“That’s so gay”: How do you ask/remind people to be a little bit more sensitive without being a buzzkill in social situations?
March 17, 2010 9:11 AM   Subscribe

“That’s so gay”: How do you ask/remind people to be a little bit more sensitive without being a buzzkill in social situations?

I’ve found myself in too many social situations with friends and friends-of-friends/acquaintances where the conversation leads to someone talking about homosexuality or gay stereotypes in a slightly pejorative-to-very pejorative nature. Don’t get me wrong, nothing of the hate-mongering “I HATE THEM QUEERS” nature by any means – they just obviously haven’t been “enlightened” (I hate that word) by a gender studies course or a book about feminism/sexuality or even really considered how the sorts of things that they say can be damaging.

Examples: At a dinner party a few nights ago the conversation shifted to some catty gossip about people we used to date in high school. Someone mentioned an ex girlfriend who is now a lesbian and people started talking about how she’s probably not really a lesbian and is just doing it for attention, and how “a lot of people ‘decide’ to be gay because it’s a ‘trend’” or something of that nature (cue Lindsay Lohan gossip, etc). This really pissed me off. Another example was when two girls were talking about how hey thought a male friend of theirs was gay because they haven’t seen him with a girl in years and because he enjoys cooking. They seemed annoyed that he “hasn’t come out of the closet yet” (as if that would even be any of their business). I found it to be an utterly ridiculous conclusion to make about someone. I’m also irritated when guys preface statements with “I’m not gay or anything but [I like your shoes/I went shopping today/I really like Elton John“ as if being associated with gay stereotypes/people in any way is the most terrible thing a red blooded uber-masculine heterosexual guy can do.

And of course, people are pretty mindless about throwing around the phrase “gay” in a purely pejorative sense – “that movie was gay” etc. The one time I looked someone in the eye and said “please don’t use the word gay like that,” they apologized but all of the sudden there was an awkward silence. I got the sense that people thought I was some sort of stuck-up PC-enforcer who went and ruined what was otherwise a really lighthearted conversation. I felt like a self-righteous ass. A lot of it may have had to do with the fact that I’m not gay myself, so they wouldn’t really understand why I would care about something like that.

I know that a lot of these people that I witness these types of interactions with aren’t homophobes or gay-bashers and they are far from closed-minded – they usually just don’t know any better. They’re just used to a world where this sort of behavior is enforced and sometimes rewarded (with laughs, more conversation, etc) instead of frowned upon.

But I just get so furious when people talk like this – my heart starts pounding, my mind starts racing, and I want to correct them and call them out on their bullshit and make them think about what they actually said. Is there any way to do this WITHOUT causing an awkward silence, WITHOUT making everyone think that I take things too seriously and WITHOUT being a buzzkill, especially given that these situations almost always take place when everyone is laughing and having fun? Any stories or examples or advice is greatly appreciated.

It’s also worth noting that these are usually not close friends, but friends-of-friends and acquaintances that I often come into contact with during gatherings, dinner parties, nights out, etc.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (100 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I usually flinch a little. My body language and facial expression usually show that I'm not cool with that. I don't do it consciously, it just happens. I never have to actually say anything, but it shifts the vibe in the conversation.

If you're in a big crowd, just walk away or say, "What are you? In the fourth grade? Who says that anymore?" and laugh at him.
posted by anniecat at 9:15 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

I find that if someone says "that [inanimate object] is so gay" a raised eyebrow coupled with a dry, "I had no idea that movies/curtains/chicken liver custards had a sexuality!" can work to communicate disapproval without coming off as a prig.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:17 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Would you say, 'That's so black?' to mean it's bad? Definitely not, because that would be really offensive to blacks, right? Same with 'that's so gay.'"

I remember being around a couple friends of mine in college -- one of them (who's white) said, "That's so gay," and the other one (also white) just teased her by commenting on everything she did: "That's so African-American! Quit being so African-American!" She immediately saw the point and apologized.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I always shoot for "You're right! That haircut DOES have sex with haircuts of the same gender!" It gets a laugh and illustrates the absurdity of the statement without being combative.
posted by jefficator at 9:20 AM on March 17, 2010 [16 favorites]

Whenever I find myself in these sort of situations, I try to frame what I'm saying less in terms of "Hey, don't do/say that" and more as "Hey, I find it uncomfortable when you do/say x." It takes You're Not The Boss Of Me aspect out of the exchange because instead of correcting your companions, you are firmly stating where your boundaries are.
posted by jamaro at 9:21 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I hear someone say "That X was so gay", I like to respond with something like "Wow really? X sucked your dick or something?" (insert appropriate genitalia when necessary, and only use when not inappropriate to the situation). I like to take it extremely literally, hopefully to make them either explain or realize how they don't actually mean homosexual, they mean it was stupid or bad or whatever. Then I follow up with something like "so why not just call it stupid?". This can often be met with eye rolling or a "yeah yeah, I know" sort of comment and I just let it go at that point... my point's been made. Since the way I am challenging them is also sort of in a funny tone, it doesn't necessarily lead to being a buzzkill, but you have to know your crowd.
posted by utsutsu at 9:22 AM on March 17, 2010

Hmm, I think the main problem is that you're minority of your friendgroup in thinking that this kind of stuff is a disgrace to modernity. As soon as there's a majority of people who get the fundamentals of how this is wrong, it's easy to call someone out - I've done it, and around my friends, the accused party has never done anything but politely apologize and correct their behavior in the future.

This sucks, and if you're old enough, it might be very hard to correct everyone's direction - the best you might get is their quietness around you about this kind of thing. But, if you're going to do something, I'd say that when you hear somebody make a "I'm not gay but" type comment, just say "What's wrong with being gay?" or something of that sort - making it sound comfortable and matter-of-fact, rather than angry. Basically, set an example.
posted by tmcw at 9:24 AM on March 17, 2010

There's no way to correct people AND also expect them to feel good about it. At the very least, they feel dumb because they erred, at the most, they think you're the PC police. So that said, calm interrogatives and statements tend to work best for me.

"What difference does it make if Hugo is in the closet?"

"I don't understand; how was that movie gay?"

"What does gay have to do with liking shoes?"

I tend to just say "I'm gay. Is that a problem?" Since you're not, "My dad/my mom/my best friend is gay. Is that a problem?" would probably work just as well.

You don't have to get wound up and all Sermon on the Mount on them. Ask calmly, and thoughtfully. At the least, they'll stop doing it around you. At the most, they'll stop doing it entirely.
posted by headspace at 9:24 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Let me say that I agree with you. I do.

But let me play the devil's advocate and suggest that saying "that's so gay" may actually be a shift from a time when things that were odd/a little off were commonly referred to as "that's queer!" Maybe that's a stretch... but I'm just thinking that the times that I've said that (yes, I'll admit doing it myself, even though I DO agree with your point and I've made a conscious effort not to do that anymore), I have meant it as being odd/queer.

