Your Gay Friend Doesn’t Speak For Me

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.

10 thoughts on “Your Gay Friend Doesn’t Speak For Me

    1. Aww that is so cute. Now if only we can get all the little elementary school children to think like the little boy then no one will ever use the word gay in such context again.

      1. I wish we could do more, and better than that, but at least if we could do that, future generations would be better off!

  1. People often don’t think before they speak. Some probably don’t even realize that what they said could be taken as offensive, because people just use these common expressions without thinking about what they’re really saying. Who came up with these sayings, anyway?

    “Bestest queer?” Really? That’s somewhat over-the-top. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I don’t really care about the details of someone’s sex life. I’m not gay, but I certainly wouldn’t go around broadcasting intimate details about me and my wife. No one really wants to hear about that, so I don’t see why it’s so commonplace for people to point out the sexuality of gays. We’re all just “people.”

    1. I think you’re absolutely right that people often don’t think before they speak or realize that they’re being offensive. That’s why I wrote this post in the first place. This is a particular “slur” that affects me directly. It’s no better or worse than using the N word for black people, or, apparently, the R word for developmentally challenged people. However I am neither of those things so I can’t speak to those words. I am gay. And I have no problem discussing it politely.

      I don’t particularly have a problem with “bestest queer”, if that’s what they’ve agreed on. But I agree with you, regardless of sexual orientation, sexuality is a personal and private matter and I see no need to go around flaunting it in peoples’ faces.

      Like I said, I wrote this post to educate those who read it, and I actually did it out of a belief that, at least in most cases, the people are good hearted individuals who would not want to deliberately hurt others. Unfortunately, the person who provided the examples in the post (but who the post was not actually about) took great offense to what I wrote (much to my surprise) and instead of considering the validity of my points has gotten indignant over the idea that I wrote this “mean” post about her.

      Sometimes you just can’t win.

  2. I wrote a ridiculously long comment that was full of wild contradicting statements and realized, as I was reading it over, that it made absolutely no sense. So, Mike makes a good point. People don’t censor themselves. I thought about what I was trying to say: Thank you Kevin for pointing this out! People need to remember that words have great power. I for one never understood the playground chant: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. Personally, I think a stick would hurt less then well aimed words.

  3. By all means, point out why the word is inaccurate at best and shows a distinct lack of imagination at worst. (at least in the context that this friend was using it).

    However when you get to the point that you are telling people what they should and should not say in public because they might offend people, you are going overboard.

    You can tell someone a word is inappropriate all you want, but if they don’t see it that way they will continue to use it. On top of that, my best friend and I regularly go out to dinner. We will sit in a crowded restaurant and discuss, at a normal volume of voice, politics and other subjects on which our views will most likely offend many of those in the vicinity. However that is not the business of the other patrons, unless we are being obnoxiously loud, nor the business of our server. If someone chooses to listen in, which is very rude, on our conversation and is offended by it, that is not our fault.

    1. Thank you for comment. I’m afraid I must disagree with you, however.

      To be clear, I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t say these things “because they might offend people”, I’m saying they shouldn’t say these things because they might hurt people. And frankly, That does matter, and it’s not going overboard.

      You’re right, if someone doesn’t see this as inappropriate, they will go right on saying it without concern for how it affects the people around them. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay. And it certainly doesn’t mean other’s shouldn’t call them on it and point out how the things they say are harmful. Certainly, the individual can choose to be angry and defensive as this former friend did, or they can choose to listen and learn from the exchange and change their ways.

      Here’s an example for you: I do not think it is inappropriate or offensive to refer to someone who is mentally challenged, or something that doesn’t work at the speed it should, as “retarded”. The word, by definition, means “slow”. However, the people to whom I’m referring do find that word offensive, so I will not use it. Plain and simple.

      I also see a huge difference between discussing a potentially controversial topic and spouting things that have been determined to be hate speech. It’s one thing for you and your friend to sit and discuss politics and express political views that might be different from what people around you might think, and yes some people might be offended by your views. It’s something else entirely to denigrate a portion of society by using a term that refers to that portion of society in a derogatory or condescending manner. And when your tone of voice is harsh and you’re expressing disdain in a manner that is clear to everyone and use the words, “[such and such] is so gay” you are likening this disdainful thing to being gay, which, therefore translates to saying that being gay is disdainful.

      Furthermore, I do not think it’s overboard to expect people to become educated and stop the use of such harmful language. I was the victim of bullying in elementary and high school and it is only because I was afraid that I didn’t commit suicide because of it (though I thought about it countless times.) Add to that the rash of suicides over the last year, all related to bullying of children who were, or were perceived to be, gay, and I can’t understand how anyone would argue against eradicating this use of this terminology from our society as a whole.

      You don’t have to agree with me and I welcome your respectful comments, but I’ll tell you now, that you’ll not convince me that I’m going overboard on this very important topic!

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