Dear gays, stop being gay and just be gay about it!
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’, as the old saying goes. We all know that’s not true and that sometimes, words can hurt a lot more than a stick (those things are only an inch or so across anyway), but like the stick and the stone, they have to be aimed at you to really hurt. They have to target you with malicious intent.
Which is why it seems so silly that there’s such a furore surrounding the use of the word ‘gay’ in schools at the moment. Stonewall, a lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, has recently announced a campaign to discourage people from using the word ‘gay’ in the context of negative feelings towards something. It highlights “That’s so gay,” and, “you’re so gay,” as examples of people using this word in a way it and its followers find offensive. According to youth coordinator at the charity, Wayne Dhesi, this “perpetrates the stereotype that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is somehow wrong.”
While I have no problem with the idea of promoting equality in schools, work places and a reduction in real world prejudice (let’s face it, if you have a problem with what someone else does with their genitals, you’re a fucking idiot) I think in trying to improve the well-being of gay people in general and specifically in schools, this campaign is encouraging the infringement of free speech – an issue that is much bigger than sexual prejudice because it effects everyone – and it’s training kids to see being “offended” by something not directed at them, as a cause for concern.
Right off the bat, I’m going to say that I don’t think anyone should be telling anyone else how to talk or what to say. That may seem like somewhat of a blanket statement, but as soon as you cross into the realm of “you can’t say that,” then you’re going down a road that ends with thought crime and a more dishonest society. In reality, we should be encouraging open discourse, not making people have to think twice before they speak. This puts an anchor on the evolution of language and inhibits expression. Honest discussion let’s prejudice come out into the open where it can be debated and combated, if you force it down and pretend it doesn’t exist, it’s much harder to root out.
That’s not to say there shouldn’t be consequences for certain things. If you’re gay and someone calls you a faggot to your face, with hatred, I hope you punch their teeth out. However if you were to overhear someone calling their friend a faggot with laughter in their voice, because that’s something they affectionately call one another, then I don’t think you should have any right to tell them not to.
You know what you can do? If it’s a friend of yours, have a chat and tell them how you feel. If it’s not, move away from them and you won’t have to hear it any more. Turn off the TV if it’s on there or listen to a different radio show. It’s not the responsibility of the world to cater to your sensibilities, it’s up to you to live in that world.
This would of course be different if these people are saying things you don’t like directly to you. If they’re targeting you that’s different. That’s malicious. That’s real prejudice. But that’s not the case if you overhear it in conversation. If anything, you should stop listening in, you nosey body!
You also have to remember that gay can mean different things. In the “negative” instance it’s being used to mean lame. No one is saying it thinking “that’s so people-that-have-sex-with-the-same-gender,” they’re thinking “that’s so lame.”It’s exactly the same way as people used to use it to mean happy, before it was co-opted by gay people to describe themselves.
I imagine people were once mad that some were using the word “gay” to describe homosexuality, when all they wanted to do was have a gay old time without it insinuating more than a great party. But it would be ridiculous to suggest that gay people not use the word because other people found its usage negative, wouldn’t it?
Which is exactly what happened a few years ago in Lesbos, a small Greek island, who’s people call themselves Lesbians. Upset by the fact that this term was being used by gay women the world over and worried of how that might make the residents appear, they lodged a legal complaint against the Gay and Lesbian community of Greece, hoping that these groups would be banned from using the word “lesbian,” in their names.
They summarily lost, and rightly so. No group should be able to limit the wording of another, simply because they don’t like what’s being said. It’s the same in this instance. Gay people shouldn’t be able to limit the use of a word because they identify with it in a way that’s different from others.
So don’t be offended by things that aren’t aimed at you, the person saying it doesn’t mean to hurt your feelings and that’s the important part: intention and context. These campaigns seek to remove both of those and that’s so dangerous. It’s part of the reason people have gotten in trouble over bomb jokes on Twitter. It’s killing the art of language because it makes sarcasm, irony and other subtle parts of the way we communicate, harder and harder to use because someone might take it the wrong way.
If I tell someone to go fuck off, with spittle flying from my mouth in a rage, it’s a lot different than if I do it when my brother takes the piss out of me. You can’t start not-differentiating between those situations, because before long we won’t be able to say anything without someone complaining.
Instead of teaching children that being offended is a good thing, help them improve their self esteem to the point where shit other people says just rolls off their back, because they love themselves enough to not care what some idiot says. Help them understand that words can mean different things and that without hearing the context of the sentence, or knowing the person speaking it, they aren’t getting the full picture.
Teach them that gay people deserve all the same rights, equalities, opportunities, respect and care as any other human being on this planet, but just like everyone else, they do not deserve special treatment. Being gay does not give you the right to tell other people how to use the word that describes your sexuality. Just as being straight doesn’t, just as being black, or white, or disabled, or any other group you choose to identify with.
We’re all humans. We’re all people, that’s the important part.
To finish this up, I’ll leave you with a quote by the national treasure, Mr Stephen Fry:
“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”
Thanks to everyone that chatted to me about this, gay and straight, your inputs were invaluable. Nobody specifically asked to remain anonymous, but I’ll assume that’s the case to be on the safe side.
Except for Karen Thompson Pringle, who wanted me to mention she’s a model.