Sunday, February 08, 2009

This Post Is So Gay

Fosco is no fan of the phrase "that's so gay" when it's used to mean "that's so stupid" or "that's so lame." After all, it's really just a simple matter of effective communication: the phrase "that's so gay" needs to be reserved for things like rainbow vinyl platform heels and Ryan Seacrest. To use the phrase for other purposes is only to diminish its potency.

Luckily, there are now PSAs to put a stop to that. At the site, you can read about the campaign to change unthinking linguistic homophobia:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens experience homophobic remarks and harassment throughout the school day, creating an atmosphere where they feel disrespected, unwanted and unsafe. Homophobic remarks such as “that’s so gay” are the most commonly heard; these slurs are often unintentional and a common part of teens’ vernacular. Most do not recognize the consequences, but the casual use of this language often carries over into more overt harassment.
Stopping harassment is a good thing, of course. And the posters for this campaign are actually pretty decent (as these things go):

Reminding teens (and college students) that they may be unintentionally hurting the feelings of their peers seems like a pretty reasonable approach here. After all, this is a campaign whose primary targets are well-meaning kids who don't know any better (as opposed to hard core, nasty homophobes).

But sadly, not all parts of the ThinkB4YouSpeak campaign are quite as well-designed. For one thing, there is this strange appeal to originality, encouraging kids to replace "that's so gay" with something more "original." As if the problem with "that's so gay" is really that it's a cliche. And of course, I think we can all imagine how this strategy could backfire:
BEFORE: That's so gay!
AFTER: That's as lame as anonymous bathhouse sex!
AFTER: That's so lispy!
AFTER: That's so Indigo Girls!
It turns out that originality may actually pose a bigger problem. (The last thing we need is more creative homophobic slurs.)

Even stranger as a tactic is the "Say What?" graphic on the left side of the site. The graphic offers a cluster of words that you can click on to learn each "true definition." But is the problem here really that kids don't know the "true" definition of the word "faggot" (you know: a bundle of sticks)? I don't see why learning that "true" definition will do anything to reduce the word's use as a slur. Fosco is even more puzzled by the inclusion of a word like "gay" on the "true definition" graphic. What good does it do to teach kids that "gay" used to mean "happy" when it just doesn't mean that anymore--and no one, especially not the gay community, would advocate that we stop using the word descriptively (as opposed to pejoratively)?

Even stranger is the inclusion of a word like "cougar" on the "Say What?" list. Sure, cougar is "supposed" to mean "a large, carniverous wildcat"; but isn't that partly the point of our current slang usage? The expansion of word meaning through metaphoric association is a common process in everyday English and "cougar" is a fine example of this. Methinks that the "definition police" are getting a little carried away here. Word acquire new definitions all of the time; the question we should care about isn't whether the new definition is "true," but rather whether the new definition is designed to be hurtful to a group of people. And by that standard, I really have to question whether "cougar" is really a slur on par with "faggot."

Trying to combat harassment through definitional authoritarianism? That's so gay.


kungfuramone said...

In the interests of full disclosure, in my universe the phrase "that's so Indigo Girls" would *still* mean "that's so lame."

That said, in the name of progressive politics, I prefer the phrase "that's so Slipknot" or "that's so Scientology."

todd said...

I've taken to answering this type of saying like this:

Them: That chair is so gay.
Me: It has sex with other chairs of the same gender? How does that even work?

m said...

My brother likes to say that a lot. So I counter with "That's so Mormon".

Jill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It won't be eliminated...

However, Oz is attempting to stop using that term; as well as the ever popular "that's so ghetto."

Sheri said...

Thank you for posting this and the link to the wesbite! I deal with people in my life that say these things and I am definitely going to pass this info on!!!