So, two years ago, I wrote an article for The Catalyst in which I basically publicly outed myself as gay to the campus community at large. I talked about the importance of being out and open in a world where being gay is (slowly) becoming more and more accepted and better understood by the general public. I still agree with that sentiment. Being closeted is a real pain in the ass anyway (no pun intended).
With all this in mind, it may surprise some of you when I say that I am not at all personally bothered or hurt when I hear the phrase, “That’s so gay!,” thrown around in conversation. It stems from a personal choice not to get offended, as well as some other reasons regarding contextual and historical meanings. I recognize that I fall into a pretty small minority of folks who could give two shits less about what do and don’t call “gay.” That being said, you should still avoid casually claiming that your old laptop is “gay” because it still upsets a large number of people.
I should start with a little more background on myself. I’m an English major. Therefore, I study literature, language, words, and meaning. When I hear the word “gay,” I associate it with myself, my boyfriend, some (keyword: some) of the bars I enjoy, a community I am a part of, and various other implications. The phrase “that’s so gay” generally refers to something being thought of as stupid, ugly, annoying, or otherwise; essentially, it’s usually a negative connotation. I may be out of my element when I say this, but there’s some kind of disconnect in my brain that creates a gap between the intention of the speaker and the actual meaning of the word, leaving me more unsure and confused than offended.
I wasn’t aware that your coffee table or your piles of homework had the same sexual orientation as I do. I have some single gay friends that I could help you set them up with (that is, if they’re into inanimate objects). To paraphrase, the implied meaning of “that’s so gay” is not the same as what I define in my head as actually gay (re: homosexual, duh), causing you to sound really dumb to me when you describe your job as “gay.” Pick up a dictionary and find a word that fits into our lexicon as meaning what you are actually trying to say, and that doesn’t cause folks to feel affronted, and use that instead. You’ll sound smarter and less like a punk-ass eighth grader when you don’t use offensive jargon.
Beyond the fact that, when I hear “gay”, I think of positive things (and I write you off as sounding stupid if your meaning implies anything else), my English major background has taught me that, over time, words and phrases can take on new meanings. I know this sounds like it is in conflict with the point that I just made, but there’s a difference between personal association and cultural association. Empirically speaking, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “gay” has had several definitions over time, including, but not limited to: noble, beautiful, excellent, fine; bright or lively-looking, finely or showily dressed; light-hearted, carefree; wanton, lewd, lascivious; dissolute, promiscuous, frivolous, hedonistic; of or relating to homosexuals; and, most recently, foolish, stupid, socially inappropriate or disapproved of. The final two are labeled by the OED as slang, meaning they are considered informal jargon, often inappropriate for formal speech and writing. The OED goes even further and labels the final definition as sometimes considered offensive.
So, the unfortunate reality here is that the word “gay” has evolved into a meaning that many people take issue with, while simultaneously being a slang term for the homosexual community that, as far as I know, hasn’t taken offense at the term. But don’t blame me; blame English speakers for using “gay” so much as another word for stupid, or lame.
Our culture has come a long way in terms of equality for gay people, but has regressed in others. Rhetoric, in particular, as exemplified by the “that’s so gay” phenomenon, is an example. However, rhetoric is simply that: rhetoric, and nothing more. Words are words. What’s important is meaning. I highly doubt that users of “that’s so gay” are actively trying to insult gay people or disrupt the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ population. When you manipulate somebody’s use of “that’s so gay” to mean something like “all gay people are stupid (or ugly, or wrong, or…),” it gives the speaker power, and leaves you hurt and bothered. I’m not saying “toughen up” or “get over it” to those who are upset by “that’s so gay,” although I think looking past political correctness will ultimately better society in many ways, I’m simply offering commentary on the way I see things.
Not everyone sees this subject the way I do; I certainly viewed it differently when I was still not publicly “out”, and even when I was first in the process of coming out. I’ve learned to just not care. Other folks, though, find it hurtful, distasteful, insulting, and demeaning to an entire population of people. It is also starting to be seen as a sign of ignorance and poor education. Equating homosexuality with negative thoughts, feelings, energies, and emotions inevitably will alienate a large set of LGBTQ folks. Plus, to reiterate and explore further, you sound completely foolish to those who refuse to submit to new cultural norms regarding the definition of “gay,” such as myself. If you really want to call something “gay” call gay things gay. Two dudes kissing? Gay. A rainbow flag? Gay. A pride parade? Gay. Ellen DeGeneres? Gay. But a cell phone, a chair, your microwave, or a rainy day? Not gay.