A few months ago, a friend of mine, whom I know not to be racist or homophobic or otherwise filled with hate posted a comment on Facebook to which I took offense:
The cars with the reindeer decorations are gay. I have seen 2 today
I replied by saying that I didn’t realize cars could be gay, to which she said this one was. I said, “Dislike” since Facebook hasn’t been kind enough to provide an “I don’t approve of this” button – yet.
A friend of her’s, someone she knows face to face (I’ve only known her through on-line interactions) responded and said that there’s nothing wrong with saying “gay”. I agree, and I said so before adding, “it’s not OK to use ‘gay’ as a derogatory statement.” He provided a nasty, spiteful comment that doesn’t bear repeating and that really demonstrated to me that there’s still a long way to go, even in the realm of gay’s bashing each other. And I opted to see my way out of that conversation. The last thing I saw before “hiding” that “story” from my timeline was a statement from my friend who said that she meant no harm by it, that she would never want to hurt me and that there was no “cause for ‘ugliness'” as a result of her comment. She said that her gay friends have “given me permission” to make gay jokes.
The other day, after a much too long absence from her blog, she talked about “Me and my bestest queer* are going to…” The asterisk pointed to a footnote that read, “*He allows me to call him the queer so it’s fine.” One has to question: Why was it necessary to point out his permission, if “it’s fine.” Clearly my friend is aware of the potential for offense at the comment.
First, let me say that I am not calling this friend out, personally. This is a commentary on society, which uses these two relatively recent events as examples of the issue I’m discussiong. I’ve made a point of not naming her and I’m pretty sure she’ll be the only one who knows who I’m talking about, so let me also say that she is the only one who could out herself if she chooses to comment on this post in a way that will make it clear that she’s the one I mean…
Second, let me say that I know my friend is not a homophobe and that she does not personally harbor any ill will or negative feelings about me, or the gay community as a whole. On the contrary, she loves us.
Third, let me say that I don’t, personally, take particular offense at the use of the word “queer”. Webster’s dictionary defines the word queer as: Different from the normal or expected : strange. So, maybe I should take offense at the word, but I don’t. Just like I don’t take offense at the word gay. Personally, I am gay, and that’s not a bad thing. I am not queer, because there’s nothing different or strange about me. However, when those words are used to describe anything or anyone with a derogatory connotation involved, then those words are offensive to me. And they ought to be offensive to you, too!
So here’s the thing. In discussing this friend of mine and her “bestest queer” (whom she revealed to me, in a separate communication, that she refers to as “the queer”) she can call him whatever she wants in private conversation between the two of them. If he has no problem with her referring to him as “the queer”, than more power to them. If he doesn’t feel that saying something which she clearly doesn’t like “is gay” is a derogatory use of the word, and she wants to say it to him; more power to them. But just because the two of them don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, doesn’t mean the whole world agrees with them. It doesn’t even mean most of the world agrees with them. And I’ve got news for the two of them: It doesn’t even mean that the majority of that particular community agrees with them.
So, okay. The two of them are having a private conversation and she wants to tell her friend that cars with reindeer decorations on them are gay, and he thinks it’s funny, but they happen to be having this conversation in the middle of a restaurant and other people hear them. That is not a private conversation and instead of making a funny joke, they’ve just utilized hate speech. To the people in that restaurant, they’re not two people having a joke, they’re a couple of homophobes (or at the very least, very insensitive people), using a perfectly valid word that describes a perfectly valid portion of our society and comparing them to something that is unwanted and negative. You can make the argument that “it’s a private conversation between the two of them” if you want, but it’s not. It’s just not. (Certainly Facebook isn’t.) And just like that (*snaps fingers*) It’s not “okay, because my gay friend gave me his permission.” Your gay friend doesn’t speak for me.
But let’s take this just a little bit further. Let’s say my friend and her “bestest queer” agree that it’s not okay to use this language in public, but they are sitting around in the “bestest queer’s” living room using gay slurs (in a “humorous way”) and making jokes in which the term gay is used in a derogatory manner and they both think it’s funny and they’re completely at ease with it. How long is it going to be before one of them slips in public and makes one of those jokes where other people can hear (or read) them? When you allow yourself to think of something as being okay in private, before long you start thinking it’s okay in public, too. Before long you lose your perspective and you stop censoring yourself when it’s appropriate to do so.
Even worse! Suppose my friend and her “bestest queer” think I’m crazy and there’s just no way they would slip up in public and so it’s okay to make there jokes in private, just between the two of them. This friend of mine has a young son; a toddler. If she and her “bestest queer” sit around her house behaving this way, not only are they losing their own perspective of what’s appropriate, but they’re setting the example for her son that it’s the proper way to behave, or even worse teaching him that there really is something wrong with being gay, teaching him to judge, hate or otherwise criticize homosexuality, and if he happens to be gay, there’s a good chance that he could feel shame and fear of telling his parents because it’s been portrayed as something to be made fun of.
Outsiders do not get “inside jokes”. The people around you can not read your mind. The only thing people can go by, in understanding your beliefs and developing a sense of who you are, is your words. It is necessary, therefore, that you use a sense of good judgement in determining how you use certain terms in modern society.
A person can make the argument until he is blue in the face that he doesn’t mean any harm with the use of certain words, but the bottom line is, when you use a term, like say, “gay”, in a context in which that term does not fit by definition, like say, “cars with reindeer decorations are gay”, one can only go by what they hear (or read). Webster’s dictionary defines “gay” as: 1. Merry. 2. Bright and lively, especially in color. 3. Inclined toward social pleasures. 4. Homosexual. — n. A homosexual. I don’t think cars are capable of either emotion or sexual identity/behavior, therefore, I can only assume the statement is a derogatory statement which should not be made.
The bottom line is this: No matter what is in your heart, when you make a statement that has a negative context and you use a term that describes a particular section of society (particularly one that is already persecuted) to convey that negative context, you are, in fact making a statement of hate.
And it should. not. be. done.