Straight Up | Issue 8

Straight Up | Issue 8

Why saying “That’s so gay” matters to me.

The last few months have been really stressful.

I have been constantly worried about a member of my family who has been in and out of hospital since the end of 2011 suffering from chronic medical conditions as a result of her addiction to alcohol. I have been anxious – worried about how the rest of my family is coping. I have been worried about whether she is eating right, having showers, remembering to take her pills. I have been strategising with friends and family about how to encourage her to seek treatment, to get well. In the last two weeks I have moved from Dunedin to Christchurch, suspended my PhD, left behind my partner, my house, my jobs and my pets in order to help out my family. It has all been really, really hard.

Last night she awoke from a nap with breathing difficulties. I took her directly into A & E. After checking in with the nurse we were ushered into the waiting room. She looked frail and unwell. She had forgotten her bottom false teeth giving her the appearance of someone defeated. I sat biting my lip, hoping they would let us see the doctors soon so she could lie down and rest, be looked after. As soon as we sat down I overheard the word “gay” being used lazily as a term of antipathy. The vending machine behind us was gay because it didn’t have many options. As was the amount of time they had been waiting…

I am used to this. “Gay” has been a word that people have used to put me down since my childhood. It’s not a word I identify with myself, but it indexes some parts of me. Now, I am an adult who works as an activist and educator around gender and sexuality. I anticipate that people will often interrupt my enjoyment of public spaces in this way. I fantasise about responding sarcastically, and occasionally have, depending on how safe the situation feels. I guess most people experience waiting rooms as safe spaces; for me they are often spaces laden with fear and discomfort. How are people reading my queer body? Will they say something that makes me or the people I am waiting with feel afraid or uncomfortable? People using this language sensitises me to these feelings.

To those of you who believe that saying “that’s so gay” (or colluding with others who do) is not homophobic, or doesn’t hurt people, I disagree.

Last night such talk made a hard situation feel that much harder.

Please, next time you hear someone use “that’s so gay” in this manner, do something about it. It shouldn’t always be up to queer folks. Say something like “that’s not ok”, or “can’t you find a more accurate word than that?” Your conversational activism might have a bigger impact on people like me than you think.

<3 Dame LaDida
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2012.
Posted 5:04pm Sunday 22nd April 2012 by La Dida.