However, if this is a group of people that hold these outdated thoughts on homosexuality in general, it probably isn't a bad idea to comment on why using that phrase is not the best choice of words.
posted by Eicats at 9:26 AM on March 17, 2010

This is tricky. There are many ways to handle the situation, but when I read anniecat's answer, it immediately stuck me as effective. I recently had a student say something inappropriate in class, and without me saying anything, my "wtf?" expression made him about-face and backtrack right away.
posted by umbú at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2010

Seconding making a joke out of it.
I'm not bothered by it usually, but if you make a joke about how little sense it makes, you get your point across(that it's a silly thing to say) without killing the mood.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2010

...truthfully, I'd be more bothered by the "I'm not gay, but..." references. That really points to flawed thinking about homosexuality as a whole, and I'd focus calling them out on that.
posted by Eicats at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2010

I think there are a range of strategies. Different strategies may work for different situations/people/vibes.

There's getting away from the person. Flinch or eye roll may happen, excuse yourself, life's too short to deal with some people.

Statements evincing good-hearted sincerity can redirect people. Re lesbian trend statements -- "Oh, I think it's so exciting and wonderful that our society is now open enough that people can make choices and live their lives and be happy, make different choices at different times," etc., etc. If you're enthusiastic and "good" enough people will start to agree. If they start up again with the trend, continue the "good" ness, ala, "Oh, I don't think you can know what's going on in another person's life, I hope she's happy."

Humor is great, if you're quick enough to come up with a quip on the spot that fits the situation.

Sometimes being blunt is all you can do. "Oh, I hate it when people say something's "gay." I know some people think it's fine, but I guess I still think it sounds mean."

Cluelessness can be good -- "Wait, what does being gay or not have to do with my shoes? I'm confused."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't very p.c. to say, but when the kids say "that's so gay," they're really not thinking of the term having any relation to homosexuality. They're really not saying "that is so stereotypically homosexual." They are just saying "that's so lame."

Most kids, particularly gamers & netgeeks -- the ones who use "that's so gay" the most -- are amazingly cool with homosexuality. My stepson knows a kid who came out in Eighth Grade. Lots of male gamers play female characters. You don't get accused of being "gay" for doing that. You get accused of being "gay" for hitting the wrong buttons in a fight.

It's semantic drift. I'm not sure there's anything you can do about it, and yes, you are going to look a little out of touch for insisting that they're dissing your sexual preference, because they are pretty sure they aren't.

Personally, based on some of your examples, I think you're being too touchy. No one thinks all gay guys are effeminate clothes horses. But when you meet a guy who's an effeminate clothes horse, I don't think it's rude to suppose he's gay, because based on my personal experience, he probably is. Are you going to complain every time people speculate about other people's sexuality "because it's none of their business"? Gossip is generally about stuff that's nobody's business. Lighten up!
posted by musofire at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2010 [28 favorites]

Making a joke of it might work as long as it didn't come off as attacking the speaker. How would a light little "Now, now..." interruption work?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:31 AM on March 17, 2010

"That's so gay" gets my goat, as well, and I appreciate everyone fighting the good fight here. But I have to say, the ripostes of "A gay haircut? What did it have sex with other haircuts?" and "That's so African-American" don't do it for me at all--they sound preachy and pedantic.

Personally, I like anniecat's suggestion--i.e., "What, are you in fourth grade? Who says that anymore?" I think it works both as a corrective and to keep the mood light-ish (though it's obviously a put down). Anniecat, you win today's Admiral Haddock badge of excellence.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:33 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Let it go. If it was your close friends or family, people that you actually care about, you could wait until the heat had passed and bring it up casually at another time. But don't be the party scold. You don't have to be the police of friends of friends and acquaintances. They'll just wait until you're gone and be like, "Ugg, that person is so tiresome." If people like this annoy you, avoid them. If they're being insensitive, they'll earn the consequences without your help, such as having people avoid them.
posted by Askr at 9:34 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like headspace's approach.

I've said 'x is so gay' a few times myself, although I've stopped now. It stemmed from how in my childhood gay was used vastly more to refer to something being stupid than to homosexuality, and that occasionally re-emerged in my vocabulary.

If I said it and someone said, "I don't understand, how was that movie gay?" I'd get mortally embarrassed and retract my comment, but I wouldn't think the person was some kind of 'PC-enforcer'.
posted by knapah at 9:35 AM on March 17, 2010

I know this isn't very p.c. to say, but when the kids say "that's so gay," they're really not thinking of the term having any relation to homosexuality. They're really not saying "that is so stereotypically homosexual." They are just saying "that's so lame."

You know, that's absolutely true, and I really don't give a fuck. This is exactly the same as if they were saying "That's so Jew" and meant "That's very bad." Absolutely nobody deserves to have one of the core adjectives that describes themselves hijacked and turned into a negative property.

And yes, there's plenty you can do about it, because we're having an entire thread here about what you can do about it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:36 AM on March 17, 2010 [53 favorites]

Gay used to mean happy. You are thinking about it too much.
posted by OuttaHere at 9:41 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

There was an AskMe recently about the prevalence of the well-placed incredulous "Really?" This is a prime example of when that usage is most appropriate.

You need to perfect an eye-roll to go with it.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:42 AM on March 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

If you get that angry/upset, you are probably already radiating some non-verbal signals that you don't think that type of behavior is acceptable. My suggestion would have been a raised eyebrow or a sort of casually wtf, who says that anymore type of approach.

If you are all in college, you could pick a time when no offending comment has been made and mention how much you enjoyed that gender studies class you took or book you read or whatever and how it really changed your perspective. The audience might be more receptive.

In most situations like you describe, I think the answer is that you're unlikely to succeed.
posted by KAS at 9:45 AM on March 17, 2010

Gay used to mean happy. You are thinking about it too much.

I'm not thinking about it to much. I work with teens and young adults and these people say "that's gay" all the time.

And you know what it is? It's weak. Especially if you're gay.
posted by humannaire at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know this isn't very p.c. to say, but when the kids say "that's so gay," they're really not thinking of the term having any relation to homosexuality. ... They are just saying "that's so lame."

Well, it's like that episode of The Office (U.S.) where Michael Scott calls a meeting and lectures all the employees: "Did you know that 'gay' used to mean 'happy'? When I was growing up, it meant 'lame.' And now it means 'a man who has sex with other men.'"

That kind of ignorance is the problem. If people aren't even thinking about the fact that they're equating "gay" with "lame," that's precisely what should be stopped.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:46 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Give it up. Words change meanings all the time and there's very little anyone can do about.

Just remember all of this the next time you feel gypped because your date wants to go Dutch.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [10 favorites]

just to full-circle this thread, "that's so lame" is also offensive. and by calling that out there, i'm giving my approach to folks who use offensive language around me (whether intentionally discriminatory or internalized or acculturated or etc), which is to just call it out for what it is. but that's just my way of being in the world.
posted by anya32 at 9:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

I thought South park took care of this already. Doesn't that mean the debate is over?
posted by tdischino at 9:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

The one time I looked someone in the eye and said “please don’t use the word gay like that,” they apologized but all of the sudden there was an awkward silence.

The awkward silence means it's working.

