08 March 2011

Are you GAY?

What does the term “Gay” mean to you?

I was sitting in my living room with my 14 year old nephew, playing an Xbox game with him (Call of Duty), and I found myself sneaking up behind him in the multi-player game universe, and putting a bullet into the back of his head. With a sudden squeal, as if he had physically felt the blow to his digital counterpart, he yelped; “That’s so gay!”

I was a little shocked when I heard this. Now, he knows I am gay; he stays with me and my husband of 12 years on a regular basis, and in our wedding, served as my ring bearer. There is no way that he does not know that myself and my husband are together and the term gay is the most commonly used description for our relationship or lifestyle. So with this, I paused the game and asked him simply; “What did you mean by that?”

“You snuck up behind me and killed me.” He said, gesturing to the screen. “That was gay”.
“What did you mean by saying “it’s gay”? I prodded.
“It sucked.” He said simply, which of course had my mind spinning in numerous directions as to what this could mean.
“You do know that I am gay, right?” I asked simply.
“No you’re not.” He responded. “You’re awesome!”

OK, he said it, I did not make this up. However, while feeling the ego of my former insecure teenage self plump up with a compliment that would have meant more 20 years prior, I had to push on. I knew he was not dimwitted or slow, in fact he was one of the smartest kids I knew. But my curiosity had quickly become a moral imperative to understand the mind of a 21st century teenager, especially when he tells me my actions are gay but I am not.

“So, explain to me what the word ‘gay’ means to you.” I pushed.

“If something sucks, or blows.” He continued, stopping a moment later to realize his relentless intent to swallow his own foot.
“I meant if something is weak or lame.” He explained. “Gay doesn’t mean that gay people are bad, just that something that isn’t cool is gay”.
“Where do you think that term came from?” I asked, curious for his young insight.
“I dunno.” He shrugged. “I used to say that things I liked were “tight”, I don’t know where that came from, either. Just because a word is used one way, doesn’t mean it always has to be a negative against you or actual gay people. Get over yourself.”

And there you have it. A 14 year old sitting on my couch put me in check and taught me an interesting lesson. There was a long period in my life that, if I heard someone use the word gay like that, it was taken as a negative, as an insult or term meaning something bad in reference to how I lived my life. And yet, as we have evolved, I found that I was wrong. The euphemism’s and slang of today’s youth is probably as hard to comprehend for me now as it was for my father or grandparents to understand the things I used to say when I was a teenager. I find myself wondering if they really thought that I saw them as idiots because I said they were “dope” back in the 80’s.

It took me a couple days of retrospect to really put this into perspective. How many times have I, or any of us, heard a derogatory slang term, or even a word used, and taken almost immediate offense by it. I have a great friend who happens to be black, one of the most professional, fun people I have ever known. But if you were to utter the forbidden “N” word in his presence, all bets are off (no, that doesn’t mean he refrains. As he says, he is black, he can use it all he wants). Is that how I am, or how some “gay” people are? Here a homosexual reference by someone not in the club, and we take immediate offense? And do we throw it around so easily because we are gay? Heck, when I see some of my friends, I tend to greet them with; “Hey, fag”. And yeah, I use that term with other gay friends because I can get away with it, but more importantly, I know they would not take any offence.

The word “gay” has had many incarnations. There was a time when, if someone asked me if I was gay, I would answer like a smart ass, suggesting that yes, I was a very happy person; A great way to negotiate around those torrential waters when needed. Gay was the word that I used to explain so much about myself. The word “homosexual” seemed far too clinical, like I was referring to a rash I was dealing with. The term “fag” was fun when used between myself and other gay friends. I never got into calling my friends “girlfriend” or any other campy term, but gay was the word I lived with. So why did I feel the need to correct or understand my nephew? Maybe it was because he had something to teach me, and he did.

I do not define myself solely as being gay. Yes, I have homosexual relations and I am a generally happy individual, but the term gay could be applied here and there, hopefully not with the more recent assignment of its definition. So the next time someone asks you if you are gay, how will you answer? If you hear some kid say something ‘is gay’, will you take offense? I find myself not doing that as much, recently. I still don’t like the term used as a derogatory, but like any word, it only has as much power against me as I permit it.

Point of the conversation: A word is just a word.

- Shaun Taylor

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