Stonewall Is Gay

Posted: November 14, 2011 in homosexuality, Identity, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

This week is ‘anti-homophobic bullying week’, according to everyone’s favourite Gay charity, Stonewall.

Just as the feminists have been focusing on ‘woman-hating’ language lately, so the Gay activists are telling everyone to stop using nasty words against gays.

The suggestions for the week from Stonewall include:


Schools: Make a personal pledge not to use homophobic language, and encourage others to sign up too. See how many signatures you can get over the course of Anti-Bullying Week. You might want to include the following points:

  • As a community, you will not use or tolerate homophobic language of any kind, including:
  • Any use of the word ‘gay’ to describe things that are negative or inferior, for example in phrases like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘ you’re so gay’
  • Other insulting homophobic words and remarks designed to hurt others, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight

At Work: Challenge yourself and colleagues to go without your morning coffee during Anti Bullying week and donate the money you save to Stonewall!


Apart from the fact that the main message from Stonewall seems to be: you can tackle homophobic bullying by giving money to Stonewall! I have a few problems with this campaign.

My first problem relates to my criticisms of the claims by ‘female columnists’ that woman-hating language is a specific kind of ‘hate speech’. Stonewall, like the feminists, are suggesting gay people are particularly victimised, with the use of ‘abusive’ language against them. Whereas I think language is used to attack people in all sorts of different ways, and claiming special victim status is wrong.

My second problem with the campaign is its focus on the word ‘gay’ as an insult, meaning ‘naff’ or ‘lame’. As Brendan O’Neill has explained in the Telegraph, it is gay people themselves who have celebrated and reinforced the naffness of gay culture:

‘But is it really such a mystery as to why the word gay has come to mean rubbish? It seems obvious to me. It is because gay culture is quite knowingly and resolutely lame. I don’t mean culture that happens to be produced by homosexuals, which includes some of the greatest art in history. No, I mean the stuff that passes for mainstream “gay culture”, foisted upon us by gay TV producers, filmmakers and magazine publishers, which is almost always shallow and camp and kitsch. That is, crap. If young people associate “gay” with “rubbish”, then they’re more perceptive than we give them credit for – they have twigged that, sadly, what is these days packaged up us as “gay culture” is almost always patronising pap.’

O’Neill is not the first to link ‘gay’ with ‘naff’. In the blurb for his 1996 collection (as editor) Anti Gay, Mark Simpson asked:

Have you ever wondered (to yourself, in private)… Why most gay culture these days is mediocre trash? Why so many lesbians have such a problem with long hair and dainty footwear? Why being gay is like being a member of a religious cult, except not so open minded?

So maybe kids, and it is mainly young people using the term ‘gay’ like this, who have grown up with Graham Norton and Gay Pride and Alan Carr, are just processing where gay culture is at, and associating it accurately with all things ‘rubbish’.

My final criticism of Stonewall’s campaign is the most important I think. The fact is language changes and evolves over time. So trying to police people’s use of words is at best futile, and at worst proscriptive.

Take the word ‘gaylord’ for example. It used to mean ‘high spirited’ .

‘From an English surname which was derived from Old French gaillard “high-spirited, boistrous”. This name was rarely used after the mid-20th century, when the word gay acquired the slang meaning “homosexual”.’

Again, Mark Simpson, my favourite Gaylord, has something to say about ‘Gay’ and how it is actually probably on its way out as a word that refers to a specific sexual identity.

‘ The Gays, for all their denial, know better than anyone what metrosexuality means. The beginning of the end of the gay identity. Straight men no longer need to project their own ‘gayness’ into gay bodies. They want it for their own, thank you very much. Gays no longer have to be gay for straights – so that straights can be straight. And however much gays may have reclaimed the dustbin identity of homosexual-queer-gay and fashioned something wonderful out of it, in the end it has outlived its point.’

So Stonewall’s campaign against homophobic bullying, is, in many ways, really just a desperate attempt to hold onto the ‘gay’ identity. And one way to do this is to hold onto the significance of ‘homophobia’ in our society. The two are interdependent.

Some people use the word ‘gay’ to mean naff. Get over it.

  1. Jonathan says:

    “‘But is it really such a mystery as to why the word gay has come to mean rubbish? It seems obvious to me. It is because gay culture is quite knowingly and resolutely lame.”

    lol – yes 😀

    And it’s time “Anti-Gay” was reissued. Most of it is still very relevant.