If your friend had busted out with a racial slur, there would have been an awkward silence. If he had started ranting about the Catholics or the Jews or the lizard people taking over the world, there would have been an awkward silence. What you did was point out that "that's so gay" is on the same plane of social unacceptability — and, sure enough, things got quiet for a minute.

Silences like that are a mild form of shunning. They're the punishment we levy on people who break our norms. If you let the silence hang in the air for a moment, you're saying "Look, I'm serious about this, and I'm not gonna be all polite and friendly if you keep doing that shit."

That said...

I got the sense that people thought I was some sort of stuck-up PC-enforcer who went and ruined what was otherwise a really lighthearted conversation.

...if you kill the conversation, it is kind of on you to restart it. Think of it like paroling a prisoner: you're saying to the offender, "Okay, we've shunned you enough; welcome back." Find a story or a joke to tell, do the firm-handshake lemme-buy-you-a-beer routine if it's apropriate,* do something to get the ball rolling again.

Just like bringing the conversation to a halt says "I take this seriously and I'm willing to punish you socially for it," restarting it says "...but you seem like a decent person, and I bet you probably didn't mean any harm, so I'll let it slide this once."

*I'm a guy. The people I run across who say "that's so gay" tend to be guys, and guys of the oldschool masculine variety who seem to go for this sort of gesture. I have no idea how traditionally-feminine women say "Okay, shunning time is over," but I'm sure there's an equivalent.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:52 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

This is exactly the same as if they were saying "That's so Jew" and meant "That's very bad." Absolutely nobody deserves to have one of the core adjectives that describes themselves hijacked and turned into a negative property.

I think the point that musofire was trying to make is not that this is okay, but that the person doing it likely has no ill feelings toward homosexuals, so treating them as if they do seems a little unfair.

I actually once said something along the lines of "That's so gay!" in front of two good friends who are a lesbian couple. They were very sweet about it and laughed it off, but I was mortified and now I'm a lot more careful with word choices. Of course, they know me well enough to know I'm not at all prejudiced.

I think in these situations, if you're going to say anything at all, it's best if you can do it in a kind, non-defensive way. Assume they have the best intentions. They may not, but if you do it that way it's less confrontational.
posted by cottonswab at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they are Simpsons fans, you can remind them of the episode when Lisa was dating Nelson, and they kiss. Jimbo says to Nelson, "You kissed a girl? That's so gay!" Points out the absolute absurdity of the phrase.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:54 AM on March 17, 2010

slightly more combative - "you're right, that movie was really really aweful. just like gay people are aweful. clever comparison there."
posted by nihlton at 9:57 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Feign a bit of misunderstanding - "What, like, two-guys-doing-it gay?" You can make that pretty light, and at the very least they'll have to stop and explain what they meant by "gay". If they keep it up, "Man, you keep bringing up this 'gay' stuff all the time - is there anything I should know?"

And no, I don't lump all of gay culture into "two guys doing it" except for the sake of a quick comeback
posted by pocams at 9:58 AM on March 17, 2010

another note - please don't call (the incredibly diverse group of folks that maybe can be bunched into the term) "us" "homosexuals" - that is a super medicalized term and is offensive to many lgbtq folks.
posted by anya32 at 9:59 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

for exceptionally homophobic folks i have to deal with in social situations - i take them aside in an air of concern, tell them about this study: http://tinyurl.com/yet26xf and caution them against 'tipping their hand' wink wink to everyone by playing up the 'im not gay, i hate gays!' angle *too* much. you'd be surprised how quickly this can put a stop to inappropriate behavior.
posted by nihlton at 9:59 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get annoyed by this as well, but I never say anything.

I'm equally peeved with "That's so retarded," or as we say in Boston, "Wicked Retahded..."
posted by dzaz at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2010

"Ugh, that movie/store/band was so gay."

"Whoa, let's leave gay people out of this. They've been through enough, they don't deserve to be associated with that trainwreck. No, for this we've got to think of something else."

Then suggest that you all try to think up who DOES deserve to have their name slandered by this abomination, based on public figures or things that are universally reviled among your group of friends. Think of Dan Savage creating a new meaning for the words "santorum" and "saddlebacking," based on anti-gay politicians and churches. It creates a new in-joke among your friends, gets them thinking of creative alternatives to "gay," and can get pretty fun. See who can come up with the ultimate insult.

For example: "Those shoes are so Nickelback."
posted by castlebravo at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2010 [28 favorites]

As to the first part of your post, I wouldn't hang out with these people if you don't like them. But if they have something legitimate to offer and just tend to be ignorant in this respect, you might just tolerate it or do a little light ribbing. I agree its offensive, but its only worth correcting when people are being spiteful or mean, not just ignorant. Who wants to be the politically correct police? No one likes the popo, really.

As to the pejorative use of the word gay, tfb. It's changed meanings several times, and most people aren't thinking about homosexuality when they say something's "gay." If you are actually homosexual and offended, fine, say something. If you are just a controlling straight person, but a leash on it.

And I'll leave you with some dialogue from the Simpsons (episode: "Homer's Phobia"):

John: Homer, what have you got against gays?

Homer: You know! It's not... usual. If there was a law, it'd be
against it!

Marge: Oh Homer, please! You're embarrassing yourself.

Homer: No I'm not, Marge! They're embarrasing me. They're embarrassing
America. They turned the Navy into a floating joke. They ruined
all our best names like Bruce, and Lance, and Julian. Those were
the toughest names we had! Now they're just, uh...

John: Queer?

Homer: Yeah, and that's another thing! I resent you people using that
word. That's our word for making fun of you! We need it!! Well
I'm taking back our word, and I'm taking back my son!

posted by letahl at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ignore all the people telling you it's just semantic drift. The speakers motivations be what they may, you indicating verbally your disapproval of this behavior will make other people who are also uncomfortable/hurt/offended more comfortable knowing that someone else in the group is a human being who cares about the effects their words have on others. In high school before I had told people, but after knew I was gay, a friend told me a story about how in the computer lab some guys had been calling the iMac's gay and she used the dead-pan "Really? I didn't know computers had a sexual preference." gambit. Which may or may not have changed their behavior, but made me feel welcome and accepted.
posted by edbles at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I usually say something like "I'm sorry - I don't get it." and then they have to explain it. The process of explaining it makes them find another way to say it, or makes them realize how dumb it is.

It's the best way to handle things like racist statements or even thoughtless statements without getting up on a soapbox how we shouldn't use the word 'gay' or 'retarded' or even putting a racist asshat in their place.
posted by micawber at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're on a high school basketball team and you've gotten tired of explaining to your teammates that it's really not cool for all of the reasons listed above, just punch them in arm whenever they say it. Punch harder for repeat offenders.

I actually cured my entire team via this method over three years. A friend of mine from college apparently did the exact same thing to his team and was similarly successful.

