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.

View from the Suburbs: Bits ‘n Pieces

This little dab of beans came from tonight's first picking. A couple of sad radishes came along for the ride.

The rain these last couple of days has helped all the plants in my little kitchen garden, those in the pots and beds, and, more than any others, the grass.

So the meager, little first picking of beans this evening seems just as interesting as most of the news items on TV, though there are a few things that have happened for which I have two cents:

British Petroleum:  They’ve promoted the brand BP rather than British Petroleum for a long time here in Houston.  On billboards and in other advertising, they’ve seemed to want to hide their real identity and appear to the consumer to be an American company.   After the explosion at their Texas City plant, British Petroleum came across as a denier, just like now with the gulf well, not wanting to own up to all the safety problems.  That British Petroleum is directly involved in another major catastrophe is not a big surprise.

Ted Haggard:  He’s started a new church in Colorado Springs.  Why?  He’s the type of person that wants to have the stage lights on him, which is really what many of these televangelists want . . . and, of course, the big money.  This guy is really just kind of creepy.  I’ve said it before:  nobody starts experimenting with gay sex–if they’re straight (or vice versa) in their 50s.  I’m betting that even after all the hoopla about his “change”, Haggard is starting a church back in Colorado Springs because it’s a place he’s comfortable in and he’ll be in a situation that he’s comfortable in.  It’s not that much different than getting a job as a mechanic for a Ford dealership after you’ve worked in a similar position for a Chevy dealer for 20 years.  I don’t doubt that in the not too distant future (if it’s still not occurring), there’ll be some “prayer time” with some guys, like Mike Jones, the male prostitute that he was seeing for three years.  (Three years?  That’s a relationship, isn’t it?)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:  A lot of promises were made by candidate Obama, and he and the Democrats got a lot of both verbal and monetary support because of those promises.  DADT has almost  80% support from the American public, yet this administration is hemming and hawing about getting this dinosaur repealed.  I know that gay people are not the only ones that are disappointed after electing a president and a congress that supported him.  Health care reform is another example.  The sad thing is this administration with the majority in Congress has the opportunity to make some much needed changes, but for quite awhile now they’ve all just looked like woosies.

Mother’s Day: Remembering Mom . . . and Dad

This morning was going so well.  Soon after letting Annie out for her morning “go”, I decided to try out the new sprinkler on the thirsty front yard.  The spray and puddles soon attracted a variety of birds and even a squirrel that wanted to play in the rhythmic splashes on the sidewalk.

Then into the garage I went to pull a big bag of potting soil out of the hatchback in order to re-pot a monkey’s paw fern that had crashed onto the patio from its precarious perch from a nail not-so-carefully driven into a pergola post.  But the beans that had been soaking overnight for frijoles a la charra were on my mind, so I headed back inside to get them started cooking.   When I returned to the pots, I happily found that the fern could be separated, and I could share part with a friend.  In the front yard, the water continued soaking the dry ground.

With my hands covered with potting soil, I headed out front to turn off the water, only to find that ants had started another hill in the corner of the side flower bed.  Back to the garage I went for the Sevin.

With the ants taken care of, my puttering continued–filling pots, frying pieces of salted pork for the beans, sweeping the front sidewalk of the remaining puddles and twigs from the oak tree.

Enjoying my puttering on this unusually fresh southeast Texas morning.  Moving back and forth task to task until one and then the other was completed.  Even now as I write, it’s back downstairs to check on the nearly ready beans.

Enjoying my house.

Then one of those moments comes over me.  I know it’s Mother’s Day.  This is the second without Mom.  Last year wasn’t like this.

It’s the house.

Driving back from Kansas, a Christmas ago, less than two months after Mom had passed away, I had Annie in the car with me, and all of a sudden, for no obvious reason, I stopped the car, started to bawl, and said to her,  “I’m going to get us a house.”

————–

My parents spoiled me.  When you’re the last one by a ways, you get spoiled.  I didn’t see it that way so much when it was happening, but they kept it up even after I came back from four years in the military and should have learned to take care of myself.  The house on the farm, and later, the one in town.  Mom. Dad. Home.  Always there for me.   After a weekend or holiday spent with my folks, I almost always cried  after I got into my car and was heading down the road.  (There are some of those N.A.R.T.H.-type psycho-wackos that would say that’s why I’m gay, but if so there’s a helluva lot of spoiled straight people out there too.)

Even after Dad was gone, when I’d spend time with Mom at the house in Abilene, it’d be hard to leave, and later, when she wasn’t able to care for herself, she’d say things to show she still worried and cared about me, like when one of the last times I saw her, she said, “Don’t stop quilting.  You might need that to take care of yourself some day.”  Behind me now set two tables  piled with two sewing machines, fabric, and all  sorts of quilting supplies, not quite ready to start–or finish–a project.  When the things on those tables are organized, most everything in my house will have found its place.

————–

The full realization of why getting this house was so important never really hit me until this morning.

After my mom was gone, I no longer had a home to go back to.  Not that she’d even lived in her own house for the last years of her life.

So many things that I do now remind of my mom and dad.  (I can hardly breathe right now–remembering.)  My dad.  My dad’s blue striped overalls.  When I was a very little kid, I used to hang onto the loop on the side (the one that would hold a hammer) when I went along with him almost every Saturday to the grocery store.  Those beans downstairs.  I learned to cook, and not be afraid to experiment, from watching and helping Mom in the kitchen.  I could still pluck and dress a chicken if I had to.

