growing up, like many gays, i was teased and insulted with many of these words:
Faggot. Pansy. Queer. Sissy.
i’ll be honest: those words—even though intellectually I know they’re just WORDS—still sting. to this day, I loathe them and when I hear them, my face flushes and my head immediately wants to cower downward…
i have 2 teenage sons that live with me whom i have raised (along with grace and for most of their lives, a loving church family) and tried to instill in them the kind of sensitivity that means we make fun of NO ONE—wheelchair, limp, lisp, facial imperfection, effeminate boy, etc.
i guess the key word there is “tried.”
several years ago, while i was still “in the closet,” they and their 2 stepbrothers started using the word “gay” to mean “stupid/ignorant” (or comparable insult, ala “nigger”—altho thank God they’ve at least been sensitive enough to know not to use that word as an insult). of course, i had a really hard time with it and although i had always tried to play straight dad (coaching their teams, doing guy things, etc.), it still stung. they—and their peers—really DID mean it as an insult. simply,
a gay person was the worst they could think of and they purposefully meant it in the worst, meanest sense.
“grace” (who knew of my “struggle”) and i tried to explain to them that we did not want to hear them use that word in that context ever bcz they could never know who they were hurting by saying it. but they never really stopped.
fast-forward a few years—a period of time that also included my coming out and subsequent divorce (altho we’re so blessed to remain very close)—and the word had taken on the context of “that’s so gay“…a similar usage but not quite as mean-spirited as before. basically it seemed to have devolved into “silly” and was often lighthearted. while i never approved using it in this context, i rarely tried to quash its use.
comparatively, my experience with the N-word as an insult has been less prolific (i was raised and still live in a predominantly white area) except for watching my older son and his friends use it as a term of endearment, calling each other “my nigga.” i reminded them of the word’s origin and gently insisted that they had NO RIGHT to use that word. i also reasoned that it didn’t matter if young black men used it and were friendly with each other about it; they were white and its use was plainly offensive. but the context in which these young millennials were using it did seem to parallel the “watered down” use of “gay.”
out almost 3 years now, the #2 and #3 still live with me and (coincidentally?) my African-American partner. although they never use any variation of the N word (except for a few nicknames for friends in their phones and texting each other—including girls, which is just odd), the phrase “that’s so gay” is still used around us. and if i’m being completely honest, my partner and I have both caught ourselves using it in the “not gay but silly” and “gay as in GAY” contexts; our rationale is that WE at least have the right to use it—which I know is indefensible.). yet, despite our circumstances, when the brothers are fighting and are really furious with someone—their #1 insult? FAGGOT. no matter how much I have tried to instill in them tolerance and sensitivity, the hate still finds its way out.
that dynamic notwithstanding, i am inclined to say that #2 and #3 are very comfortable in our home with their dad and a step-dad and having their friends over to our house. we’re involved in their lives, sporting events, etc. and most of their friends are surprisingly comfortable with us (particularly the morning after sleepovers and they’re consuming the dozens of pancakes I’m churning out) evidenced in part by their unabashed use of “you’re so gay” when they’re rough-housing or ribbing each other. and #1 has shared with me that he feels that the two of us have a better relationship than we ever had, how he has defended his relationship with me to his family, and how he feels perfectly comfortable in our home. i don’t know if this is the norm or not, but I feel very blessed.
to wit, i have to share this very hilarious anecdote involving me and #4 who was 14 at the time of this story.
last summer, he and grace were in town visiting friends. the plan was for her to eventually pick up #3, who was headed home from church camp, and spend time with him while she was in town. #4 was in our neighborhood at a friend’s house attending a neighborhood Labor Day event but didn’t want to be there any longer. so he called me to ask if he could come over to our house and wait for #3 to get into town—which presumably would involve him spending the night. (FYI: he had stayed with us once before the summer before so he’d met my partner, seen the family dynamics, and for the most part, acclimate to my life.)
it just so happened that we had a dozen or so of our gay and lesbian friends out for the weekend. no big deal on our end but i had checked with grace to make sure he wouldn’t be totally uncomfortable; she assured me he would be fine.
so, sure enough, he shows up. i’m talking to him about his friend and what all they’d been doing and then i asked him why he’d left the party.
his explanation was simple:
“because it was SO GAY.”
and without thinking, i retorted,
“so you came here???”
and we both just DIED LAUGHING.
he immediately called grace to tell her what I’d said and come to find out, he’s since told EVERYONE that story with great relish! we still laugh about it.
so maybe “it’s so gay” isn’t such an insult after all. 😉
and maybe gay really is just another word. cuz i don’t seem to wince all that much when i hear it.