Why it’s not okay to say “gay”.

I’m not a fan of “gay” being used in a derogatory fashion. Both when it’s used to demean other people and when it’s used to express dissatisfaction with some thing or concept or… whatever. This is not a secret, I’ve railed against it any number of times.

But why? Why isn’t it okay to say a Team Fortress 2 map is gay? Or the pen that keeps running out is gay? Or paying extra for pineapple on your pizza is gay?

Because every time you use it that way you’re reinforcing the notion that “gay” is synonymous with “bad”. And therefore being gay is bad.

You may not mean it in the sense of homosexuals being bad. It likely doesn’t cross most people’s minds at the time they utter it. It’s become so ingrained in some people that they’ll actually defend their usage of the word. They think it’s been “reclaimed” or somehow repurposed to not refer to homosexuality anymore, despite the prominent usage in various advocacy groups and celebrations like the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

If you really don’t mean it that way then you’re really not a horrible person, honestly. The problem is actually not so much your usage, it’s the licence it gives to others to also use it when they do mean it as a homosexual slur. By trying to legitimise it as an insult you’re giving people a free pass, whether you intended to or not.

It’s all part of the way certain sections of society try to keep others down. And it’s not like this is anything new. We did it for countless generations with “the coloured folk” and the many disparaging slang words that were invented to ensure they “knew their place”. Now we’re doing the same thing all over again, marginalising people for being different.

Perhaps I am more sensitive to this issue due to some of the marginalised people being among my best friends. Or perhaps it’s my own previous usage of such words…

My school years were the 80s and early 90s. Homosexuality wasn’t quite the secretive thing it had been in decades past but if you were even suspected of being gay, you were likely in for a rough time. Nobody in my peer group came out as openly gay during their time at school, though it would later turn out that a few were. Some were surprising, some weren’t.

Did I ever call any of them gay or a fag? I honestly can’t recall. Neither was a word I ever used very much but I’m certainly not going to pretend the words have never left my mouth. The idea that I might have called a friend who was struggling with their sexuality anything of the sort, either in anger or in jest, frankly horrifies me. How could it not, after supporting newer friends through their own trials associated with breaking the news to family and friends, and seeing some pretty devastating reactions at times?

Maybe I overcompensate as a result, I’m not sure. Is it really so wrong to want people to knock it off? I have tried to be a bit more lenient when it comes to people using it as an impersonal insult, at least partly because it’s not a battle I want to have seemingly all the damn time.

Surely there are other words to express the depths of your disdain? I have to believe that there are.