Warning: Some language in this column may be offensive to some people. (It’s certainly offensive to me.)
“That’s so gay!”
Having been a high school teacher for 16+ years up until 2002 – and having teenage children for much of the time since, I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count. If a teenager thinks something is unstylish, or silly, or just plain stupid, they’ll say, “That’s so gay.”
My wife was even surprised recently reading a Rolling Stone interview with Madonna to hear the queen of pop use the phrase. I even heard a Noblesville mom say it recently.
I wonder if the mom or Madonna or the typical teenager would say, “That’s so black?
Of course they wouldn’t, because they understand that such a comment would be offensive to African Americans. So what makes anyone think that gays feel any differently?
When I recently questioned a Noblesville High School student about this they were defensive. “The phrase has nothing to do with homosexuality. It’s just something people say.”
When I was in elementary school back in the 1960s in a small Indiana town, it wasn’t unusual for schoolchildren to call you a “dumb” or “stupid ‘N’ word” if you messed something up. It’s hard to believe looking back from 2009. But when everyone uses a particular phrase, it seems normal.
I may have been the stupidest kid ever, because under the age of perhaps 8 or 9, I never associated that usage of the “N” word with African Americans. At least not until I said it at home and got slapped in the face by my mother (the first and only slap she ever gave me).
When I was a high school teacher, there was a period in the early ‘90s when my students actually used the phrase, “That’s so Jewish.” It meant the same thing as, “That’s so gay.” In talking about the Jewish version of the phrase with that Noblesville High School student, she told me she has a friend at Westfield High School who says, “That’s so Jewish,” all the time. She felt that was going over the line and clearly not right, and told her friend to stop saying it. Yet she thinks saying, “That’s so gay,” is perfectly fine.
On a day when I’d heard, “That’s so Jewish,” more times than I could tolerate I put all my students on notice that I would not tolerate the use of the phrase in my classroom any longer. But sure enough, within a couple days someone used the phrase to describe something they didn’t like. I sent the boy to the office for using offensive language.
He was dumbfounded. He thought I was nuts, insisting there’s nothing wrong with the phrase because (here we go again), “It has nothing to do with Jewish people.”
Kinda coincidental that it carried a negative, instead of a positive connotation. How come none of these supposedly harmless phrases that reference historically maligned minorities are never complementary?
Let’s just be honest with ourselves. Homosexuals are the last group that it’s still socially acceptable to openly hate or discriminate against. Let’s also be honest and admit that a phrase that was once meant to clearly ridicule gays became so ubiquitous, that lot’s of people don’t even associate it with its original meaning. But for the person being offended, the meaning is still there.
You can say I’m caught up in political correctness, but I base my objection to the phrase on my Christian upbringing and the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If you’re Catholic, would you like to repeatedly hear people say, “That’s so Catholic,” to describe something they hate? Oh, c’mon now, it has nothing to do with Catholics, it’s just a harmless phrase, right?
Or how about, “That’s so Hoosier?” Or perhaps, “That’s so female,” to describe something ugly or dumb or foolish?” Why be so touchy? It’s just a phrase.
Sound ridiculous? No more ridiculous than, “That’s so gay.”
Just as we look back and shake our heads in disbelief at the insensitive phrases once used that negatively reflected upon African Americans or Mexicans or Jews, one day in the not so distant future, we’ll look back and wonder how regular people could have been so cruel and rude to say, “That’s so gay.”