  2. Dan says:

    Are you being ironic when you talk about gay culture as being “naff”? The word itself is in fact an acronym derived from Polari, a form of gay slang, meaning “not available for fucking”.
    On a more serious note, I’d be careful about monolithising “gay” culture and saying that gay means rubbish because gay culture is self-consciously and uniformly rubbish. For a start, gays may not agree (what’s more rubbish about men in leopard print y fronts than about women in tight bikinis, for example?), and for another gay culture, like any culture, is not so easily pinned down as all that. While your criticisms of Stonewall’s campaign as a means to cling on to a dissipating identity are spot on, I’m not sure that the lack of malice that you attribute to children in particular when they use the word is justified. For sure, many young children may not know of its “real” meaning (original, whatever. The one that involves bumming) but as children grow up the association of “gay” is with rubbish because it denotes difference, rather than because children are aware of the rubbishness you ascribe to gay culture. It is a means of bullying, of name calling and just as a synonym for “rubbish” in the same way as young boys refer to bad things as “girly”, because there is an othering in which they are brought up to believe. In this sense, any campaign by Stonewall that attempts to cling to some distinct “gay identity” will indeed be counterproductive, for it is this which produces the insult they are trying to get rid of. The identity and the homophobia are not just interdependent, you can see a potential causal link here. Beyond campaigns for legal equality, there is little need for the assertion of a distinct “gay” identity, for it simply does not exist, and gay people occupy as diverse a section of society as straight ones.
    However, while gay people are still discriminated against legally, (both in the UK by marriage law and abroad by more repressive regimes) I can see the argument for a broad cultural front to keep this issue current, and inventing a “gay” identity is always going to form a part of that. The price of real equality is always going to be increased attention and increased abuse as a result of that. Personally I think Stonewall’s got bigger fish to fry, but as a rearguard against that reminding people that it’s roughly equivalent to referring to bad things as “that’s so black”, or “you asian” to say that they’re gay is not a bad way to go. Neither are essentially give rise to character traits or place in society, but neither should they be accepted as terms of abuse or derogation.

    • hi Dan – I didn’t know ‘naff’ came from Polari, though ‘not available for fucking’ does ring a vague bell.

      Great points I am mulling them over…

    • Ginkgo says:

      “I’m not sure that the lack of malice that you attribute to children in particular when they use the word is justified. For sure, many young children may not know of its “real” meaning (original, whatever. The one that involves bumming) but as children grow up the association of “gay” is with rubbish because it denotes difference, rather than because children are aware of the rubbishness you ascribe to gay culture.”

      Good point well made.

      I think it’s almost always inaccurrate to attribute lack of malice to children, and especially when it comes to children learning who to shun and mistreat per group norms. Children are masters of mastering group norms, see also childhood language acquisition. You can put a nappy on monkey but it’s still a monkey, and tribalism is a bedrock core trait of primate psychology.

      • I don’t think I am saying kids are never malicious. Rather I am saying they are not specifically malicious about ‘gay’ people. Their malice is pretty random. And *sometimes* not malice at all.

        • Ginkgo says:

          I agree. The malice is not aimed at gay people, the malice is aimed at other children and the term “gay” is just the instrument of their malice.

          No, I hardly thought you were saying children were all adorable little innocent souls.

  3. Sarah AB says:

    I think there is a big difference between the fact that one aspect of gay culture could be perceived to be a bit naff – plenty of ‘straight’ culture isn’t that great either – and the use of the word ‘gay’ to mean rubbish. I didn’t like that Brendan O’Neill article at the time. But I’m glad to see your blog is ok – I got some kind of message come up a day or two ago suggesting that it had been taken offline (i.e. not just a normal error message).

    • Hi Sarah
      Thanks it was a bit hair-raising! My blog just disappeared off the face of the earth. But wordpress were apologetic. I don’t know what happened but at least it’s back.

      Yes ‘straight’ culture can be pretty naff too. Though some people suggest that some of the naffest aspects have been very influenced by ‘gay’ culture. I often find programmes like Big Brother have something ‘gay’ about them for example.

  4. tu quoque says:

    I’m all for dismantling the snooty, overly sensitive posture of high-society gays, but what prevents me from criticizing them wholeheartedly is that most people doing the criticism are cowards who like to judge gay men because they’re obviously the least fearsome civil-rights demographic, and therefore are safe targets for scorn.

    The minority with the most atrocious culture is objectively the Muslims, but your average white, bourgeios liberal is scare so shitless of Muslims that they’ve developed a panicked affection for them in order to assuage the shame of that fear.

    • No utterance about culture is ‘objective’ ajay you are just stating your own opinion.

      I don’t agree that gays are the ‘least fearsome’ civil rights group. And this article is not about judging gay men so much as looking at the use of language and attitudes to the word ‘gay’ itself.

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