Saturday, July 23, 2011

Its only words...


When you hear the terms "No homo" and "That's so gay", whats your emotional response? If your of a certain age, these terms are relatively new and maybe they don't resonate with you so much. At least, not to the same degree as words like fag or queer can. Words have such a curious power to illicit an emotional response from us but they only carry the meaning that we give them...or do they?

This weekend my husband Jay made a video about what he perceives to be homophobic actions on the part of a huge YouTube channel, The ShayCarls. Among the points brought up in that video were their use of the "terms "no homo" and "that's gay". Now...it is not my intention to make this post about the video or the ShayCarls. What I want to address were how many people vehemently defended their use of "no homo" and "that's gay". I was absolutely blown away by the amount of people...gay people even...who said they could care less about it....even from a guy who says he didn't want his kid to "turn out gay".

I do not like the phrase "that's gay"...at all. However, I was on the fence about "no homo" because it just sounds so stupid and makes the speaker look like an idiot. For that reason I tend to ignore stuff like this because it just showcases that persons lack of understanding about others. That is until Jay brought up some very good points that have forced me to reevaluate these seemingly casual words....

When someone says "that's so gay", we know that it means that they didn't like whatever it was they are are talking about and that the subtext to that is that being gay is also bad. That's a pretty cut and dry scenario. Yet with "no homo", it's almost so goofy as to be beneath comment..at least in my opinion. The men that are so afraid of being perceived as gay that they have to use a disclaimer to justify their actions clearly have some insecurity issues. The intention is to distance yourself from suspicions of homosexuality. However, any guy who comments on another guys hair or body and then quickly throws out "no homo!" isn't dispelling any suspicions. The fact that you needed to say it just makes it all the more suspicious in my book. In the end it's another way of saying that gay=bad.

But its all sticks and stones right? I mean who cares if someone uses those words...especially a channel who's sole focus is humor and entertainment like the ShayCarls? I can't tell you how man people commented...often in blazing capitol letters....CAN'T YOU TAKE A JOKE?!!!!    Why yes, we can, but thats not the point here. What if we took the homo out of "no homo" for a second and plugged in another minority group? I wonder if people would be so ready to dismiss it then. If someone runs around saying "no Jew!" or "no Asian!" I bet everyones undies would be in such a twist about it that the outrage would make the evening news. Yet, when the subject of the joke is gay we are all just supposed to laugh it off as innocent fun. I think that it's because its still ok for people to make fun of gays in a way that it stopped being ok to make fun of other minorities a long time ago.

Humor points out the silly and absurd in all of us. You should be able to make fun of yourself and laugh at even the most serious things in life or else we would all break under the strain. Being able to laugh at it all makes it bearable. But humor crosses a line when it starts to paint others as "less than". Just ask Tracy Morgan who is still trying desperately to save his career after he did a stand up bit in which he claimed that if his son was gay he would stab him....plenty of audience members laughed at that too and more then a few people stood up to defend Tracy on the basis that it was all a joke.

So can I take a joke?...you bet. But when that joke sounds startling like all the times you were called a fag in the hallway at school or under much worse circumstances...and when those who really do hate you use those jokes as licence for their hatred and violence, you realize that humor can have unintended consequences and that our words do matter.


 In addition to those are the young people who make the claim that they are a new generation and they don't care about phrases like that..."they just don't matter to us" was the gist. Fine then....I guess we really didn't need to make all those "It Gets Better Videos" for the teens who were hanging themselves for being called fags then right? They obviously didn't care about it either right? The argument that these are common phrases that don't mean anything just cheeses me off. The whole "it doesn't affect us" line is complete B.S. and here's why....

Not everyone who realises they are gay handles it the same way. This is because peoples emotional make-up is unique to each individual. Some people can realize they are gay and shrug off their friends "that's gay! or "your such a fag!" comments...others take them to heart and end up sending me messages on YouTube and
Gmail on the edge of suicide. I was just the same as many of those kids. Every time you hear someone get called a fag, you would silently vow to yourself that they would never say that about you...you would never give them a reason to just out of self preservation. This is because you believed in your heart that "gay" was a bad thing and could get you very hurt if people knew about you. "That's so gay" and "no homo" send the exact same message as "fag" and "queer", just in a more subtle way. I have enough emails from kids on the edge of suicide to know that its not one comment that drives us to hate ourselves...it is the aggregate of every time we have to hear it from our friends, family, and society at large that leads people to hate themselves to the point of taking their own lives.