Note: this may not work if you are not on a high school basketball team or are not a large person. IANAL.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:02 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Who cares if you're being a buzzkill, they're being fuckwads*. People say these things because no one ever calls them out, and they live their lives assuming it's completely fine. I'm a fun guy and all, but when this happens there's a pretty good chance I'm going to stop everything and say "Really? Gay? You're going to call something gay? Are you fourteen?", because it is ignorant and completely deserving of an awkward callout.

People say these things because they think it makes them edgy or sassy or big ol' men, and it's your job to let them know how they're really coming off.

All it takes is one person to point it out to make them think about it for one split second, and you've planted a really useful seed that No, It Isn't Actually Okay.

this is mostly just about "that's so gay," the other situations are a little more nuanced
posted by soma lkzx at 10:03 AM on March 17, 2010 [7 favorites]

To put it another way - I used to use "retarded" to refer to "bad/undesirable/stupid-in-my-eyes" things. Then a coworker called me out on it, and since then I've made a serious effort to cut that out of my vocabulary; I still slip up, but not often. And I certainly never had bad feelings toward people with learning disorders - it was just a thing I did. In fact, the people who do have negative opinions about gays and lesbians are the ones who won't care; the ones who don't, who think Queer Eye is great or think Johnny Weir is awesome, are the ones who're most likely to feel a little embarrassed, get a little flustered... and then change their behavior.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:06 AM on March 17, 2010

Also, why protect insensitive people from having their insensitive buzz killed? Call them on that shit. Those people certainly aren't considering how much of a buzzkill they are TO ME when they say sexist, anti-gay stuff. If someone was unwittingly using a phrase like "porch monkey," you wouldn't be afraid to kill that buzz quickly.

I'd take the humorous approach, but I wouldn't spare the shame. "Wait, I didn't realize this was a Dark Ages themed dinner party! Will there be a witch hunt after dessert? Come on, I thought we had moved beyond middle school gossip about sexuality."
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:10 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

This really pissed me off

I’m also irritated

I felt like a self-righteous ass

But I just get so furious when people talk like this – my heart starts pounding, my mind starts racing, and I want to correct them and call them out on their bullshit and make them think about what they actually said.

I don't think you're wrong in your anger or being upset per se, but I'm hearing a lot of YOU YOU YOU, i.e. this more your problem than anything else.

Again, I don't think you're wrong, but getting so worked about it is troubling IMO. People are complex and often say or do stupid things. Once you recognize that everyone is just a kind of foolish ape (including yourself), capable of great and terrible things, then humanity becomes a lot more bearable.

Your anger is getting in the way of you actually doing anything constructive, because nobody likes to be called out on the stupid shit they do, even when they know they're wrong. You sound like you want to drive a metaphorical sledgehammer through their head, abolishing all their silly thoughts and sayings in one swoop. People don't work like that, and if you try to do that they will hate and resent you.

For the example of the two people discussing whether a guy is gay, I'd say "Eh, who cares, his sushi/lasgna/steak is delicious! He could fuck sunshine while dressed as a zookeepr for all I care" or something equally silly and funny that would cause the others to laugh, while quietly and indirectly pointing out how silly they're being.

But seriously, calm down about it, especially when you know these people really aren't prejudiced.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:12 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Here's how my friend put it when I thoughtlessly referred to traffic construction as "gay."

"Really?" he said. "Is the traffic construction literally homosexual with a romantic desire for traffic construction of the same gender?"

He said it with a laugh in his voice, and I immediately felt like the biggest ass on the planet. I apologized for using his sexuality as negative slang. It was the first time I'd realized the harm in using gay as a pejorative, and I haven't done it since.

And as for the girls obsessed with another's sexuality, if you get a chance you can always ask why it matters to them. Maybe they have a thing for him...so you can point out how shitty it is of a guy to assume a girl is a lesbian if she isn't into his particular brand of awesome. At any rate, no harm in starting a conversation about it.
posted by motsque at 10:12 AM on March 17, 2010

Adding to the degree of difficulty: what if you're straight and the person around you who most loves saying "that's so gay" (pejoratively) is (openly) gay? I cringe every time, but never felt it's my place to say anything.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2010

"That's so gay" doesn't mean "that's so homosexual". It's a different meaning for the same word. Get over yourself.

The thing about the faux outrage over "that's so gay" that I really don't understand is that the negative stereotypes of gay people aren't that they're dumb, or not cool, or "lame" (although that's apparently offensive too). If anything, the stereotype is the exact opposite. Homophobes are threatened by gay people precisely because they represent a threat to the drab, the mundane, and the boring.

The comparisons with using the word "Jew" in a similar way are invalid; when people say things like "don't be such a Jew" they're affirming negative and destructive stereotypes of Jewish people. I just don't understand how that's even remotely the case here.
posted by downing street memo at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

ReYou do not need to buy for a book or theory class to change your mindset. Every moment of every interaction is an opportunity to examine your accepted norms.

"Really? Seriously? Really?" typically gets disapproval across without sounding like I had a nattering script mentally prepared.
posted by beardlace at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2010

... when you fail to realize that no matter how harmless your intentions are, there is no reason to think that any shit that comes out of your mouth is going to be understood or happily received. Took me a long time to find it out, but those words are lethal, man, and you shouldn't just go slinging them around for effect. This seems almost too simple and obvious to say, but maybe it's good to have something simple and obvious stated once in a while, especially in this citadel of journalistic overthink. If you're black or Jewish or Latin or gay those little vernacular epithets are bullets that riddle your guts and then fester and burn there, like torture-flak hailing on you wherever you go.
 — Lester Bangs, The White Noise Supremacists.
posted by scruss at 10:18 AM on March 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

If you are actually homosexual and offended, fine, say something. If you are just a controlling straight person, but a leash on it.

Yeah, this is really not what the OP believes is the right action and not what he asked. As a straight, white, non-most things, I won't tolerate racist or anything else-ist slurs.

Nobody's free until everybody's free. - Fannie Lou Hamer.
posted by Pax at 10:22 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

That's so gay" doesn't mean "that's so homosexual". It's a different meaning for the same word. Get over yourself.

words are powerful - read this summary of this study that just came out.

i disagree with your baseline assumption about the values attached to these definitions - AND even if your theory were true, that's not what i heard when i was a young kid coming out, and that's not what it's like to hear it in the hot mess that is middle school, high school, college, or beyond, when you're scared shitless about being yourself, losing your friends, family, community.

it would be great if you could check your entitlement at the door.
posted by anya32 at 10:25 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have an apron my mother got me in Italy that has pictures of cheese, and the legend "Formaggio." I met a friend at the door wearing it once, and she said "That is so gay!" I said "Really?" and got the other apron my mom sent me -- matching design, but with desserts and the legend "Dolche." I showed it my friend and said "I believe this is slightly more gay, don't you?" That didn't stop her using the phrase, but it made her less likely to use it around me.

Of course, another friend who heard the story gave me an oven mitt with a shirtless cowboy on it, so I can have an even more gay piece of kitchen wear, but there is no downside to that (except the mitt is a little flimsy, so I prefer to display it rather than put the cowboy to work. As it were).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:27 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Nah, that's not gay. That's just boring/not pleasant/doubleplusungood. I'll tell you what's gay. Gay is when you've got this guy here, see, and he's having sex with another guy. That's gay."

