That’s Not So Gay, and Assimilation Television

Part One: Find Another Word

So I’ve had more than one straight person tell me about how calling something “gay” to denote its unworth is not intended as a slur against LGBT people. It had sort of faded recently, or at least I thought it had due to the efforts of clever and widespread campaigns against it, until I heard a story a couple weeks ago on NPR about GLBT on television, and heard the following line from a recent TV show, delivered by a gay character. “Even I think rollerblades are gay, and I had sex with a dude last night.” (More on that story in part 3)

Really? So the vaunted surge in Gay Presence On Television is simply another way for people to use “that’s so gay” as a slur. Thanks. This simply adds legitimacy to the idea that saying something is “gay” as a negative is not a slur.

I’m going to go ahead and say this now. It is.

It is.

If you want to say something is bad, say it’s bad. If you want to say something is stupid or unpopular or you just don’t like it, just say so. Just say so. I just ask you don’t say it in a way that says to me that I am stupid or unpopular or represent something you don’t like.

Hey, you’ve said it for years. It just slips out sometimes. Look, I am not going to hate you for that! But please think, next time it slips, that you may be hurting someone. Because I know you personally, because you’re my friend, I know that you are not hating on me. But among the 900-odd people who read your Facebook comment that someone’s new football-themed song spells “G.A.Y., hahaha” may very well be people who will. Or there may be someone else who reads it, who doesn’t think it’s funny at all. Someone who is still hiding from the world.

Let me put it this way. Would you walk up to me and call me a f****t to my face, knock me down, egg my house or slash my tires because my idea of what (and who) is sexy is partially different from yours? Of course not.

So why is it OK to send the message to others that it is?

I know you meant no harm.

But I need for you to know that, in my eyes, you have contributed to the problem rather than being part of the solution. Hey, it’s not your problem, you’re straight, tolerant — you’ve put up with me all these years! — and a damned good friend to me and my family. It’s not you I’m worried about — it’s those who will read your words and take it as one more validation of their license to discriminate. I know, as a sure fact, that if we were walking down the street, and someone called me a name, you’d be the first person to go medieval on their ass, put them in their place. It would be Fight Night. It’s the people I don’t know, who look at your words as a model of appropriate behavior, that I worry about.

It hurt me. It made me feel like, for at least a moment, you forgot that I and people like me are real human beings. It made me say, “If even the people I like and trust (because I do trust you) feel free to continue to use the mental construction that gay=bad, then what will the people I don’t know do?”

I know I’m not perfect. I know I say stupid things sometimes. I know I can be a little touchy about things. But I don’t think I am out of line here to ask you, please,

if I am your friend,

don’t equate gay with bad, or useless, or distasteful, or unfair.

Part Two: Sources

Here’s a question – where does this even come from? Why does the word “gay” get used as a slur?

It’s homophobia, and even deeper, it’s about gender and masculinity. No one uses “That’s so lesbian” as a slur, as an insult for things that have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation. But as I and many others have noted before, the worst thing that a person can be called in this culture is a woman.

Bet you thought this was going to be a long section! But it’s pretty simple, really.

Part Three: More Assimilationism

The story on NPR I referenced earlier noted that the new Gay Presence On Television features almost exclusively upper- or upper-middle-class white gay men living urban or suburban lives with reasonable security and babies (or as the story calls them, “gaybies” – to which my partner turned to me and said “You’ve got to be kidding me. They’re just babies. Babies are babies. You put milk in one end and try to keep the other end dry”).

This is the triumph of assimilationism, of the forces within the LGBT movement (and let me state that this is something that comes from the L and the G, not from the B and the T, who get erased by this) that have chosen the “We Are Just Like You Except In A Very Trivial Way” approach to acceptance. Sure, it’s worked for those who can and do blend in seamlessly with dominant culture (and the upper half of the economic stratum within that culture) in everything but the gender of their partner.

The story was a good one, in that it mentioned that bisexuals, trans*folk, queer people of color, and queer poor people are marginalized (or exoticized, a particular type of marginalization that women of color are especially familiar with) in the media.

Because we don’t fit. Because the gay or lesbian couple with a house in the ‘burbs, white picket fence, catdog, kid(s), and discreet rainbow triangle on the mailbox are only allowed, only tolerated, as long as they remain exactly like all the straight people on the block (except for that tiny, trivial difference).

Know what? It’s not trivial. Stonewall wasn’t about people rising up to say “Let me blend in.” It was about people who were transgressing societal norms saying “Let me be me.”

You know the mantra of the assimilationist tendency. “Quit being so Gay. Quit being so Bi. Quit being so Trans*. Quit being so Black. Quit being so [whatever]. If you resemble anything but straight, White, upper- or upper-middle-class, quit doing whatever it is you do, because it makes me uncomfortable that you may be different than what I’ve been raised to think is right and proper. Maybe you’re a socialist. Maybe you’re a pervert. Maybe you’re a slut. Maybe you’re not going to buy into the daily BS that we pretend is OK, the way things are, the cost of doing business. Maybe you won’t find rape jokes funny. Maybe you’re going to start acting like women should be treated as adult human beings. Maybe you’re going to rock the boat. I mean, this may be the second decade of the 21st Century, but it’s still the 1950s around here.”

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About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to That’s Not So Gay, and Assimilation Television

  1. Jessica Burde says:

    Re Part 1: My partner drives me crazy with this. I’ve tried talking with him about it and he doesn’t get it. I hear him in Skype and other chats with his friends, in the same five minutes. “Dude, that’s not cool, you don’t call people faggot. Gay people are people and I don’t want to hear you say shit like that again.” conversation moves on, something happens in the game they are playing together, “Man, that is so gay! I can’t believe that just happened.”
    I love the man, but I cannot get through to him. Think I’ll try sending him a link to this.

    Re Part 3: Thank you for this. As a polyamorous person, I’ve run into L and G communities who bash polyamory, not because they have anything against it inherently, but because “We worked to hard to be seen as normal to associate with you people.”
    I’m not blind – People who are LGBT faced and still face far worse oppression than poly folks, and I am grateful for the work the LGBT movement did, which yes does make it easier for polyamory to be accepted. But the decision to ‘normalize’ L and G was, in my opinion, a huge mistake that has trapped many people within the normalization movement, abandoned what the movement started as, and threw a whole bunch of other groups under the bus. There are people today trying ‘normalize’ polyamory, which would have the effect of excluding some forms of poly relationships. I am really hoping we can avoid seeing history repeat itself.

  2. Simon Manley says:

    Reblogged this on Bi Around The Wrekin and commented:
    A great post with many of the same thoughts I’ve had on the matter myself.

  3. cassandrattp says:

    This was wonderful! I would’ve reblogged if I hadn’t just blogged.

    The rollerblades line (from “Happy Endings”) was particularly troubling to me, because it was one of my favorite t.v. shows for both entertainment and progressiveness, came from a character I found ground breaking (White, yes, but not necessarily monogamous, not upper class at all–he’s actually the unemployed, bum friend who’s roof always leaks but is still so lovable, and not pretty and toned and typical in that way) and was basically out of character for both the character and the show. I have the same problem with race sometimes–shows I love that star minority actors will come out of left field with an “ironically” racist comment, and I am just baffled every time.

    I’m glad you wrote this–I just hope it reaches the right people!

  4. Rachel says:

    Hi
    I came across your blog one day while searching for bi content on WordPress. I really relate to so much of what you say, and truthfully it has decreased my sense of alienation as a bi person. Is it ok if I link on my Facebook page to this post? I am so so tired of “losing this battle” on using “gay” as an insult and I think you explain things very eloquently.

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