To be fair...hearing someone say "fag!" is not the same as someone using "that's gay" or "no homo". The intention of the person using it can be very different. But when you know that its being used to look down on someone...even subtly...what's the difference? And how do we chose to respond to it? When you hear someone say the "F" word you can either put your head down and pretend you didn't hear it or you can stand up and give it back tenfold. Is it possible that giving certain people a pass on using denigrating gay jokes is a little bit like putting our heads down and pretending we didn't hear it. It's not important right?

In the end they are only words...they only have the meaning that we give them. But words are also tools that communicate more than what they may seem on the surface. They have effects that sometimes we don't intend. But I turn it over to you now readers....let me know what you think? Is it homophobic to use those words, ignorant,...or both?  Or as some claim, does it really all not matter? Is it generational...or is that the B.S. it sounds like? I think you know my opinion, now I would like to hear yours.

Until next time dear readers....

26 comments:

  1. I agree, it's bad. When people say "can't you take a joke?", the answer is "Yes, we can and have been for many, many years. The fact is it's just not funny anymore. We have kids killing themselves because they believe that they are "less than". It's not just that every remark is negative, it's that the government show by it's actions it's negative, the politicians say it's negative, churches say it's negative to be gay. It all adds up. The language reflects society and society reflects language. It's the acumiliation of the negative.

    And here's where it get heavy... If you want to hate someone or some group you must, first, make them less than you. If you want to attack someone you must believe that they deserve to be attacked. If you want to hurt someone you must, first, clarify that they are not "one of us". The accumulation of anti-gay remarks makes it possible.

    And here's another thing... Since when is it a good thing to laugh at other people?. If your humour depends on deriding other people, what does that say about you?.

    Let's just stop it, because it's just not funny or cool or polite to denigrate other people anymore.

    Hollytg

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  3. I agree with you. I'm curious, since you're a gamer too how you feel about the amount of blatant homophobia often expressed by players of MMOs. I played World of Warcraft for years and I remember noticing this for the first time and being really surprised by it. I was never entirely sure if the mindless drones who use terms like "that's gay" in the game do so out of habit because it's a fad, or if they really are homophobic. Either way I consider it inexcusable. I played a healer class (restoration shaman) and when I heard someone say that in a raid I would often let them take damage and die. It seemed like a fairly reasonable way to train them to think first before they spew offensive verbal fads.

    (grrr. I didn't mean to delete, I meant to edit. I corrected spelling).

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  4. I agree and I think the other Holly put it quite well. It's important for us all to consider how our words are being perceived by others and not just by ourselves.

    Related story:
    My husband was shocked many years ago to find out that I'm much more offended by a man saying, "Woman!" in a demanding sort of tone than I am by any type of profanity. In my opinion, people who use the term "woman" in that way are saying that women are beneath men, which is extremely offensive.

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  5. I had two friends growing up who spouted anti-gay crap. One seemed to be obsessed with Fags! The other seemed offended by a closeted gay character in a comic book - the character was so closeted that I hadn't figured it out!

    Both friends turned out to be gay. Yet before I learned they were offended by something within themselves I made sure they didn't know the truth about ME because I saw clearly that they would dislike me for it.

    I go really cold really fast on people who use abusive language unconsciously or thinking they're being funny. If they want to continue to have any kind of relationship with me they will stop. If I don't matter to them in the slightest, then I figure it's reciprocal.

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  6. Bryan, I have an idea off the back of this blog entry which I'm sending you in the reply to your email. I think you (and Sean Chapin) will like ;-)

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  7. The whole "No homo" thing is ridiculous to me anyway. When I hear someone say it I think to myself are they that insecure in their sexuality?

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  8. @Michael...I think the way you handled it was awesome and I lol'd when I read it. I think that was a thousand times more effective than had you verbally confronted them first because it put them on notice that many of the people they may have to rely on in life are gay. I think you solved that better than I would have :)
    Bryan

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  9. I have never written to you or your husband but I have been watching your beautiful family on youtube. With that being said, I wanted to chime in with my opinion. Like you, at first I didn't find anything offensive about the term "no homo" actually I chuckled because it sounded funny and a little absurd. When I watched the clip of Shaytards he was clearly being silly and playing around. However, I did detect a certain level of uncomfort in his words and body language. Which leads me to believe he clearly wanted to state that he was not gay and whether or not he intended it to be a joke. I think the subtext of the statement negates the "Joke." As for me, although I am not gay and words like you mentioned have not ever affected me. I can see how words such as "So gay" can be offensive but I also won't say that is "so retarded" either because it aims mean words at other people. And personally for me I would never attack another human being.

