become absolutely my favorite half-hour comedy show. I suppose there’s something in me that can identify with all of the “nerdliness”. Greek starts at 7 PM (CDT) also, but is an hour-long show focusing on college life, not so much on the study side, but more on the party/relationship side. In Greek on ABC Family, Calvin (played by Paul James, is an out gay fraternity brother, but so far this season, the story lines have given little focus to him. Loyal viewers have been left waiting for any kind of relationship for Calvin to begin.

When it comes to relationships, this past Sunday’s episode of my favorite show, Brothers and Sisters over on ABC had almost all of the romantic relationships ripping apart. The most stable relationship is that of Scotty (Luke MacFarlane) and Kevin (Matthew Rhys), despite last week’s reappearance of Kevin’s hot, ex-boyfriend Chad (Jason Lewis) and the big lip-smacker that he laid on Kevin on their encounter in the street. Actually, there are so many loose ends in the show that it makes one wonder how many of them will be tied up before the season finale, or whether we’ll be left hanging on many fronts over the summer.

Will Chad cause some kind of trouble in Kevin and Scotty's relationship?  (Jason Lewis and Matthew Rhys of ABC's Brothers and Sisters)

Will Chad cause some kind of trouble in Kevin and Scotty's relationship? (Jason Lewis and Matthew Rhys of ABC's Brothers and Sisters)

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(Also check out “I Want My Gay TV” Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

Matthew Mitcham–Now There’s a Picture I Would Hang in My Locker

On Saturday, when I first saw the results of the 10-meter platform dive, I decided to post the results here because I was excited about it, but I thought only the few people who read my blog would see it. Then ka-boom. I see the counter showing all these hits. At first, they were just mostly from Australia, then some from the US. By Sunday, the counter started spinning off its wheels (my blog’s wheels usually turn pretty slowly). I was getting hits from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Panama, Turkey, Russia, even the Congo! I couldn’t believe it.

Then I started to realize that there were lots of people excited about Matthew’s win. I’d read the article in the Advocate about him earlier, and was hoping he’d get some kind of medal. However, knowing about the prowess of the Chinese in diving and the fact that the Olympics were being held in Beijing, I didn’t figure that anyone really had much of a chance against them–for sure, not the gold. Then there on Saturday morning (at least Saturday morning Houston time), here’s this young gay guy from Australia standing on the podium receiving the gold medal!

I had my own emotional moment, and proceeded to write the results here.

Mitcham receives congratulations from his boyfriend Lachlan Fletcher after receiving his gold medal in Beijing.

Unfortunately, we here in the US (I don’t know about other places) didn’t get to see him give his honorary roses to his boyfriend Lachlan Fletcher in the stands, nor did we see the interview after his win with his mother and Lachlan at his side. Nor did we get to see one of the nicest moments, when he rested his head on Lachlan’s shoulder for a moment. Not that any of this was out of the ordinary, for a winning athlete to have his loved ones at his side after the victory. But rare, indeed, and truly wonderful for a gay athlete to be able to acknowledge and be acknowledged by his loved ones on camera. For me, it was one those great moments.

I hope it’s going to be one of those pivotal events that makes changes–changes for a lot of people, especially young people. It’s time for them to have a hero–these kids in school who catch all the flack because they’re gay, or even just presumed to be gay.

Yes, there have been out gay athletes in the Olympics before. And, yes, there were a number of other out gay medal winners this year in Beijing–all in team sports and all women, and they are to be congratulated and greatly supported, as well they should be. However, this is a situation comparable to the one in show business. It’s great that Ellen Degeneres can dance across the stage on her award-winning talk show and get married to her girlfriend and have the whole world smitten. When Anderson Cooper or someone of the same ilk has the “cojones” to do the same, the other half of the gay population will have its day too.

I’m sure there are those out there who will say, “I don’t need a ‘gay hero’; I don’t need anyone famous to be “out” because I’m fine with myself. Anyway, it’s something private.”

Well, I admit I need it, and I’m sure I’m not alone. (I’m sure of that because of all the interest shown not only on this blog, but because of all of the articles about Matthew’s win published everywhere in the past couple of days.)

But even more so, kids need it. These kids that get called names, pushed around, or much worse–they need it. They need to see that it’s OK to be who you are, that it’s not weird to have the support of your boyfriend when you do something great or not so great, that you can be gay and have your parents be openly proud of what you do and who you are. I’m sure there are lots of gay kids with great supportive parents, but there are many who are searching for something positive–something that shows being gay is just one part of a person, and everybody can make goals and reach them, and still be a whole person, without hiding any part.

Because of that, Matthew Mitcham’s win has a greater importance than just that of his own personal success. I don’t know how many more athletes there will be coming out in the near future, but I’m sure his victory and example will be an inspiration to help open that door, not just for athletes but any kid.

I know if I were 16 again and still in high school, I’d stick a picture of Matthew Mitcham’s winning dive on the inside of my locker door.

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Read more about this Olympian: Matthew Mitcham Story About To Hit the Newstands: Olympic Win and Life After the Olympics

Check here if you’re looking for a photo of Matthew and Lachlan.