On Monday during one of my regular yearly visits to my grandmother, she was watching ITV's This Morning and on it was Will Young with Rosie Ellingham talking about homophobic bullying in schools with particular emphasis on the use of the word 'gay'. In the segment with Britain's national treasure, Holly Willoughby and creepy grandfather figure, Philip Schofield (Here's a list of paedos, ARREST THEM ALL!), the topic was very much focused on how the word gay is always negative and should be eviscerated along with anyone who doesn't agree with them.
Is it just me or does Will look knackered in this image?
Making this blog post all about me for a minute, I am an openly gay man. I'm one of those gays who likes to talk about how I like men's bottoms all the time. I am literally more infuriatingly gay than Louie Spence, which is saying something, but being a gay man doesn't make me overly sensitive to words. I came out at the ripe old age of 24 and have never looked back. My school days weren't the easiest time in my life, but that wasn't because of rampant homophobia it was because of rampant disablaphobia or whatever you would call general mockery of the disabled.
However, I didn't off myself because of the use of such words and the experiencing of such bullying (though admittedly, I came close), I fought through it and came out the other end a rather happy and bitter adult. See, back in the day us kids were taught 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' which, in the broadest sense, worked. You see, words are just words, their meaning is dependent entirely on the context of their use.
During the segment, Will said:
I think there are things: there's the word 'gay' has become a negative connotation, it's used a lot, 'that's so gay'. It means rubbish, defunct. I think there's out and out homophobic bullying, and then there's this use of the word 'gay', which has become every day vocabulary, people don't think it's homophobic.ADVERTISEMENT
Up to here he seems to be talking sense. He seems to understand that context is everything when it comes to language, yet if we continue...
60 per cent of secondary school teachers don't challenge it because they don't think it's homophobic. Just under 60 per cent think it's used too much they can't challenge it. These are the really harrowing statistics: 23 per cent of young gay people will try to kill themselves and 56 per cent will self-harm.
This is of course very tragic and something must be done, but what's your point?
My point is we've come so far with gay rights, we now really need to look at the use of language. If you are a young gay person and grow up hearing gay used a derogatory term you're going to immediately think you're defunct.
I think it's lovely that Will thinks he can speak for me. After all, I did watch him on Pop Idol, though he was kinda forgettable, I mean, oh my gosh Gareth was so adorable with that stammer and stuff... sorry, got a bit carried away there. For as long as I can remember I've used the word 'gay' in the sense of calling something bad, stupid etc. but I also use the word gay in the sense of saying 'I'm gay', 'she's gay', and so on. Most people I have spoken to and used the word in the different contexts have understood the context and not insisted on telling me how I'm destroying society or killing children
The popular animated show South Park made an episode on the use of the term 'faggot' in American culture and how it is no longer broadly considered a homophobic and abusive term, rather it refers to inconsiderate idiots. Of course, some in America do still use faggot as a derogatory and homophobic slur against gay people, but these are in the ever decreasing minority. Just like certain groups use the 'n' word in the context of referring to someone as their close friend, others use it as a racial slur against black people.
What groups that call for tackling the use of such words constantly fail to realise is that, over the course of time, language changes. Just as gay used to mean someone filled with joy or happiness, it has changed to refer to homosexuals and to describe something in a negative way. Language evolves with society. We have come so far with gay rights despite of the use of such language targeted at gay people in a negative way.
The problem of homophobic bullying is not to suggest that the use of certain words is negative regardless of context, in fact, such a message can have the reverse effect as there is the continuous promotion of such words as homophobic, therefore any use of it will be seen as targeted at the nearest homosexual. The campaign backed by Will Young has received the support of those in government (of course!) and like all things involving politicians, they take a rather complex issue, imagine a simple 'solution' that will in reality solve nothing.
Counseling for those who may be subjected to homophobic bullying, a strong stance of schools against any and all bullying and the promotion of LGBT sex education alongside heterosexual sex education are the solutions to the problems of homophobic bullying. Just like you won't beat racism by preventing people using the 'n' word in all contexts, you won't end homophobia by banning any word that may even broadly apply to LGBT people in a negative way.