‘Gay’:  Let’s get this straight!

By Nick Lewis on October 31, 2016 | Articles, News, Sexual Orientation

This is gay, that’s gay…It’s all just ‘so gay’ these days.

(previously published 2014 by Nick, our Director)

I’ve come across a few articles recently that use the word ‘gay’, and I can’t say that I’ve seen one of them use the word correctly.  Let’s look at the use of ‘gay’ as an adjective.  Ask yourself, what is a ‘gay marriage’, a ‘gay wedding’, or ‘gay adoption’?  What does a ‘gay bar’ look like?  What makes something ‘so gay’?

Over the past few years we have seen the development of what is known to us as the ‘that’s so gay’ phenomenon.  The word ‘gay’ is being used as a pejorative adjective and is seemingly attributed to many people, activities and my personal favourite…inanimate objects.  How is that car gay?  Just because it’s painted in the colours of the rainbow… I mean, yeah ok, it might be bright, it might be vibrant, it might be displaying the colours used in the (oh look here’s another one) ‘gay flag’, but how does that make it gay?  The last time I checked a car doesn’t even have a gender (I know we do like to have our various pet names for our motor vehicles – my first car was called Orville because it was the same colour as the duck.  But sorry, this doesn’t make it human, nor did it make it male – or at least not according to rules of the English language).  So, how can a car be attracted to someone (or even something) of the same sex? Now, I will grant you that the colours of this make-believe car (the rainbow has become a recognised symbol for diversity and has been used in many (Gay) Pride marches since the 70s) could be seen to be flamboyant, but that doesn’t make the car Liberace – and even his sexual orientation was contested.

Now, what about activities?  These ‘gay marriages’ that are causing all this bad weather, ‘gay adoptions’ that are taking place in the face of much right wing contestation?  What is it about these acts (processes if you will) that make them ‘gay’?  Is it that they secretly transcend process and become human when we’re not looking, and run around flirting with other ‘gay adoptions’ before they fall in love and run off to get married (that’s a ‘gay marriage’ of course, during a ‘gay wedding’ at a ‘gay club’) where everyone has a ‘gay old time’?  Or, and this is just a thought of course, might it be that the people who are taking part in these acts (love, marriage, adoption) are attracted to people of the same sex?  With that logic, then at very least it would be the people involved who could be described (the correct use of the adjective) as gay.  Now there’s an interesting concept eh?

Ok, so maybe there’s more than just a hint of sarcasm here, but it really does frustrate me when I hear people calling all sorts of things ‘gay’, when quite frankly they never have been, and never will be because they physically can’t be.

Of course, there is a further problem with the use of the term ‘gay’, even as a social category. Not everyone who is ascribed (by others – and it’s not their place to presume of course) the ‘gay’ label is in fact gay. A prime example of this is those who would identify outside of the straight/gay binary. This includes people who might identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning, and asexual – and there are many more terms being developed and used that show the fluidity of one’s sexual orientation. Just because people who identify as or with any of these labels might at some point (or not) be in a relationship with someone of the same biological sex, it doesn’t make them gay. I’ve written about, and linked to, an article previously where a man identified as “otherwise straight” told of how he fell in love with another man. Sexual orientation, or sexuality is part of our identity; but this can change and develop. With this thinking, we can begin to allow for the possibility that ‘gay’ is a label which people can identify with, or not, at points of or throughout their entire lives.

As I can hear the cries from afar that this is just political correctness gone mad, let’s just take a minute to think about it. Firstly, there’s nothing political about my sexual orientation. I’m not queer (and for those of you unsure, check out queer theory to understand my use of the word) because I want to make a statement, or start a revolution, it’s just part of my multi-faceted identity that contributes to me as a whole; as a human being. Secondly, when is Politics (big P) ever agreed to be correct? This is somewhat of an inside joke, but it does show how nonsensical the term ‘politically correct’ actually is. Far too many people throw the term around, though when I ask them to define what they mean by it, they struggle. If what they mean by it is the use of appropriate language and being considerate to the different needs of people, then yes ok, I for one would want to be ‘correct’. Thirdly, and most importantly, let’s look at how the language we use can actually have an impact on real people, with real lives and real emotions. Take for example Katie, a 13 year old girl who is attracted to other girls, but is afraid to tell her friends and family because every day she hears ‘gay’ being used as a derogatory term. She feels emotionally isolated and attempts to lock away her feelings because she’s made to believe that ‘people like her’ aren’t ‘normal’. She constantly has to hide a part of who she is to her friends and family and becomes increasingly socially isolated as well as emotionally. With nobody to talk to, and no friends because she’s avoided social interactions because of the discomfort it causes her, she is alone, lonely, depressed. She begins to cry herself to sleep each night, but when her family members ask her what’s wrong she can’t tell them. This is just the beginning of too many real-life stories that can develop in many ways. Antisocial behaviour, self-harm, and all too often even suicide. And to think, things could have been very different for Katie if she hadn’t felt that she would be rejected because of who she is. This is just one (fictitious) example, but there are so many reports and media articles that have told a story similar to this, it isn’t difficult to find real case studies.

So, let’s ask ourselves, is language just something we use as a bit of banter, or actually, should we be making a greater effort to be inclusive of difference? The words we use and choose have power and meaning, both in how they are intended and how they are interpreted. Please consider the language you use and the impact that it might have on others. We never know how people are feeling, just remember that as you throw around jokes that you might find funny, but the person you’re telling it to might find socially oppressive, or offensive. If you are unsure on what someone would find offensive, I find the best thing to do is to ask them. Don’t be afraid of language, be reflexive. It’s ok to hold your hand up and say “do you know what, I don’t know what word to use to describe someone”. Ask them, I’m sure they’ll tell you. Some people prefer certain terminology over other and if it’s their identity, surely they will be best placed to describe themselves. After all we’re all different – it’s the one thing we all have in common. As Oscar Wilde said “be yourself; everyone else is taken”.

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