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  10. I think that the tricky part is that there are various levels of "insultness" meant by various types of profanity, even when it's the same word, there can be various levels or vitriol, irony, or humor meant. Also, as time goes by, words lose their effect/power through repeated use. "Nigger" can be used quite offensively, but since the 40-50 years since the Civil Rights Movement, it has become watered down to the point where it's common to hear it from rappers in mainstream pop/R&B/hip hop music. The same with "retarded". The use of "that's (so) gay" is a relatively new one, and yes I'm sure it started out meaning to slight gay people, that's the way insults work, attributing something that is distastful to something else. And since we live in such a Puritanical society, various sex acts are deemed as distastful, and grouped under the common insult "that sucks". Although words have histories, they can evovle into newer shades of meaning. It appears that this might happen with the word gay, or the insulting aspects will just fall into disuse. I really don't have a problem with profanity, or with insults, if they are not (unjustly) leveled at somebody, but at some point we need to recognize that we can't control people, and some things are just more important than policing what people say.

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  11. In school people say things like that all the time. it used to never effect me until i heard Jay talk about it and i saw what it could really mean and saw the saying "no homo" or that's Gay" for what it really was. Saying that's gay is like saying being gay is stupid since that is the way most teens use it. Saying "no homo" has no point either because if in your mind something is gay and your uncomfortable doing it, what is two words changing? In your mind, it's still a homosexual act. Jay really opened my eyes to what those sayings really meant and how they can make people feel, and no one else will ever really understand the true meaning until it is explained bluntly to them...

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  12. i believe the terms are said from ignorance and as derogatory remarks just depending on the people. I have a friend whose uncle is gay, yet i still hear her say thats so gay, and no homo and what not. Then theres my other best friend who acts so gay to me,yet is very firm about being straight. not so much any more but he used to say no homo after everything until i said no body cares! you dont have to prove to us your not gay. I have emailed jay about how it does hurt to hear my closest friends talk like that and thats is my biggest fear of coming out,i dont let it put me down, but it does make me feel less comfortable coming out. being from the young generation ( 18 ) i do care about the remarks, but i tend not to let them get me down because we really cant go through life caring what everyone else thinks. finally starting to come to terms with being gay has mad me realize i cant care what everyone thinks because i cant change who i am, and there will always be people to say things whether they r to intentionally hurt you or not intentionally you just got to learn not to let it bother you. when a bully knows what hurts you they will used it against you every time.

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  13. Mon ami,

    I have always been offended by the term "That's so gay." I always have told the people around me that I found it offensive and not to say it around me, even to my niece that is currently hopping through girl relationships.

    I have never heard the term, "no homo". Such a stupid phrase. I completely agree with what you said about it. And you know that I pray everyday for you, Jay, and your wonderful family that blessings may continue to come your way....

    The Silly Girl, slightly older than you that sends you stupid songs that remind us of the good times of ole (if not slightly skanky...)

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  14. Well, I completely agree with you about the "it doesn't affect me so it's ok for me to say it" BS.
    Being 18 (oh so young xD), I was once a "user" of "that's gay"-like sentences until something inside me clicked and I realized it does make me feel like crap when I say it or hear anyone say it.
    Like Michael I also played WoW and I also played a healer class (Us gays like to heal apparently :P) and I would sometimes see some guild members make ostensive use of ignorant homophobic expressions towards me for “doing a bad job” and I responded just like Michael, by letting the bigots “die” lol. Sure I would then report them, usually ending in no action taken against them, and warning the guild leader who was a pretty cool guy.
    But what used to hurt me the most was when my two best friends used such vocabulary. If, at a certain time, I felt completely motivated to come out to them, the moment afterwards would cloud me with doubts. But I think I managed to “educate” them *coughcough* and nowadays they are the ones that tell people to stop using homophobic terms ^^

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  15. @everyone...I wanted to take a moment to thank every one for their thoughtfull comments. Two days ago, this blog entry was at five comments...then I took a day away from the internet to take care of my home and when I logged in this morning the blog had blown up to fourteen comments! Everyone has had thoughtfull things to say about the issue and I appreciate everyone taking the time to leave their thoughts. :)
    Bryan

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  17. Whenever anyone says "that's so gay" in front of me, I reply "No, that's so straight. Gay people aren't that stupid". :)

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  18. I've never found anything remotely funny about "that's so gay" and I used to call my students out when I heard them use it. Like Lynn, I hate the phrase "That's so retarded" for the same reason. I hadn't heard "no homo" before, but it doesn't have as strong an effect on me--probably because it directly points to the insecurities of the person saying it--but it's still not a phrase I could see myself every using.

