Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Ben Johnson

GET UPDATES FROM Ben Johnson
 

That's So Gay

Posted: 09/20/11 04:06 PM ET

"You're so gay."

It's one of the first insults we learn to toss around on the playground. It's a go-to phrase when a man wants to be disparaging to another man. And it's generally just something people say now to indicate they don't like... well, just about anything.

People constantly use the word "gay" with the intention of being insulting or disparaging; even in situations where sexual orientation isn't involved. The word has become a sort of flexible adjective that can mean virtually anything disagreeable.

The implication being, of course, that gay is synonymous with wrong. Because what could be more wrong than being gay?

Well, a lot really.

In fact, there's nothing wrong with being gay at all. And frankly, I'd like to think we all know that by now.

In 2011, in this progressive country, I think it's a fairly safe assumption that we're all comfortable with the fact that there are people that are gay. Sure, there is a small and angrily vocal section of the population that takes issue with homosexuality, but when you consider that some of the time these people are themselves just extremely repressed homosexuals, that minority gets even smaller.

(Is that last sentence making you mad? Think about what that might mean! Oh no!)

What I'm trying to say is that this is a country that enjoys fairly widespread support for LGBT rights (relatively speaking -- obviously there is still work to be done) and the beliefs of most of the politicians we choose to elect seem to reflect the fact that gay rights matter to Canadians. Generally, one might say, people in this country feel that gay people should have all the same rights that straight people do.

And yet, we continue to throw around the word "gay."

Don't like your friend's shirt? "Man, that sweater is so gay."

Someone took the last beer? "What a homo."

You have to work on the weekend? "Gay!"

It doesn't even make sense anymore. We've wielded the word gay as an insult so much, it is virtually entirely removed from its true meaning. How, for example, is the fact that you have to work on the weekend somehow a "homosexual" fact?

Does taking the last cold drink somehow mean that a man likely has the urge to have sex with another man?

And how, I ask you, could it be possible that skipping out on after-work beers to go be with my wife is gay? I'm going to see my wife!

I just don't get it.

So when I hear, "That's so gay," it bothers me, and we really need to stop saying it.

I know the argument has been made that, given this widespread use, using the word gay isn't even really homophobic. Certainly if you were to call someone a "fag" because they are actually gay, you're being homophobic, extremely offensive, and you should probably jump in front of a streetcar, please.

I cringe to even write that word and feel like it's right up there with the N word as one of the most offensive terms in the English language. But the word "gay," you might argue, isn't used with such intentional discrimination. There's a generation of people, the argument might go, who've now grown up calling each other gay who don't really even realize what they're saying.

Hell, I'm 30, have gay friends, and I know I've called other straight guys gay before. But why? I certainly didn't mean it in a "you-prefer-the-same-sex" sense of the word. In fact I think the last time I used that word, I was referring to how cheesy a video game was. "This game is gay," I said.

Indeed, the word gets thrown around so much, there is perhaps a valid argument that most people aren't even fully cognizant that it's homophobic anymore. My stupid use of the word to describe a video game probably sums up our generation's confused relationship with the word gay pretty nicely: It's become a catchall "insult" that people use to mean everything from "lame" to "cheesy" to "disappointing."

However, the roots of using gay as an insult are, obviously, homophobic.

Why would the word be an insult to anyone if everyone considered it normal?

So it may be true that when our generation says it, we don't actually mean it; but if you think about it, our ignorance is pretty much just as offensive as being intentionally homophobic. Because essentially you are -- like it or not -- equating all negative things with being gay.

"I didn't mean it like that," you'd probably say. But you can't really claim ignorance or say that you didn't know better, because we all know what that word means.

You're really just being stupid. And that's never an excuse for being offensive.

So let's just stop calling each other (and things, and events, and facts) "gay."

At best, it's extremely lazy (you can't come up with a more creative word?), but in general it's ignorant and, frankly, offensive.

 

Follow Ben Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ben_T_Johnson