The Blog

The Problem With the 'G Word'

From my experience, many people who use this term have gay friends or even family members and are not in the least part homophobic. Why, then, do they continue to use the word gay in a negative context?

The word 'gay' has become a popular term used in everyday discourse, particularly amongst the younger generation. However, the use of the term nowadays couldn't be further from its original meaning of happy, bright and cheerful, or even from what it is commonly defined as today - homosexual. Instead, the word gay has become a synonym for something or someone being bad, stupid, ugly or generally undesirable.

American TV commercials featuring the likes of Wanda Sykes and Hilary Duff have attempted to combat the negativity surrounding the term. Ending the commercials with "when you say something's gay, do you realise what you say?" the adverts serve to challenge the way in which the term is used as a statement of dislike and, consequently, inferiority. Further to this, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation have issued a 'Welcoming Schools' guide in which they outline how to stop anti-gay comments such as "that's so gay". Responses including "what do you mean by that?" and "do you know why it is hurtful?" are recommended in order to take action against - what they deem to be - homophobia.

But when youngsters use this term, are they actively endorsing homophobia? Are they actually 'outing' themselves as anti-gay individuals who can't bear the thought of same-sex marriage or a gay couple holding hands in public? Arguably not. From my experience, many people who use this term have gay friends or even family members and are not in the least part homophobic. Why, then, do they continue to use the word gay in a negative context?

I would argue that there are two contrasting reasons as to why the word gay is used in the demeaning way it is in everyday dialect.

Firstly, there has been a disassociation with what the term actually means. From this point of view the person using the term negatively does not intend to disrespect gay people because, to them, it means something entirely different. This distancing from the actual nature of the term has served to normalise it as part of everyday vernacular.

In sum, the word gay has done a complete one-eighty and has gone from describing something happy or gleeful to describing something bad or embarrassing. In this sense it's simply a multi-definition word, like how 'cool' means both cold and in-style.

The second reason why the word gay is used in a demeaning way - which I think is far more pertinent - goes beyond the simple evolution of language. The negative use of the term in everyday dialect is a symbol of the way in which homophobia has become a normalised part of our society, in which being gay means being stigmatised.

As previously stated, people who use the term "that's so gay" are not necessarily actively endorsing any kind of homophobic agenda - not consciously anyway. However, at the same time they are constructing the word and thus the concept of being gay as something bad, often without even realising they are doing so.

The younger generation are often applauded by the gay rights movement as being some of their most open-minded and valiant supporters. Indeed, there is a general consensus that young people today simply 'get it' when it comes to LGBT equality.

The fast progression of the LGBT movement has meant that more people have found the courage to 'come out' which in turn has meant that many straight people have become allies in the fight for equality. So many young people today have a friend, family member or know a colleague who is gay - a stark contrast to that of their not so gay-friendly parent's and grandparent's generations.

But if the younger generation in particular are meant to be leaders in the fight for gay equality, why do they continue to promote the word gay in a negative context? The word hasn't been reclaimed in the way, for example, the 'n word' has been.

Although controversial, many African-Caribbean British and American men argue that the 'n word' is now a symbol of brotherhood and bears a certain exclusivity in who can say it and how it is used. Jay-Z has pioneered the reclamation of this word through his music, as he states: "people give words power and our generation took the power out of that word. We turned a word that was very ugly and hurtful into a term of endearment".

The word gay, though, is yet to be used in a similar style. It still bears undertones of disapproval and uneasiness - it still bears undertones of how society really views gay people.

In my opinion, the word gay should not be reclaimed. It should not be redefined and it should not continue to be ignorantly used by people who don't realise what they do every time they say it. Unless you're labelling someone homosexual or going 'old school' and wish to declare that today is a "wonderful gay day", the answer is simple: find another word.

If something is bad, say it is bad. If something is funny, say it is funny. There are over 1,000,000 different words in the English language. Find another one.

So, in light of this, perhaps the phrase "when you say something's gay, do you realise what you say?" should be expanded. What we should be saying to the people who use the term gay in a derogatory way is the following: when you use the words you use, do you realise what you do?