On a personal note, I found one great way to explain the matter to a particularly religious friend. I noted that he found prefacing a particular expletive with a particular religious figure was really quite offensive to him. Complete blasphemy. He'd put up with me ranting about shit and fuckers and assholes, but "GD" was past that line. I completely respect that, and I quit using it, even out of his earshot. I made mention that using sexuality as an insult was really distasteful as well. Putting it in this perspective, it clicked quite well, and he has since refrained from using it as far as I know.

If your friends have that personal click that gets them, go for it. Maybe they have a disabled relative and would understand that just like how using "retarded" is a bad thing, "gay" causes grief as well. It's all about familiarity and humanizing. This post says it all. Connect it to something you know that they know, and it's suddenly a lot easier to be sympathetic to the situation.
posted by Saydur at 10:33 AM on March 17, 2010

I'm an ultra-liberal in a college town whose group overlaps heavily with the theater people and the butch lesbian crowd. I know and hang out witha lot of gay people. Nobody uses gay as a blanket pejorative, but sometimes things are gay. A fauxhawk is pretty gay. It's used to mean an overly effeminate or vain affectation and tere's not really another term for that.

Why do you think it's a slam on homosexuals and not an indication of the word losing its power?

If you don't respect these people enough to assume that they understand what they're saying, then why are you hanging out with them? If you rebuked me for using the parlance properly I would dislike you.

If you understand this distinction and are talking about it being used as a simple synonym for "bad," then your friends are idiots and never mind.
posted by cmoj at 10:37 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Hee! I do this all the time. Whenever someone says "that's so gay," I bellow the following line, in as melodramatic and sarcastic a fashion as possible. Everyone gets a laugh, while taking the point.

So far I have experienced a 0% recidivist rating, meaning that no one who's gotten The Speech has EVER used the word "gay" inappropriately in my presence.

Here it is:

posted by ErikaB at 10:41 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If a conversation starts to go awry in such a manner that I must say something, I usually try and make a (hopefully) fruitful point of discussion out of the offending statement. I don't find much use anymore in getting angry when somebody says something offensive since it's generally out of ignorance rather than genuine malice. As for raising consciousness, be frank- almost ruthlessly so. You don't, however, have to be combative about it. Give all parties benefit of the doubt.

As per your first example- you could easily start a discussion about how the ideas of sexuality, intimacy, and romance are for everyone a continuous process of discovery. Or if that is too hard a pill to swallow for someone, you could of course remind them that every person discovers their own sexuality at one point. I'm putting too fine a point on that, maybe, but the idea is that you find a common thread between the person whose consciousness you're trying to raise and the person or idea that they are talking about in an ignorant manner. The "he or she is not so different from you or I" approach.

As for the other examples you give ("that's so gay," fashion and homosexuality), all that really needs to be done is a gentle decoupling of two concepts that have been falsely put together and others here have discussed that better than I can. All I can say is that in many cases I've experience, asking someone why they have those two concepts butted together is more than enough to get them to realize that it isn't logical.

Look, the kind of ignorance that you're talking about is not at all worthy of anger. It's pervasive, but doesn't it really seem to only crop up in gossip or other mindless conversation? If anything, it's exciting... it's an opportunity to learn about why someone believes what they do, to hopefully make someone a little bit better of a person and to talk about something interesting rather than something empty and mildly vicious.
posted by One Thousand and One at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2010

Depending on your group of friends, something like "Oh fuck right off with that 'gay' shit," can work wonders.

It's not a question that's left hanging in the air while everyone looks around uncomfortably. It's not an invitation for discussion, but a flat dismissal of the remark (and not of them as people). It's got profanity in it so you're not viewed as some PC zombie. It's unambiguous and non-ironic; it won't be taken as a simple joke like "How was the movie homosexual?" and its ilk might be.

It should be delivered in almost an offhand fashion, followed by a continuation of the discussion. This way the interrupted party would need be the one to turn the topic back to the pejorative in order to discuss it, which is unlikely as they generally don't care enough.
posted by ODiV at 10:45 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

"Yeah? Me too."
posted by MrVisible at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2010

The phrase is on the banished words of 1999 from Lake Superior State. Which says,

"That's Gay - Over-used by many, especially teenagers, to look down on something or express dissatisfaction or disagreement. Lovers of the English language have long bemoaned the loss of the word ‘gay,' which went from being light-hearted, merry, bright or lively, to expressing a state of sexuality. Now we have a generation who knows only the sexual definition. "The phrase is mis-used and offends people of that sexual preference. It's not used in the correct sense," said one student."
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jokes are the best way to correct gently.

Whenever any one says "Shit!" around my mother, she calmly says "Not right here, please, there's a toilet down the hall." Her response to English's-most-versatile-verb when it's used non-literally is also to interpret it literally, noting that inanimate objects can't have sex.
posted by jb at 10:55 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just give them a slightly confused look and say "What?" It works really well as a subtle way to get people to rephrase what they're saying without getting their hackles up.

"That movie was so gay."
"... huh?"
"It was so predictable"
"Ooh, okay."

Sometimes it requires an extra "I don't what you mean" if they say "You know, it was GAY!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:56 AM on March 17, 2010

Awkward silences


These are not your fault, they are the fault of the insensitive assjacks who are saying bigoted things within earshot of you and probably many others

In summary, fuck 'em, say your peace, and if they don't like it they can suck it up like you've been doing for the last x number of years.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

(By the way, awkward silences happen in the course of normal human interaction and, while they're unpleasant, in my experience they don't cause any long-term harm to a relationship. More scary than anything.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2010

Gossip is gossip, and if it bothers the OP that people are talking about their friends the only thing to do is say something. It doesn't matter if the subject of the gossip is gay or not. Jeez. If my friends were calling a mutual acquaintance a slut because of the way she dresses and questioning her sexual activity, I'd call them out on it.

I have a friend who came out this past year and a straight friend who thinks that the *only* subject she can talk with the first friend about is homosexuality (hers and other's). It's embarrassing to listen to, but the first friend bears it with a grin. A gay person is more than their sexual preference. Just as a black person is more than the color of their skin.

If people walked around afraid of offending someone, no one would say anything - ever - because no matter what someone says, there's a good chance that someone's not going to like it.

For the record, I don't say that's so gay because it just sounds stupid to me. I don't get worked up about it either because if it's not said in malice, it's not malicious. IMO
posted by patheral at 11:10 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

What's the goal here? It's not obvious to me that suppressing casual slurs encourages people to be more accepting of homosexuality. It was extremely taboo to mention homosexuality (or any sexuality) in Victorian society, but that didn't seem to cure them of homophobia. I assume that the casual use of "gay" as a pejorative is unkind because it reminds gay people of homophobic attitudes, so I think your cause is reduced to trying to create an illusion that homophobia doesn't exist. This is on par with politely ignoring some social faux pas to spare the person embarrassment--it's a nice thing to do in social situations, doesn't seem like a crucial component of the struggle for gay rights. So, unless you suspect real homophobia, the correct thing to do is to take the person aside and say something like "I know you didn't mean anything by it, but I came here with a gay person/I know some gay people here, and I wouldn't want them to misinterpret what you said."

