WORDS HAVE POWER
“Linguistic reclamation, also known as linguistic resignification or reappropriation, refers to the appropriation of a pejorative epithet by its target(s)….Laying claim to the forbidden, the word as weapon is taken up and taken back by those it seeks to shackle – a self-emancipation that defies hegemonic linguistic ownership and the (a)buse of power”.” (2004). – Robin Brontsema
“that’s so gay”
I came of age politically-speaking in the era of identity politics, which saw the reclamation of pejoratives – words like nigger, cunt, dyke, hebe, queer, etc. – as a defiant refusal, an inversion of meaning (the idea being that a woman using the word cunt was not the same as that of a man, etc.). Context was everything. Of course, the power of words has often led to a desire to police language as well as to raise consciousness (to use an old phrase!), and yet I wonder if this really ever serves its purpose. Case in point, the recent PSA commercials on TV conveying the message that saying “that’s so gay” is unacceptable these days.
If most of us acknowledge the limitations of such politically-correct approaches to challenging bigotry, google the phrase “that’s so gay + joke” and one of the first things that pop up is this: “When you were a baby you were so gay that the only milk you would drink was from your dads dick!… “ (i’m not going to even list the url because it doesn’t deserve the attention). Even more striking is the venomous, homophobic commentary Chris Crocker ( infamous for his 2008 “leave Brittany alone” video plea, replete with tears, showcased on Ellen and Letterman) got in response to his diatribe on the phrase — something he says continues to be an insult among kids today (and I’ve verified that with several NYC teens). All this got me thinking about what some of my favorite gay artist friends/colleagues thought about all this, so I asked some. Let us know your reaction to the use of the phrase (be ye gay or straight, queer or square, and anything else in-between, over and outside such silly classifications).
DEB KASS: It all depends on context.
JONATHAN HOROWITZ: It’s a horrible thing for a gay kid to have to hear and it’s tricky to turn around and reclaim, because it’s meaning is so vague. But if Lady Gaga starts saying “that’s so gay” to mean “that’s so great” and it catches on, then it should be OK.
BRUCE LABRUCE: My youngest sister once said, when the toaster wasn’t working properly, “This toaster is gay.” She was about twelve. I was a bit gob-smacked. But I have to confess I thought it was kind of funny.
DAME DARCY: Being from the 1890’s ( as I am ) I think the term “gay” means “happy” I also think it means homosexual, which to me seems a good and happy thing, so it makes sense to me that the gay community embraced that phrase. The kids now-a-days using “gay” as a negative term doesn’t apply to the old fashioned positive connotation, also from my philosophy, it does not correctly apply in any way to today’s gay philosophy. I think it’s degrading to gay culture to use the term negatively in any way. Gay rights and womens rights are human rights.
LUCKY DEBELLEVUE: Recently I posted a comment on facebook responding to a photo of a plaque with an image of a pink poodle excitedly answering a princess phone (with the words “ring ring ring” coming out the receiver). It was way over the top, and I wrote, “That is so gay, and I don’t even know how I mean that.” And I still don’t. Maybe I shouldn’t have commented in that way, giving in to un-pc-ness, even though I thought I was among “friends”. The guy who posted it is very gay friendly, but not gay. Would I have been offended if he would have posted that underneath the image? Maybe, maybe not. I think it is a case by case basis, and since I think I know where he is coming from, I don’t think I would have cared…….but still. I think the rule still is if you are not a member of a group, you can’t joke about the stereotypes within it. Until everyone is evolved to a place where no divisions exist, that’s just the way it is, I guess.
CODY CRITCHELOE: It doesn’t really bother me when someone says something is gay, unless I hate that person then it will probably bother me. Actually I don’t think it has ever really bothered me…
DAN CAMERON: I think “That’s so gay” is a transitional phrase, in that it’s mostly meant as a put-down among kids, but with a mostly innocuous — not to say innocent — underpinning. When I was growing up, it would be “That’s so faggy,” or similar words, which were definitely intended to be more hurtful. Today it’s as if the phrase carries with it both its sordid homophobic history and a more tolerant present, with even a hopeful future of full equality. I’ve been known to use it myself, but in an upside down way, hitting the word ‘so’ heavily and dragging out the vowel, so that it sounds like ‘gay’ is something wonderful that a contestant just won on a game show. In other words, since ‘gay’ can only signify something positive for me, that’s how I use it. But I also don’t hear it get said very often in its more casual, hetero-normative usage, so I’m definitely appropriating it for my own purposes.
CASEY SPOONER: It is similar to being black and saying NIGGER. I am a homosexual so I can say it. I can own it. If you aren’t a homosexual then you need to find another way to describe your feelings. You need to be aware of your language and it’s implications. I need to use the most caustic words that could and have been be used to describe me. It destroys the taboo. It liberates me. If this isn’t happening when you use these words, THEN DON’T.
JACK EARLY: I’ve said “that’s so gay” once or twice but I felt judgmental for saying it. I guess I do better just thinking it.
ANNIE SPRINKLE: It can mean just about anything, depending on the context; creative, sexy, hot, smart, fey, fabulous, silly, normal, odd, unique, innovative, male, etc. Mostly it means SEXY.