Wednesday, April 09, 2008

things we say

Language warning. The following screeching contains a very few words of questionable offensiveness. Read it anyway. Be a damn grown up.

My poor little blog seems to be slowly dying from neglect. I'm not intentionally neglecting the thing, but trying to write has not gotten any easier lately. If anything, my willingness to write has stayed the same, sort of, while my desire to post what I come up with continues to decline.

What you haven't gotten nearly enough of from me lately is a nice healthy rant. I've kept my ire entirely to myself for far too long. While I was off being unhappy, I was still finding targets for anger, but they don't nearly affect me lately as much as other issues I can't stop over-pondering. So what has been bothering me?

I've thought lately about words. Certainly I've considered words before, but lately I've noticed more of an ability for words to have impact, often an impact that the speaker has never considered, and there is often no way to explain, no way to make someone understand that how you hear their words is far removed from how those words sound to them.

One word, cocksucker, and a phrase, that's so gay, have stuck out in my mind lately. There are plenty of variations on these two, but these two are enough to start my little conversation. The suggestion is that enjoying fellatio as a giver or being gay are inherently demeaning to one's manhood, so it follows that they are great words to use to insult people. Cocksucker/gay=undesirable trait

What really bothers me with these words are the inability to explain to people in a way they understand why it might bother me or others to hear them used in this manner. I've only been able to explain to one person, and though she isn't black, when I compared her use of the word gay as a negative adjective to someone using the word nigger, she seemed to at least get for a moment why it might not be okay. She's a good friend and not someone who would intentionally be hurtful, but she also couldn't accept that in might bother me that she would use gay in such a way.

So how do you make the average person understand? What compares, in each individual world, to gay or to a racial epithet? What word has enough power to offend? I can't really think of any. While many women abhor the words cunt or bitch, they don't quite seem to have the same power for as many people. The bother is more a personal issue on an individual level.

The only tool I really have when confronting this is to turn it around, to make the situation lighter through disagreement, yet people often don't get it unless they also know that I'm gay. And while I might have made a show of announcing it in certain locales, not everyone reads the blog, and I don't wear my "Hello, my name is Gay" convention sticker everyday.

So I disagree. I hear the tired phrase and tell the speaker why they are wrong, why the situation or the thing is in fact not gay. "Andre champagne is the gayest? No sir. In fact it isn't gay at all. It's of low quality and has a poor taste and is in fact not even champagne. Andre may well be quite heterosexual," to use a conversation that took place recently. But all that gets is a laugh at the perceived joke or a blank stare of not understanding.

I do have friends, including the young lady mentioned above, who are quite able to use the word gay as a description and in a non negative fashion. These are people who are quite accepting of me and quite unconcerned with the homosexuality of their friends. They're the best kind of people, and I'm slowly building a network of friends for whom gayness is no more or less important than any other aspect of who you are. When you know that someone doesn't look down on the sucking of a cock you don't mind hearing it so much, and when those same people can just as easily describe the same situation as comparable to licking cunts it seems more easy to hear it.

So where have I arrived with all this? What great lesson have I learned? Not a fucking thing. All I know is that it used make me pause when I almost caught myself suggesting something was gay, and now it bothers me on some level to hear it, and I'm quite willing to point it out and to deny someone the chance to use it with impunity. I will in fact call you on it and at least try to make you see. Does it always work, or more accurately, will it ever work?

Feel free to comment about this with your own thoughts. I'd really like to hear what others think. Feel free to remind me of words I've used that make me a hypocrite.


Anonymous said...

After a year of not being out at work, once I did I never let them get away with the expression "that is so gay..." when meaning it was a bad thing.

Always my response is "We would never do that ... whatever it is. It always gets a laugh, as I want it to, but I've noticed that they use the expression much more carefully now.

trish said...

Hmmmmmm. I would never say anything like, "That's so gay," for the same reasons you mentioned. I've always found that very offensive myself. But I have to admit that you caught me offguard with cocksucker. I do use that one on occasion, and I never considered its' ramifications. I vow to ban it in our house from this moment on!

I have always found cunt to be a terrible word, and I think I can count on my one hand the number of times I have used it. One time I used it towards my own mother (please don't crucify me) because I felt so betrayed by her, and I happened to know that it is one of the only words she herself refuses to utter. It was very effective , I must say.

But heck, I do love my cunt. I just love to call it a vagina instead. The word cunt offends me because people use it as in insult, and I seriously resent that people like to think of cunts as dirty disgusting places.

Totally off topic, but I couldn't find an email for you to make this comment: I totally blame you (and I think my family does too!) for getting me absolutely addicted to Rufus Wainwright ever since you posted that Christmas song video. I literally cannot stop.

trish said...

One more thing:

I was once a public school teacher. High School actually. I always banned derogatory comments about any group, gay people included. That included comments like "N is gay" etc. But I noticed that with most of the other teachers, the gay-offensive comments were totally not on the radar. My students were shocked at the beginning of the year by my refusal to cave on this issue. But by the end of the year, two of them came up to me and actually told me that I had made them realize something about gay people, changed their opinion, etc. Of course, I didn't really intend to convince them specifically to like gay people, exactly. But by banning gay-phobic language, maybe it had that effect anyway? Either way, I was very happy, and it was very unexpected.

Michele said...

I think dicks are great, but it's a whole 'nother thing to call a man a dick. What's up with that?

I never say "that's so gay". It seems rude and middle school.

samuel said...

I think I call people dicks and cunts about equally. It's yet another thing I never really considered. I do feel that calling people cunts is possibly more demeaning to women/the vagina as the imagery seems more powerful and more negative. In the case of calling people dicks though it seems to me to suggest some of the more accurate stereotypes of a generalized idea of guys. It's almost as if it's less not okay.

Bigg said...

I am actually okay with things like 'cocksucker' and 'cunt' and 'douchebag' (you hear that last one a lot where I live), but I don't let the kids use that whole 'that's so gay' thing at my house. They all know the rule: at my house, you have to say 'that's so Republican.'

SabrinaT said...

I have to be honest. I have used "that is so gay". I just never thought about it in terms of offending anyone. It is not something I will use again! Shit, does this mean now I have to email my gay friends and apologies to them? You learn something new every day!
The word that I HATE it cunt. It just sounds sick to me.

Ren said...

You should hear Trevor's girlfriend if anyone uses the "that's so gay" term. She's on them before I can blink.

Had the argument a few times myself....people rarely GET IT. I explain it by letting them know that the term "gay" as they've just used it could only be replaced with a negative word like "lame" or "gross" or "stupid".

You'd never hear somebody saying "that's so straight" as a put-down, so "that's so gay" isn't ok either. Small minds will never get it. People need to keep speaking up.

Denette said...

I can't stand the phrase, "That's so gay." It ranks right up there with, "You throw like a girl." "Crying like a baby". "Crying like a girl." It's terrible in our society to have female traits or to be a child.

D said...

I was thinking this over after I posted and maybe that is why people are so down on gay men. When they are made fun of it is often because they show some feminine characteristic. You don't hear many jokes about manly gay men and I even think in the LGBT community that the more feminine men take the brunt of the gay bashing.