Lots of people believe otherwise, but there is reason to believe they are mistaken. An analogous situation is racial tolerance: a lot of parents believe that children are naturally colorblind, and it's only society's corrupting influence that makes them racist. So they create the appearance of multicultural tolerance and acceptance, by enrolling them in schools and watching TV shows with lots of diversity and censoring racist speech or really, any mention of race, and expecting that their children will magically end up with no racist attitudes. It turns out that doesn't work, because humans are dicks--and not just because society makes them that way. I don't know for a fact that this holds true for sexual orientation as it does for race, but my guess is that it does.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:12 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

"That's so gay" doesn't mean "that's so homosexual". It's a different meaning for the same word. Get over yourself.

I have a friend, Lydia, who comes to my classroom to talk about homophobia. The kids LOVE her, she's funny, friendly, and gets the point across with facts. She ends the class with asking the kids.

what do people mean to say when they say "That's so gay."?

They mean, "That's so lame."
"That's so stupid."
"That's so boring."

She writes all of this on the board and then says "I'm gay." What if we did this:

"That's so lame. Lydia"
"That's so stupid. Lydia"
"That's so boring Lydia."

She asks them, do you think I'm lame, stupid and boring? No, they don't, not even one of them. Point made.
After that I never hear "that's so gay" in my classroom again, in fact I hear my students correcting other students in the hall.

I guess you can't explain all this to your friends without being a buzzkill but it works. Maybe we just need to allow for that uncomfortable pause and then get the conversation going again on a totally new topic.
posted by sadtomato at 11:14 AM on March 17, 2010 [19 favorites]

words are powerful - read this summary of this study that just came out.

it would be great if you could check your entitlement at the door.

First, your column references actual hostility to LGBT youth, and I think it's clear that "gay", when used as an epithet in today's common practice, generally does not denote hostility. Obviously, the origin of using the word "gay" to denote something the speaker considers uncool, boring or tedious comes from homosexuality, but it doesn't mean that anymore. Semantic drift exists.

This is different than, for instance, calling someone "gay" in reference to accepted negative stereotypes of gay people. If I were playing basketball with a friend, and he called my jump shot "gay", then yes, that is offensive; gay men are perceived to be poor athletes. If I were called "gay" for participating in musicals in high school, then yes, that would also be offensive.

My point is that there is a qualitative difference between these two things.

Finally, I am entitled to believe and say just about anything I want. No need to check it at the door.
posted by downing street memo at 11:22 AM on March 17, 2010

i just say, "you're being a huge asshole." it works every time.
posted by patricking at 11:30 AM on March 17, 2010

Isn't this the crux of the issue --

-- on the one hand, you want to call them out on the "it's so gay" comment because you think you should think it's a big deal to make homophobic comments;

-- on the other hand, you don't want to be a "buzzkill" because you don't really think it's a big deal.

The answer, then, seems pretty obvious. If you really thought it were a big deal for someone to say "that's so gay," you would have no qualms about being a buzzkill. If someone were to make a genuinely hateful comment about gays --- like "I thought it was awesome what they did to Matthew Shepherd" --- I wouldn't bat an eye about being a buzzkill. Why does your desire to maintain the social "buzz" somehow get in the way of saying what's right?

The fact that you're worried about being a buzzkill shows you don't really think the comments are that bad.
posted by jayder at 11:41 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

One thing I've learned in life, is that people talk the way they want to speak. So, I let them. It has no bearing on me, they are not offending even if they joke about Puerto Ricans. ;-) But it's not about me. Take yourself out of the equation and really look if these are the people you want to hang with. 'Cause you are not going to change them, they will do it themselves. One of my best friends in the world, she's a super feminist and works for the NOW organization. She is very PC BUT she respects my decisions of how I want to express myself. Likewise, when I talk to her, I show respect in how I address her. We don't get into arguments about the way we said something that has nothing to do with us or our friendship. Getting angry over those little nuances isn't worth pushing good friends away. Do you kinda get where I'm coming from?
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 11:51 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let me pose a hypothetical question: can ANYTHING other than men who have sex with other men be plausibly described as "gay"?

Like for instance, a big pride day float covered with pink flowers and rainbows with the village people on it? Is that gay? Does it depend on whether the person calling it gay likes it or dislikes it?
posted by Aquaman at 12:01 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

downing street memo, you're right... you really don't understand.

Of course, "That's so gay," doesn't mean, "That's so homosexual." When someone says to you, "I'm so blue," do you ask them if they fell in blue paint? No? Well, why not? Because meanings aren't always literal. Sometimes they're metaphorical. How do metaphors work? By translating the literal meaning into a new context. It is not "a different meaning for the same word."

To understand the metaphor, look at the context. The word "gay" is being used in place of "not right," or essentially, "wrong." People use the word "gay" to express disagreement. Something they do not agree with or accept is "gay" - are you making the mental leap here yet?

Perhaps the issue is your assumption that since being gay is not as taboo as it once was, suddenly everything is roses for homosexual people. While some people are accepting and some people are at least tolerant, there are still MANY, MANY people who view homosexuality as an abomination.

In fact, you're right about one thing, that the comparison with using the word "Jew" is invalid. When people say, "Stop being such a Jew," they are saying, "Stop being such a stingy/cheap person." I very much disagree with using that language as well, but a stereotype is one thing. Being viewed as an abomination for something that cuts to the very core of who you truly are as a person? That's another thing altogether.

As long as it's still alright for people to equate being gay with being "wrong," we are condoning, affirming, and perpetuating a prejudiced attitude against gay people. And I'm not saying that all people who say, "That's so gay," are homophobes. They may not consciously understand what they are saying, as I did not when I was ten years old. But damage can be done whether intentionally or not.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:08 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

The fact that you're worried about being a buzzkill shows you don't really think the comments are that bad.

Well, no. You can be worried about "being a buzzkill" and still think that the use of a pejorative term is pejorative. I think it's pretty darn obvious from this person's statements that he/she does think that the comments are bad and has a lot of consternation about them. Maybe this person is introverted. Or maybe he/she is uncomfortable with the idea of calling people out in a social setting.

If there's anything I've learned in social settings, even when you think you know everyone involved very well, it's that you can't predict what people will say or do, and you can't really ever know why they say or do what they do. That's not to say "Let it slide," but I don't know that "saying what's right" (i.e. what you think is right) is necessarily the answer either.

Homophobes are threatened by gay people precisely because they represent a threat to the drab, the mundane, and the boring.

