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.

Argentina Does It! Now Marriage Equality at Both Ends of the Hemisphere as U.S. Held Hostage by Social Stick-in-the-Muds

I’m happy for what happened in Argentina in the wee hours this morning, when that country’s senate by a vote of 33-27 voted for gay marriage, and based on earlier passage by the house and the strong support by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Senate vote was the final hurdle to be passed.

Wow! Argentina, you as a country have my respect.  It’s almost unreal, that now we have gained rights at both the southern end of the hemisphere (Argentina) and the northern end (Canada).

I’m sad too for my own country.  I used to think of the U.S. as the country of progress–in both the areas of invention and technology as well as culture and civil liberties.

But here we sit, a nation whose industrial and technological might brought an end to World Wars and put a man on the moon–here we sit, stagnant and controlled by our unfettered need for oil and all of the problems it has brought along with it, yes, and here we sit, stagnant and controlled by religious and political conservatives, who in reality want to take us back beyond the Disco 80s, the Love-in 60s, maybe even further back than the Eisenhower 50s.

These Tea Partiers, these Glenm Becks, these bible holders (yes, they really only want to hold them, for some sense of tactile security it brings them) spit out the word progress like its something dirty.  They don’t want a country that’s moving ahead in any way.  Whatever happened to being a country of forward thinkers?  The country that does it first?  The country that others want to emulate?  I really don’t believe that most Americans want to go backwards, but for whatever reason, too many in federal and local governments have given an ear to these stick-in-the-muds, who, if they had their “druthers”, would  take us back to the 1920s, when many in the country gave the same attention to another group: the Ku Klux Klan.  (Do your history homework.  The KKK didn’t just go after Blacks.  They were against unions, Jews, Catholics, and anybody else that didn’t think like they did.)

So, hurray! Argentina!  I have hope that one day soon, this country will put on its hip boots and wade through this languid river, kicking the muddy carp to the side, and follow you to the other side, then keep marching forward, only to glance back at the muck that kept trying to hold this great country back, in this world that does not stand still.

(Take a look at the celebration in the streets of Buenos Aires when the announcement of the vote was made.  Progress–it’s a good thing.)

Dog Poop, Religion, Homosexuality and the “Ick” Factor

Ever since I got Annie two years ago, I’ve had to pick up her poop. Depending on what she has eaten (a lot of dry food, more wet food, little tidbits from my plate), sometimes that poop comes out in nice firm turds, sometimes they’re more squishy, and sometimes–well–they can be runny. Even though we might go outside more often, Annie usually poops two times a day, once during our first short, sleepy walk of the morning, and then at our evening–five thirty-ish–walk after I get home from work.

Because she’s the first dog I’ve ever had on my own, she’s the first one I’ve had to clean up after. The dogs we used to have on the farm when I was growing up must have pooped somewhere, but never anywhere close to the house, and even if they had, I doubt whether it would have been a big concern, considering all the other poop that was around, mostly chicken poop and cow poop. Of course, from time to time, some of that poop did have to be cleaned up. Cleaning out a hot, stinky chicken house was a horrible task.

But when I got Annie, I knew that I would have to clean up her poop. I think if you have a dog in the city, you have to clean up after it. There are laws on the books, but I’m embarrassed by how many dog owners I see walking their dogs when I’m walking Annie who don’t or won’t clean up after them. But that’s another gripe of mine, not my particular one of the day.

When I brought Annie home, I was prepared. I had bought the little rolls of bio-degradable bags to use to collect her poop, and still save plastic grocery bags just in case I run out of the other. At first it was a little “icky” cleaning up her poop, but after a short while, it wasn’t “icky” or disgusting, just part of the routine. I’m sure the reason that some dog owners don’t, or won’t, clean up after their dogs is because they think it’s disgusting–because it’s poop, and they don’t want to even feel the poop. (Using the bags is super easy–put your hand inside the bag, grab the poop, turn the bag inside out around the poop, tie the end in a knot, and toss it away.) You don’t even have to touch the poop. But so what if you did? Would it be a big thing? Just wash your hands! Think how many parents have had to change dirty diapers. There’s poop in them too. But what would happen if they didn’t clean up their babies after pooping?

My point is that if you have a dog or a baby, you have to clean up the poop. And, soon enough, it’s part of the routine. Cleaning up the poop, and the poop itself, is no longer something disgusting. It’s part of the norm, like washing the coffee cup that has been sitting with a half cup of coffee with cream in it all day. You wash it; it’s clean. It’s not something “icky”.

So, you say, where does religion come into all of this?

Well, a lot of the things people go “ick” over are because of something their religion has taught them, and sometimes their culture. But a religious “ick” is very different from a mere cultural “ick”.

Meat is a good example. Some religions forbid eating pork. Some Jews have to have a kosher kitchen, and surprisingly, their counterparts, the Muslims, have something nearly the same. For the most part, they won’t eat ham and shrimp and other foods because of the culinary rules of the religions. I’ve seen them in places where a variety of meats are available–and if there’s ham or shrimp on the table, that “ick” factor comes into play, but it’s a religious “ick”.

