20 April 2011

Yes, Kobe, Words Matter

If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be having any of these discussions about bullying. We wouldn’t have bullying.

I’m referring specifically to Kobe’s rant against a referee which was caught on television last week. In the midst of a tantrum that included punching his courtside chair, throwing a towel onto the court, posturing, and swearing in anger, Kobe also unleashed an anti-gay slur after receiving a technical foul. And he didn’t forget to address the ref by name before he called him a f*****’ f*****.

But I’m also referring indirectly to all of those so-called harmless slights from the “That’s so gay” category. I see them on Facebook and whenever anyone protests, the speaker/writer usually responds (as Kobe initially did) with, “I didn’t mean it THAT way”.

To use my favorite quote from Kurt Vonnegut: I question this.

When the words are only ever used in a negative context (in furious response to a 4th foul, for example, or in general FB usage, to put someone down or get the last word) it’s abundantly clear that, at the very least, they’re meant to sting. At least a little.

Come on, outside of a drag ball, Pride parade, or Provincetown Tea Dance, have the words “That’s so gay” ever been used as a compliment?

I didn’t think so.

And I’m actively disagreeing with another writer in this space who wrote that these words don’t matter, that saying something is “so gay” isn’t meant to demean. (Of course it is; see above).

Does that mean that everyone who uses these words is a true homophobe? Maybe not.

Maybe they are merely reflecting the negative attitudes around them, without pausing to examine them. Maybe they aren’t witty enough to rise above the lowest common denominator of humor. Maybe they’re just equal opportunity a-holes.

But we’re starting to shine a light into these dark corners, even in the world of sports. Yankee Stadium banned anti-gay slurs last year. The NBA got it right when it fined Kobe $100K for what Commissioner David Stern called “offensive and inexcusable” language.

These words are offensive, and it is bullying. Words matter.

- Maura McGurk

Maura is a painter who paints about LGBT issues, particularly gay bullying. Dan Savage is a collector, and you can visit her website to see her artwork.

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