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.