In some countries, people eat foods, especially meats, which bring out the “ick” in people from other cultures. The French and the Kazakhs eat horse meat. Some Koreans and Chinese eat dogs. In some places, they eat monkeys. Those are all high on my “ick” factor for foods. I remember one time I went to the meat case in a store here in Houston and saw package after package of wrapped-up chicken feet, but people from a lot of cultural backgrounds cook up chicken feet in one way or another. We raised, killed, scalded, plucked, cleaned, cut up, and cooked our own chickens on the farm, but the chicken feet always got thrown out to the dogs, along with the entrails. Chicken entrails (guts) and chicken feet are very high up there on my “ick” factor as food. (How do you do with eating chicken guts?) Eating testicles of any animal is pretty high up there too. Unknowingly, I ate some goat testicles when I lived in Greece. The “ick” factor came into play later that night.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with people having an “ick” factor, but we should understand why we feel that way. Culturally, things that some consider foods are not foods to others. Personally, chicken feet are not food. I just don’t see anything edible about them. Dogs are not food because they are pets. Others see it differently; it comes from our perspective of what is food and what is not food.

But this religious “ick” about food is another matter. People adhere to their beliefs because some old book, the Bible, the Talmud, the Koran, or some other religious book contains rules about what could be eaten–in other words, what was healthy to eat–thousands of years ago. We’ve got all kinds of books with rules about this today, what to eat if you have high blood pressure, what to eat if you have diabetes. We also have books that can tell us what wild mushrooms are edible, what cereals have the highest fiber content, what fruits contain a lot of sugar. Nobody–but nobody–today would equate any of these “rules” to some religious rule. And this is wherein lies the problems with religion and the “ick” factor.

Which brings about the mistake made by these religious people–of any hair-brained cult religion–and their viewpoint against homosexuality. They try to use a few lines of text (which have been translated and interpreted through a number of languages over a couple of thousand years) to try to prove that homosexuality is wrong. I would bet that 95% of these people who think this way couldn’t even find these texts in whatever book they purport to believe in, let alone really be able to explain what the text might even be saying. In reality, these people–and others–who disagree with homosexuality are just trying to use religion to justify their own “ick” factor.

As a society, we have made sex–any kind of sex–“icky”. We can’t really talk about it; it’s too “icky”. Therefore, when most straight people start to have to deal with something like homosexuality, the “ick”: factor really kicks in. A straight guy really gets disgusted when he thinks about what two gay guys might do with each other. (Strange, though, how most straight guys get really intrigued if it’s two women doing something with each other.) I think a lot of other people just have fallen into society’s view that anything sexual is basically something that can’t be talked about. And the religious hardcore just use their religious book to support their own “ick” factor: “It’s something disgusting to me, so I’m going to use my Bible to prove it.”


Look at these for several minutes. You can even think of them in different combinations and orders. You can get over your “ick” factor. Or maybe, you can’t. As a gay man, reading the word “vagina” is OK; anything more personal would still be pretty “icky”.

One thing we need to understand about our “ick” factors: they are not moral issues, nor should they be something that governments make laws restricting. This is the problem that is gotten into when governments start legislating based on religious “morality” (my quotes because I do not consider a lot of so-called christians moral in any way whatsoever): Should Ahmad feel guilty because he ate a ham sandwich? Should you feel guilty because Ahmad ate a ham sandwich? Should you feel guilty because Ahmad ate a ham sandwich? Should you feel guilty because Ahmad ate a ham sandwich? Should Ahmad be punished because he ate a ham sandwich? In the end, none of those should matter under the law. The only thing that matters is this: Ahmad should be punished if he stole the ham sandwich.

Just because someone or some group of people think pork is disgusting does not mean any government should write laws not permitting other people to eat pork. Just because you think people having sex in a way that is “icky” to you does not mean that any government should write laws not permitting others from doing it, and in turn, preventing them from any other benefit (i.e. gay marriage) that the rest of society has without question. I know of no government that ever outlawed left-handedness even though a lot of grade school teachers who didn’t like it gave a lot of whacks to little left-handed kids. I can’t imagine anybody thinking that any kid ever chose to be left-handed, and, thus, to be whacked by their teachers. Nor did any gay person ever choose to be gay, and, thus, be called names, have beer bottles thrown at them, denied having rights that others have, or worse, being beaten or killed.

It’s like this: if you don’t want to pick up dog poop, don’t get a dog, but your unwillingness to pick up dog poop should in no way interfere with my getting a dog, and, thereafter, picking up her poop.

(Oh, and if you’ve ever seen chickens pecking up their own poop and whatever else they might find, you might get some of that “ick” factor next time you stop off at KFC on your way home from work. Pigs, in my estimation, are a helluva lot cleaner than chickens, but neither a nice ham sandwich nor chicken salad brings out any “ick” factor in me.)