Language is ever-evolving. New words are constantly being added, and current words take on new meanings. Gay is now one of those words.
Despite what the dictionary told us for years for many of us growing up, the word “gay” no longer has its foremost definition as “happy, lighthearted, or carefree” anymore, even outside our kinky circle. The mainstream world basically now sees it as we do. Perhaps at the chagrin of many Christians who now have to awkwardly explain many a church carol lyrics to small children who only know otherwise.
Case and point, the fairly recent news story of Hallmark selling yet another tacky holiday sweater, but with the words “Don we now our FUN apparel” instead of the proper word. My initial reaction was that it was just a clever replacement of wording, done out of humor. But then I got to thinking… I don’t think that was their intent. They seemed to be afraid to use “gay” because of its current meaning, and offending conservative people. In a way, I can’t blame them. But by changing it, they offended a whole new segment of the population. (Perhaps the best response to this I heard was from the radio show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, in which a panelist said jokingly that he was opposed to fun marriage.)
Now we have the expression, “That’s so gay.” For those of you who may not realize, but this expression is being used by a lot of the young people (ironically, many of the same ones who express gay acceptance) as a term meaning lame, dumb, or stupid. Should we be offended?
On the surface, it sure seems so. It appears there’s an obvious linkage for gay=stupid. Which, many fear, is not only offensive, but could be something that could be considered a form of gay verbal abuse. Imagine yourself being a vulnerable, closeted gay teen, hearing that over and over all day long, even from your friends and maybe family. After a certain point, would it affect you?
Personally, though, I’m not 100% convinced it’s as simple as that. Believe it or not, I feel many young people who use this expression are creating an entirely new and separate meaning for it in their minds, and see no relation to the expression and any sort of homophobia. Whether that’s right or wrong may be another issue, but the point is that I feel they don’t intend for it to be offensive to the gay community in any way. After all, just because a person says “Oh my God” when they’re surprised doesn’t mean they are literally praying to the Lord in that moment. It’s just an expression we say, where the individual words are devoid of their usual meaning in the heat of the moment.
I have to admit, I have said the expression myself a few times. But I do now plan to stop. Not necessarily because I personally feel it’s offensive, but I can see the other side of the coin. And really, if something is that dumb, I’m sure I can come up with something more creative to say than a hackneyed, overused expression anyway. Or maybe as Miss Manners said, if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.