I really, really don't think that's why homophobes are threatened by gay people.
posted by blucevalo at 12:11 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I generally say, "I agree that ___________ is annoying/ridiculous/awful, but I'm thinking that word is not the way to express it."
Emphasize the "that word" in a slightly judging way, but then with a slight smile at the end. Because honestly, I don't want to be seen as a total jerk who has no regard for the concept they're railing against (I mean especially when these are colleagues, friends, etc) and kill the conversation, but I do want to get my point across.
posted by elliss at 12:26 PM on March 17, 2010

musofire pointed out that most people who say "that's so gay" think of it more like a homophone because they grew up with it, and usually they're cool with gay people. I hang out with a ton of gamers and I can tell you that this is true. Two of my gamer friends are actually gay and had to wean themselves off saying things are gay, and then I have one gay friend who isn't even a gamer and still says it (though lately he's trying not to).

That doesn't mean you shouldn't correct them, though -- it just means that if you get say things like, "What's wrong with gay people?" or otherwise act like they actually have a problem with gay people, they're going to get frustrated with you and try to explain that they don't. They'll miss the point because of your approach.

This is what has worked for me. When someone says that, I usually say in a sort of weary, regretful kind of voice, "Dude, don't say that." If they ask why -- and I've never had anyone get defensive at this point, they're usually just curious -- I say, "I know you don't actually have anything against gay people, but when people who do have something against gay people hear that, it perpetuates the idea that it's okay to make fun of gay people because everyone does it." The point is, rather than putting them on the defensive, you make it into a sucky kind of "this is what we have to do because bigots are stupid" thing. If you approach it like they need to change their attitude when they already like gay people just fine, it makes people upset. Those people seriously just need to change their use of the word. This has been pretty successful; I've had people tell me they're trying not to say it as much since I said something.

As for people accusing other people of being fake lesbians, that's seriously ignorant and offensive in my book. I will outright tell people they're being ignorant and, especially if it's another girl saying it, that I'm embarrassed that she's so ignorant of female sexuality and feels the need to judge other people. I don't say it in a heated way, but a dead serious way. Then again, I'm a bisexual female so it might carry more weight, plus I find it easy to socially terrify people into submission when they deserve it; no one can ever muster up enough of a defense to try and make me the bad guy after that. In a situation like that, though, where real ignorance and judgment is being expressed, I don't think you should feel bad about coming across as the "PC police." Unlike the "that's so gay" thing, I don't think there's a way to correct them without jarring them because it really is their beliefs and attitude that's messed up, not just a word they're using. People don't like being called out on things like that, but it's necessary.
posted by Nattie at 12:29 PM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

Personally, if you corrected me on that, I would be offended. I'm gay, and I use the term because I understand from its use that it can both mean something that's lame and someone who is homosexual. I don't get offended by the casual use of it because I understand it's harmless. I do understand your discomfort and if you actually talked it out with me, maybe I'd skip using it around you.

But understand as well that people who use the term would often be horrified that what they're saying would be perceived as bigoted or homophobic. Instead, know that most people use it casually as a simple pejorative. It's become a word with two distinct definitions, used differently depending on the context. Just as you understand being the black sheep does not entail necessarily being an African-American sheep, so too you get that gay can be used both ways.

Or at least that's how I understand it to be. By far, the most homophobic and bigoted things I've ever heard don't use pejorative terms for gays, but simply state horrifying distortions of truth with clinical terms like homosexual.
posted by satyricaldude at 12:32 PM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

i'm gay, and i find it offensive. actually, it just plain hurts my feelings that people are so casually ok with being ignorant. there's no "one" response from the queer community about this though, obviously.

my go-to response is "gay like me and my girlfriend fucking? or gay, like, stupid?" you could modify for your own use? i don't care if i'm a buzzkill -- hearing someone use my sexuality as a punchline earns them an emphatic shutdown.
posted by crawfo at 12:51 PM on March 17, 2010 [8 favorites]

My stock response is 'Not that there's anything wrong with that.'
posted by emeiji at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine (who is gay) once responded "You're gay!" when someone said "that song is so gay". No awkward moment, everyone laughed, and it still got the point across.
posted by OLechat at 1:01 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm honestly surprised to see so many commenters expressing some variation of "'gay' has two different meanings, and we should all just understand that people aren't ACTUALLY homophobic when they use 'gay' as a synonym for 'stupid/terrible/some other negative thing."

And I'm equally surprised to see "well everyone does it!" used as a defense as well.

Everyone is certain circles of our society is constantly calling each other "faggot." So is that okay, too? Because everyone does it and they don't really MEAN gay people, it's just a word that has two meanings now?

Everyone used to call their women coworkers awful, belittling pet names. Everyone used to refer to various ethnic minorities with racial slurs. Everyone used to use a lot of awful, marginalizing language regardless of whether or not they really "meant" anything by it.

I hate it when people say "throw like a girl," even if they have no actual problem with girls or their ability to throw things. And I hate it when my otherwise very nice friends use "gay" as a pejorative. And I'm not sure why the OP or anyone else should have to sit and take it just because we haven't outgrown the habit as a society quite yet.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

heh, after my little brother came out while we were in highschool, i spent two weeks trying to scrub the phrase from my vocabulary. Finally succeeded. Then my family moved to this red neck town in southern washington. fewer social niceties etc. I managed to keep it from my vocabulary despite it being in common use.... One day we're playing halo and a gibbed him real good. Frustrated, he says "Dude, stop being such a faggot. I didn't even have a gun!"

it was pretty great. (halo and homophobia is a whole 'nother thread....)
posted by nihlton at 1:14 PM on March 17, 2010

sorry - point being: language use is largely a function of the common language in use around them. don't demonize offenders too much. my little brother - who has forgotten more about the burden of homophobia than i will ever knew - will slip now and then too.
posted by nihlton at 1:17 PM on March 17, 2010

Also, as a more direct answer to the OPs question: I've been the "buzzkill" in a few situations myself. Sometimes that's just how it has to be. But it may help to talk directly to a few of your closer friends first, explaining how you feel and asking that they try to curb the habit a little. As others have mentioned, part of the problem here is that you're in the minority -- if you win some of your friends over to your way of seeing the situation, it'll make any future instances that much easier to handle.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:17 PM on March 17, 2010

Sensitivity is overrated.

If it really bothers you, call them out on it. But be prepared to thought of as odd.
posted by HFSH at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2010

I can't comment on the first part (general vague misunderstanding of sexual orientation) but as for "That's so gay," here's what I do.

I say, "Oh, were two guys fucking?" There is an awkward silence, then "No, there wasn't." Then I say, "Then it probably wasn't gay. Not really."

But I'm comfortable being an ass to asses.
posted by chairface at 2:10 PM on March 17, 2010

Serious question here - what if a gay friend of yours calls something 'gay' in a demeaning way? Does that still make you mad?
posted by Pecinpah at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

When anyone uses gay as a pejorative, it upsets me. And, I try to call them out on it as soon as I hear it. And, it causes awkward moments. The reason for the awkward moment is that someone is being called out on knowingly or unknownly participating in the heterosexist culture that leads to gay bashings, anti-gay attitudes, and discrimination. Especially for folks who think of themselves as liberal, this will be very upsetting. Because they will either have to 1) change their behavior and admit that using gay as a pejorative contributes to anti-gay discrimination (which is uncomfortabe, because changes is always uncomfortable) or 2) defend their current behavior with arguments like "words don't matter" or "don't be so sensitive" - and the history of that defense by racists and sexists is still so fresh in collective memory that they will feel some discomfort making that argument. So, regardless of their response, they will be uncomfortable. When you make people uncomfortable, it is awkward. However, in this case, it is also essential. Changing the underlying heterosexism in mainstream culture is hard. It requires each of us who get the deep connections of language and power to be vigilant and vocal. And, you should be challenging that language use as often as possible, and learn to live with the awkward moments.
posted by hworth at 2:55 PM on March 17, 2010

Serious question here - what if a gay friend of yours calls something 'gay' in a demeaning way? Does that still make you mad?

