Everyone sit back and recall those cheesy Hilary Duff commercials circa 2008. Two girls in a store trying on clothes when one of them says “that’s so gay”. Cue Hilary chiming in to let them know that it’s not okay to use someone’s sexuality as an insult and then (savagely, might I add) comparing it to referring to bad things as “so girl wearing a skirt as a top”. While the commercial hit big at the time and definitely worked to lower the use of the phrase in a negative way, its effects weren’t complete and the phrase is still pretty common.
A few nights ago I was sitting around with some friends who had some questions about what I do and do not find offensive as a lesbian. For the most part, I am pretty laid back and I am not offended by the light-hearted lesbian jokes my friends and family will make from time to time. They’re harmless, never ill-intentioned and usually not offensive anyway. However, I told them that the one thing that does make me angry is hearing people refer to things that they deem bad as gay.
Immediately, they all chimed in saying that it’s a reflex and they’ve been saying that since they were 10 years old. They went on to say that they don’t mean anything by it and that it’s just something they say. But that’s kind of the point here isn’t it? That this phrase has become so ubiquitous that no one even considers the fact that they are insulting an entire community of people when they use it.
When someone says “that’s so gay” referring to something they find bad or stupid or wrong, they are simultaneously equating being gay to being bad, stupid, or wrong. These negative connotations of a what is, to them, a harmless comment, continue to reinforce the stigma surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and perpetuate the negative views our society as a whole already has about this group.
Now I know a lot of people will say things like “stop being so sensitive” and “lighten up, it’s just a joke” and expect me to accept that. I won’t. To me, saying “that’s so gay” is essentially equating my sexuality and me as a person to being bad, stupid, and wrong and I am absolutely not okay with that.
I am sure most people who use that phrase have no intentions of making me and countless others feel this way, but they do. And they do so without even thinking about it. So I am urging everyone, do think about it. Pay attention to what you’re saying. Think about the effects of what you’re saying. Be better. Do better.
There has got to be an insult out there more original and clever than “that’s so gay” and offensive only to the person you are intending to offend. If you can’t think of one, then maybe go pick up a book and add some more words to your vocabulary. I promise there is something better out there to say and probably much more insulting to the person you actually want to insult.