    What do you think of Seinfeld's "Not that there's anything wrong with that?" I always liked that it operates as sort of a "mea culpa" for people to acknowledge that they've just tried to distance themselves from seeming gay and now feel they have to distance themselves from seeming homophobic. I'm straight, though, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts or those of your readers.

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  19. The phrases "that's so gay" and "no homo" are the most common right now, people say that type of thing out of ignorance, because "every one" says it, because [it's not like they are calling some one fag]hens it's no big deal; it doesn't matter why they say it, it is still offensive and hurt full.
    I am part of that younger generation; and having used the "I don't care what you think of me/ say" reasoning myself, I know a defense mechanism when I see one. The goal is to avoid giving away sensitivity, a weakness, to those who would use it against you. If you pretend it doesn't hurt, maybe they will give up and stop saying it. Or maybe, better yet, you can convince yourself that it does not hurt. I guess It's our version of "taking back the words" by using them. (that was the theory of one of the preceding generations I think)

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  20. Does anyone else just think of the Lonely Island song when they hear the phrase "No Homo?"

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  21. I agree that the widespread use of those phrases can have a seriously negative effect on LGBT youth.

    I also think "no homo" is just as bad as "that's gay".

    I also know that they aren't going anywhere soon unless we do something about how society treats LGBT individuals.

    As long as we are treated as "less than", people will continue to use this kind of language. It's a tricky problem: widespread use of this kind of language makes it more OK to discriminate, and widespread discrimination makes it more OK to use this kind of language.

    Honestly, I think more people need gay friends. When you realize that the things you say could hurt someone close to you, you start thinking about gays as people, not as some ambiguous "other" that everybody hates and you can make fun of all the time.

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  22. I'm gay and I say "that's gay" a lot, but then again I've been born and raised in the south my entire life so things like that don't really get to me anymore so I don't know if it's that I'm just used to it or just not offended by it. Like someone said earlier, I've played MMOs too and a lot of people do say homophobic things and it really just doesn't bother me much unless they're blatantly trying to offend gay people(and lol at what he said he does to them, what a champ). I think it depends a lot on the context and how you really mean for your words to come across, at least to me. But, sometimes my thick skin doesn't cut it and I will get offended by someone.

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  23. I, like many others who've posted here, shrugged off the ignorant comments because I assumed they were just that: words drained of their invidious meaning. I still think in a sense they are, but as you've demonstrated the ignorance and naivete of the speaker does not affect the perceived meaning of their statement. I recently visited a friend's house and was appalled when I overheard his younger brother (15 years old) playing some type of online game (Grand Theft Auto, I believe). He wasn't using the banal phrases of "that's gay," etc. Instead, he was creating his own derogatories and imprecations with that same basic meaning: "God, man, are you having sex with men over there?", "He must be too busy with his boyfriend." etc. I am almost certain this kid's not homophobic or discriminatory, he just isn't thinking at all about the ramifications of his words. It's just like a previous comment suggested: more people need gay friends so then they can understand the pernicious and damaging effect their words can have.

    The phrase "no homo" is another matter altogether because it, as far as I can tell, reveals the new trend of thought about homosexuality in modern mainstream society. Being gay is not necessarily a bad thing, but I MYSELF AM NOT. It's literally unbiased, but there's a lot of implication inherent within. Unless someone was specifically propositioned, why would they feel the need to stipulate that they are not gay? It's because in reality there is still a "correct" sexual orientation and the veneer of disinterest is just a guise which hides the more invidious machinery. The intentional and brazen denunciations of the past have been replaced with "neutral" phrasing and harbor only tacit inferiority.

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  24. Hi Bryan, great post!

    You are right. Of course it matters and hurts and makes most of us either shrink deep down our hearts or outrage in one way or another. As you write, words DO MATTER and affect us, all. That’s why I was shocked when one of our respected gay YouTubers recently made a “no hetero” video. I thought it was just as dumb and blunt as the “no homo” hint. Most people just haven’t soaked it in yet that gays aren’t somewhere on the moon, but are HERE ON EARTH, among THEIR friends and family members. And we DON’T wear badges anymore! *sarcastic grin* So people just think we’re always somewhere else but around them. What a bulls…! Sorry. :)

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  25. Hm, I can't find the section about coming out stories. Anyways yeah this was interesting, I don't like hearing any of these phrases. Both of these phrases are very common in my university.

    Hugs & Kisses from the United States...NO HOMO

    :P

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