I have a feeling anonymous would not speak up if he heard two black guys referring to each other as "nigga."

Though why he wouldn't is an interesting question.
posted by jayder at 2:55 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My son told me a story once... He was at a party when someone started making inappropriate racial comments.

My son looked at the offender and just said, "you know my dad is black".. that shut the kid up.

(note: my son is as white as they come, as am I, perhaps that's why it worked, who knows....)
posted by HuronBob at 2:56 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Everyone is certain circles of our society is constantly calling each other "faggot." So is that okay, too? Because everyone does it and they don't really MEAN gay people, it's just a word that has two meanings now?

Yep. Let me tell you, once again, that I have heard far nastier things said about gays in general using the term homosexual than I ever have dropping the word faggot.

When I was in high school, I felt attacked. There were a couple kids who called me a faggot all the time. One day, I lost it and confronted them about it. I asked why they always called me a faggot and do you know what they said? They said that they had NO IDEA I was gay. So yeah, being a faggot has nothing to do with being gay. Being a faggot is being a weak, ineffectual person. It's tantamount to calling someone a douche, a prick, or a ...well, a faggot. I don't use the term against gays. Is that a term you really want us to own?

South Park did a great episode on the term and put forth a pretty compelling argument. You should watch, even if you don't plan on agreeing.
posted by satyricaldude at 3:04 PM on March 17, 2010

When my high school students say "that's gay" or "don't be so gay", I tell them it's inappropriate to use the word gay in a derogatory way. Whether or not their intent is to insult gay people doesn't matter - that kind of language is offensive, and has no place in my classroom. Similarly, when I (not nearly as much, but sometimes) hear them call each other "Jew!" I also need to correct the behavior. It doesn't matter to me whether the student is referencing some existing stereotype or not...it is not OK.

Of course, things are different when I'm not interacting with students. Still, when a friend or coworker uses one of these phrases, I will ask them not to. Something as simple as "please don't say stuff like that around me" is enough to get the point across without making the person feel attacked. If it's awkward, I don't care. If it offends me, whether or not they intended it in an offensive way, it's perfectly reasonable for me to ask them to stop. I don't need to get on my soapbox and give a lecture about it (although I'm happy to provide my reasoning if it's requested).

When it's more of a casual acquaintance, or a friend-of-a-friend, or someone you don't really know/care about, like you said, yes it is more awkward. I still feel like: if this is bothering you so much, you can say something very simple. "Please don't use that word in a derogatory way." And if you feel uncomfortable saying even that, then it might be easier just to avoid that random person in the future.
posted by violetish at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2010

First, your column references actual hostility to LGBT youth, and I think it's clear that "gay", when used as an epithet in today's common practice, generally does not denote hostility.

Just because hostility isn't the intent doesn't mean that the person on the other end isn't reading hostility into it. When I hear someone say "that's so gay," it makes me wonder why the speaker thinks it's OK to be casually hurtful.

In response to the OP's question, I find that with my friends, anniecat's solution works well. I wince, they say "what?" and replay their last statement in their heads, they say "oh, sorry" and they generally don't do it again.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:24 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I said "That's gay" and one of my friends:

*called me a huge asshole
*told me I was bigoted
*threw a lame rejoinder my way in a weak attempt to make me feel bad for having said it
*got angry

he or she would probably be laughed out of the room by everyone else. I've said it, I try not to, but it happens. But I would never do it unless I was with my close friends. Listen, if people who talk like that piss you off so much why are you hanging out with them? If saying "That's gay" is really as bad as racism, would you find yourself hanging out with a bunch of racists on a regular basis at racist dinner parties?

I have two very close gay friends. I assumed (probably from straight people who've taken it upon themselves to act as the arbiters of what is insulting to others) that they would both be offended by someone calling something gay....until I heard one of them say it. I asked him, "Austin, really?" His reply: "Well look at that, it's fucking gay!!" Can't argue with logic.

Is it pejorative? Yeah, I guess. Should no one ever say it? Probably. Is it your job to act as the language police and scold every person you come across who says it? I don't think so. No one likes a pedant, especially at a party.
posted by fso at 5:58 PM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

Suggest "that is so flaming" instead. Flaming is an obnoxious-by-design affection where as homosexuality is an innate unchangeable attribute.
posted by malp at 6:34 PM on March 17, 2010

When someone says "that's so gay" in that way, I usually say something along the lines of "No, putting a penis in your mouth is gay", or "Enjoying delicious semen is gay". The WTF? factor works nicely.

At any rate, people stop saying it around me, if only to avoid my responses.
posted by rodgerd at 12:41 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I usually ask what specifically makes X thing 'gay.' The speaker describe's the things failing, etc, then I keep pressing: I still don't understand, I though the movie/book/show/whatever was gay! It just sounds like it wasn't good. Where's the gay content? I think it would have been better if it was gayer. Queer theory can come in handy here because then you can tease out all the delicious gay content. (if you know what I mean...)
posted by fuq at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a middle aged gay man I'm too old to hang out with anyone who uses that phrase. Nonetheless, you're free to borrow this from me:

Gay? You think that's gay? Honey, that's perfectly hideous! :-)
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:36 AM on March 18, 2010

I object to using "flaming" in place of gay. Sorry if I missed the hamburger. I think it's a good idea to steer people away from using "stupid", "lame", "gay" when they mean "inconvenient" or "unpleasant." We don't need to use a synonym of gay. If I hear someone say "that's so French passive", I'll take off my shoe and smack them on the ear with it.
posted by crataegus at 12:50 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I endorse the semantic-drift angle. “X sucks” isn’t anti-gay anymore; “that’s lame” isn’t anti-disability. I can’t even get upset about “retarded” in relation to inanimate objects, and eventually I figure I’m just never going to get upset about it.

“That’s so gay” is just an idiom now; it is not decomposable to its constitutent parts.
posted by joeclark at 3:04 PM on March 18, 2010

I object to using "flaming" in place of gay....We don't need to use a synonym of gay.

Really? Because if I said that my friend is gay, you would automatically assume he lisps, talks inappropriately about sex, and acts effeminate to provoke a reaction from bigots? Well.. in this case, you'd be right, but the extremes of the metrosexual movement proved you don't have to be gay to flame. If I said "that's so goth", would you be offended? Why would "that's so flaming" be any different?
posted by malp at 7:24 PM on March 18, 2010

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