Yesterday I referred out loud about a song idea of mine as being “gay” in front of my band mates. This is a term that I ignorantly use all too often. As soon as it came out of my mouth I automatically wish I could suck it back in. No one called me out on it, and I didn’t apologize, although I immediately realized that I was wrong to use such vocabulary in a derogatory way.
I’d like to pretend that this was an isolated incident, that I have never used the term “gay”, or any other label, as having negative connotations, but such would be a blatant lie. I have described things in a negative matter as “gay” and have not given it second thought. I always try to be aware of the garbage that often spews from my mouth but a lot of the times I don’t do such a great job at this. I am still very much guilty of using offensive language, even if I am recognizing my ignorance.
I know I have in the past excused myself from such terms in explaining that they don’t matter. IE: “It’s just a term, I don’t mean any harm”, which consciously is true- I don’t mean any harm. However, the hate, and I believe that it is hate, that is built into words to describe things in a negative way, still is very harmful. I have used the term “gay” in a derogatory way in front of gay friends and straight friends and have brushed it off, without even allowing myself to think how this is offensive to them. When someone refers to something as being “gay” in front of me, I often will feel offended and I am a straight woman. So what makes it different for me to use such disgusting language?
The fact that I have grown up as a privileged white woman probably has something to do with this. I have never really been wounded by a sharp tongue. It’s not like anyone uses the term “white 20-something female” as a way to describe something in a bad way or as a derogatory term. The history that has evolved the word “gay” into a negative adjective has come from the negativity that the term was used to describe gay people. The same with words like “junkie” or “retarded” or “jew” or “nigger”. There is such power behind these words, and to dismiss this is to dismiss the history that has come from these words.
Now, I don’t think of myself as being politically correct, but perhaps I am more than I’d like to admit. I think a world where we can call African Americans, Anglo Americans, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, Pakistani Americans, etc. as just “Americans”. I know this idea is a long way off, and perhaps there is an issue of generalization as suppressing cultural history, but I think it would make causal conversation easier. So I don’t know. All I can say is that I need to watch myself and make sure that I am aware of the underlying hate and offense that come with certain terms. So if I could go back last night and talk about my song idea, well, it was fucking stupid.