Steven Petrow’s post on Huffington today really struck a chord:
I am so happy and relieved that someone brought this subject up, again. Since Huffington is purportedly the most linked blog site in the world, hopefully more parents and teachers would be reading about this.
I have been extremely bothered by the prevalent usage of this word to refer to anything “ridiculous”, “hideous”, “tacky,” “stupid,” “OMG I would not be caught dead in this” amongst the young crowd, and by young, I mean 4th graders — my son personally encountered this verbal bullying at the bus stop and the perpetrator was a fellow 4th grader.
So what’s the big deal? We cannot even make jokes now?
Mr. Petrow wrote:
“According to a recent Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) survey, ‘anti-LGBT bullying and harassment remain commonplace in America’s schools’ and that remarks like ‘that’s so gay’ foster a homophobic environment and worse. The GLSEN findings showed that 75 percent of high school students reported hearing remarks such as ‘faggot’ or ‘dyke’ frequently, with nine out of 10 often hearing ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ (meaning stupid or worthless).”
When my son was “insulted” with this word, yes, I understand, not for his perceived sexual orientation but as a stand-in word for anything negative in general, I immediately wrote a long letter to the teacher asking her that if we don’t nip this in the bud now, how far are we going to let it go?
I am glad that I am not alone in sounding the alarm. Of course, this phenomenon is way beyond the school yard, people use this expression at work places all over the country. Words like this are particularly pernicious exactly because of its seeming harmlessness. “Oh, you are a baby if you cry about it and cannot take the joke.” So we learn to shut up and keep quiet.
The increasing popularity of the usage of “Gay” as an insult is indicative of the underlying homophobic mentality permeating in our society, despite decades of working towards acceptance by the “mainstream”. This is, the way I read it, part of the backlash against the gains made by gays and lesbian. They have co-opted the word “queer” so that now it conveys pride in self-identification in some specific uses. It is then not too far off to see the co-opting of the word “Gay” as revenge by the not-so-enlightened amongst us: they are trying to turn the previously neutral and PC “label” (for lack of a better word) into a slur. “You took an insult word from us so that we can no longer hurt you with it. Guess what? We are going to turn how you have been identifying yourselves with into a insult equivalent of anything undesirable…”
Clever maneuver by the not-so-tolerant.
What does this say about how we really feel about those who are different from the “norm” deep down, behind the door, if we allow the use of this word on the playground and in the school hallways as part of the litany of insults that our kids can hurl at each other?