Monday, August 23, 2010

discriminatory language as part of everyday conversations

I had a facebook argument that I would like to reflect on, and because I have a blog and (hopefully) readers, I think this is a good place to do so. I get really annoyed when people use discriminatory language in passing. I understand that most do not mean to offend anyone, and they tend to think it is just a normal word used in everyday conversation, but I like to point it out (maybe not as tactfully sometimes as I should), and generally speaking, people are quite receptive to thinking about the language. Today, a friend's facebook post used the word 'gay' in a way that I'm sure most of us have heard it used dozens of times before.

If anyone has a more appropriate way to address this issue next time it comes up, please let me know, as I realize when I try to use humor, it can put people on the defensive, especially online... or maybe they would not have been receptive either way.

The thread ended up being very long with a lot of different unrelated posts, so I am going to post only the ones needed for this to make sense.

So, this is the status update in question;
J- has just realized it's Sunday. Meaning everything closed at six, including the hair-chopper. Oh well, finished building the quad-core PC. Only three cuts on this build, not bad. :)
And further block quotes here are the comments:
A-yeah. gay. building pcs is so 4 years ago
So, at this point I was a bit shocked... like, I completely forgot that people actually still used the word gay as something that means bad. So I write;
Me- and homophobic language is so 40 years ago.

A- I was referring to everything closing on sundays. J knows i'm not homophobic.

Me- using the word gay to refer to something bad is using homophobic language... i didn't say that you were homophobic... I think it is important to point out heterosexism when it occurs in order to stop it from being a part of everyday conversation.

A- i wasn't referring to something bad? i know what homophobic language is. thanks for the refresher. that's just how i talk to j, sorry if you or anyone else is offended by what i said. i do agree with you though, it should be weeded out of everyday conversation. it's strange though- i only use that word, especially in this context with people i am very close to.

J2(my humorous yet somewhat offensive brother trying to further enforce my point)- im not racist, i only use the n word with close white friends so its ok.
So, if you are still following, here is my thought process at this point. She said she isn't referring to something bad- it's just about stores being closed on Sundays (gays are closed sundays?). She agrees that the language is inappropriate, but she only uses it in private conversations with close friends (and on their facebook walls, apparently, where us gay folk can read it). That being said, I was content with this response from her in this context... at least she thought about it, and I am not likely to make an impact on someone through facebook by taking it any further. However, a few minutes later, she put another comment on the thread.
A- words are simply descriptors. if you're going to be offended by a word then you've got a whole other set of problems, just saying. what are we going to start doing soon, being offended because of the use of the word ..."straight"? seriously, think about it. it makes no sense. gay means homosexual. just a meaning. you can probably even find the word in a dictionary with that meaning. [...] it's like me getting mad because someone saying i'm straight. i'm not gonna be like..."nooooo, i prefer the term heterosexual."
So, gay simply means homosexual, nothing more. Than, according to her first statement, it is homosexual that stores are closed on sunday in the city in which we reside. No need to be offended, right?!? And I'm not sure how the discussion got here, I did not say don't call gay people gay, call them homosexual... I prefer the term gay personally... actually, I identify as queer, which would likely shock her, but pointing that out didn't help either... instead, I said
Me-when you use the word gay to refer to something bad, you are calling gay people (myself included) bad people... You referring to the fact that stores are closed sunday is gay or J building pcs is gay makes no sense if you are saying that gay simply means homosexual... in that context, it had negative connotations... read your first comment replacing the word gay with homosexual.. that is obviously not what you were referring to. Can we please just agree not to use that word on J's facebook status updates and be done with it?

no. freedom of speech and all that, you're going to learn to grow a thicker skin. the world will never completely -stop- using that word. the more you can deal with it, the better.
Ok. I will grow thicker skin so that people like her can make fun of people and circumstances using my sexual orientation as a descriptor. Sorry to have bothered you with the thought of being considerate of other people's circumstances.

J- I think she's referring to the fact that I'm acting in a FASHION (tadah!) that represents a non-masculin behaviour.
Umm, no, she is referring to the annoyance that stores are closed on Sunday... and even still, is it any better if non-masculine behavior makes you gay? And since when was building PCs "feminine" behavior?

And because I know when it is a lost cause, possibly a bit later than I should, I gave up here. I don't even know what to say about this conversation. Sometimes when I point out things like this, such as in class or even on previous facebook status updates, people seem to be quite receptive. I have had people apologize saying that they never realized that they were using language that might be discriminatory in any way. Other times, people are ready to fight for their right to use discriminatory language, often in the name of free speech, because it would be hard to express yourself without such language. The fact that stores close early on Sundays is not inconvenient, annoying, inopportune, bothersome, senseless, irritating (although possibly not so for the employees who would have to work these hours)- I could go on, but I think I've made my point. These words don't aptly describe the situation, but the word 'gay' does.


  1. Uh, your brother is awesome. That is such a great response.

    And I'm sure you don't need to be told this, but A is horribly ignorant and employs incredibly flawed logic. I'm sorry J didn't chime in.

  2. Thank you for the comment, and I agree, my brother is awesome.. except that he moved away last week (yes, I am writing this to make him feel a little bit guilty).

  3. Shit, I'm sorry that fell on you out of the blue. The same thing happens to me where I spend too much time in enlightened spaces, then pop onto Facebook to find someone I only friended to avoid offense has posted some racist drivel about the effects of Hurricane Katrina. I forget people like them exist.

  4. Flutterby, I am usually ok with this out of the blue stuff because I have come to expect a lot of it on facebook or in areas outside of academia and union events, but sometimes I am just not prepared. I really get caught off guard when it happens at the university or union events though.

    I shouldn't be surprised that this type of convo goes on with J though... he actually has a shirt that says "I have a Hero" on the front and "His name is Harper" on the back... which is not to say that everyone who votes for Harper is heterosexist, just that there are specific political allegiances from which comments such as these are more likely.

  5. This sounds like something you would see on websites featuring crazy facebook status discussions.

    I wonder if that guy ever knew how posting one status update about Sunday shopping and building computers was going to blow up on his wall.

    By the way...this post was so....given to social pleasures often including dissipation.

  6. its people like her WHICH ARE THE REASON words like that will never fully stop being used in a bad way. what a freaking moron.

  7. All I can say is wow. Apparently if stores are open on Sunday that is incredibly straight, so I can see her point.

    And yes Ms. Marx I am closed on Sundays...sorry!!