Taking things literally… the term ‘Gay’ has more than 1 official meaning in our English language. So why does society always link this phrase with the negative? Now, to be clear, we do not promote or support the use of language that intends to cause offence. But where has this term originated from?
How often have we heard or used the term ‘That’s so gay?’ In my career, probably nearly every day. But in the majority of circumstances, is it actually intended as ‘homophobic abuse?’ Or has our language evolved into having developed a different meaning to the term being ‘gay?’
Let’s look at some simple observational evidence and to start with, let’s look at our standard dictionary definitions. This is an important part in understanding how or why this phrase is becoming so common. As our English language evolves so frequently with new words being added to our dictionaries every year, what is there preventing an additional definition of a word already concrete in our vocabulary.
‘Gay’ being ‘Of a person, specifically a man, relating to or used by homosexuals,’ will generally be the initial definition that people associate with the word. This was first established back in the 1960’s by homosexual men themselves as a preferred alternative description. This has since overshadowed the original meaning of ‘gay’ dating back centuries and meaning ‘carefree, light-hearted or bright.’
When you spend some time researching into our complex English Language, you will find that subsequent definitions and descriptions of the term ‘gay’ will also include a reference to being ‘foolish, stupid or unimpressive,’ being an ‘informal offence.’ So where is the reference to homosexuality in this description?
The term ‘that’s so gay,’ can obviously be interpreted in a variety of manners. The majority of circumstances I have heard or witnessed, have rarely had any derogatory reference to homosexuality directly, but solely towards our latter definition of stupidity. Does this mean that society defines homosexuality as ‘foolish, stupid or unimpressive?’ Living in a country where I can freely express my sexuality without fear of harm, with the ability to live and unite in marriage with my partner and attend bars, clubs, groups and festivals in celebration of my sexual orientation, means that in theory, society does not support this link between stupidity and foolishness to homosexuality any more. Stonewall’s Gay British Crime Survey 2013 states that ‘homophobic hate crime has decreased,’ and although still occurring, many positive steps have been taken in reducing the physical and verbal harassment experienced by homosexual people across the UK.
The website thinkb4youspeak.com has an interesting link into the daily use of the phrase ‘so gay’ and today, across the twitter world, it has been (allegedly) used over 7,000 times today (so far). Having had a long browse through a ‘so gay’ twitter search, my initial findings are predominantly inconclusive in finding a hardcore link between this phrase and direct homophobic abuse, although much of it does have an air of reference to negativity, stupidity or even misery. Persuasive as I may be, naturally my findings here are completely subjective.
A study completed by the open democracy is also supportive of the understanding that many of it’s participants in the study ‘did not use the phrase ‘that’s so gay’, but those who did insisted that it was not homophobic.’ The study then goes on to gain feedback about the understanding as to what homophobic abuse actually is. Although participants or those who use this phrase might not consider their language homophobic, it will always boil down to the manner in which the word is used and ultimately, the views and interpretations of the recipient.
So while society still links the term ‘gay’ instantly to homosexuality, without food for thought into its many other intentions, maybe we should look to educate others in either widening their vocabulary and eradicating this term from our everyday phrasebook while we still take offence, or start to educate ourselves in understanding that not everyone intends to offend, but merely describe. Why should we teach anyone that being ‘gay’ is something to be shameful about? Every time we take offense, we consolidate this negative descriptive link. But should we be right to take offence? That answer will lie only in the ‘ears’ of the beholder. Treat each instance individually. We as homosexuals are far too often the subject of judgement upon us from those who know nothing of our lifestyle or the challenges we have faced in being free to express this lifestyle. So let’s not be too quick to judge other’s choice of language ourselves.
We do not however live in a perfect world or a perfect society, therefore changes like these will take time. So for now, let’s unite and do everything we can in breaking this link between ‘stupidity’ and ‘gay’ and celebrating the diverse language in which we speak. If we are going to use the term ‘gay,’ then make sure you justify your meaning clearly. It’s not all bad. Let’s be optimistic that change for the positive CAN happen.
But until then…. Chose your words wisely. And join together in @GLSEN’s ‘ThinkB4YouSpeak’ continued campaign in getting their goal, ‘our goal.’
Article by: #FridgeBitch (Thank you ‘Fridge Bitch’ xxx)
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