Not long after I moved in to my house, I “had” to get a wooden bowl for the Christmas nuts, not only the bowl, but add to it the old flat iron that I already had and a hammer to crack the nuts.  A similar set for nut-cracking was what my parents had had for as long as I can remember.  The once kerosene lamp, turned into an electric one by an uncle, which sat forever on the desk in the house on the farm, after being passed around the family for awhile, came to me and now is on my desk in the corner of the living room, not so different from its place back on the farm.

My house has already become more than a nice place to live; because of it, I am able to live in a way that I couldn’t in an apartment.  More than ever, I realize how much of my own self comes from my mom and dad.  Because of them, I pushed myself to buy a house, and I’m sure that they would be happy for me, knowing that I’m “home” again.

(And the beans are done, the cilantro added.  And my first attempt at barbequed ribs on the big-ass grill is happenin’.)

You Can Help Make It Happen: Make a Call To Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

I was an Arab linguist in the Air Force.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that here before.  I’m mentioning it here now because since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, more than 58 Arab linguists have been kicked out of the military.  I don’t know what it is, but gay guys just seem to have a knack for languages.  That’s not to say that straight guys can’t be good at languages, but just not as many of them seem to have the same desire for making language, in whatever aspect, a big part of their career.  Look at all the novelists, playwrights, and other writers.  I would bet that the proportion of them who are gay is far greater than the proportion of gay people in the general population.

But it’s not just gay linguists who get kicked out of the military for being gay.  And these days if there are people who don’t know that gays are still getting kicked out of the military, they just aren’t keeping up with the news.  President Obama says he’s going to get “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repealed.  The American people are for a repeal.  But somebody has to get off their duff and do something.  If the President isn’t going to push the Congress to act on this, the whole thing is just going to sit there.

So I’m asking you–people who read this blog–call your representatives and senators and tell them you want congress to act on this.  All the complaining by bloggers across the internet isn’t going to get it done.  We have to make contact with the people who can.

People in those offices on Capitol Hill do answer the phone.  Pick up your cell phone (unless you’re driving, of course!) and call.  Here is a list of phone numbers of U.S Senators;  call 202-22 + the 5-digit number given for your senators.  Here is a list of phone numbers for U.S Representatives; again the area code is 202.  That’s the best I can do without dialing the number for you.  You do, of course, have to know who your representatives and senators are.

Winds of Change Come to Kansas Both in Energy Producers . . . and in People’s Hearts

Change has come to the Kansas landscape:  the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties

Change has come to the Kansas landscape: the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties

Some complain that Obama and the Congress aren’t doing enough to bring about changes for gay equality. But for real change to happen when it comes to beliefs and prejudices, it has to happen in people’s hearts.

I was raised in a part of the country where big changes don’t seem to happen very fast–no matter what kind of change we might be talking about. That place is western Kansas (central Kansas if you think of the state as having 3 regions), where the wind never seems to stop blowing from one direction or the other.

I read an article today that reminded me of an event I had wanted to write about before. Both of these show that changes in the way others feel toward gay people are being made.

In my little ol’ hometown of Dorrance, the biggest event of every year is Memorial Day weekend. It’s the time when alumni go back for school reunions and other get-to-gethers on Saturday and Sunday. On the Monday holiday itself, there is always a parade that goes from downtown out to the flower-filled cemetery, and the local American Legion post puts on a moving service and tribute. That particular event is so much a part of our local heritage. (And me too. You know, I can’t even explain; it’s something that maybe only people from small towns can understand, but I’m getting choked up as I write this.)

But, anyway, back to the point. I don’t think I have ever been so proud of my hometown and its people as a couple of years ago when I went back for the holiday weekend, and the main speaker at the Memorial Day service was the youngest sister of one of my old friends, who is now a university professor and an out lesbian. I had met her partner the year before at the same event, but I was completely overwhelmed with happiness to see how my hometown of not even 250 people was so accepting and welcoming.

Today an article from the Garden City Telegraph also made me proud, proud of a young gay kid from Kansas. A senior at Garden City High School had taken it upon himself and gotten a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) started. Even though GCHS is one of the largest high schools in the state, the town of about 25,000 does sit out in the flat southwest Kansas plains, surrounded by farms and feedlots full of cattle. By reading the Comments to the article, we find that not everyone is accepting: his father kicked him out of the house. However, all but one commenter had very positive things to say. Except for his father, this young man seems to have a good support network and a very positive attitude. Hopefully, there are some PFLAG people in the area that will help the dad get some better understanding of his own feelings and that the two can once again have a relationship.

Only a few years ago, people thought that tall wind chargers would destroy the unique beauty of the rough Kansas pastureland, but once put in place, the wind farms have seemed to add their own beauty to the landscape, not to mention their benefit as clean energy producers.

I think that’s also what happens with people’s prejudices too: get to know what you fear and you find there’s really nothing to fear, and more possibly there’s something even more to endear.

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.”

PENIS. VAGINA. PENIS. ANUS. VAGINA. PENIS. VAGINA. PENIS. VAGINA. PENIS. VAGINA. ANUS. PENIS. VAGINA. PENIS. PENIS. VAGINA. VAGINA. PENIS. PENIS. ANUS. PENIS. PENIS. VAGINA. VAGINA. ANUS.

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.)