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Study: Hearing the phrase “That’s so gay” can cause lasting harm

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  1. Great to have a study backing up the concept of language being a powerful tool. I wrote a short post about removing the phrase from mainstream vocabulary if anyone’s interested: : )

    1. Great read thanks. It depends on the context. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like trolling through linguistic minefields like thai or mandarin.

  2. GulliverUK 30 Aug 2012, 1:10am

    And if just the phrase “that’s so gay” causes harm, what harm do all the other dehumanising, derogatory, demonising remarks cause ?

    It’s great to see a study, finally, but what about all the other stuff. What about the affect religion has, the affects of parents bigotry? Kids only ever seem to kill themselves when they have heterosexual parents, and particularly if their parents are determinedly dogmatically religious. This is when ‘unconditional’ love becomes conditional. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I think it’s true.

    I had supportive parents, but I can imagine what it’s like to have unsupportive ones.

    See this reddit for just how horrible even parents can be.

    thankfully he’s ok, he gives an update’

  3. GingerlyColors 30 Aug 2012, 7:37am

    The English language is constantly evolving and the phrase ‘That’s so gay’ is being used by current young people to describe something that is poor and is not necessarily an insult towards gays. The opposite is ‘phat’ as a way of saying something’s good. The word ‘gay’ has changed meaning several times over the years. Here in Preston we are celebrating the 2012 Guild, something that takes place every 20 years. I once saw some photos from the 1952 Guild celebrations in the local paper showing signs saying ‘Preston goes gay’! In those days being gay ment bright and cheerful or colourful. In 1952, being gay in the modern sense would have ment persecution.

    1. Tim Chapman 30 Aug 2012, 7:52am

      Yes, language does evolve, and there may come a time when people use the term ‘that’s so gay’ merely to express negativity without reference to homosexuality. But we’re not there yet and we all know that those who use this and similar phrases do so to express negativity because they see being gay as a negative thing – and, come on, they’re not thinking bright, cheerful and colourful when they’re saying it.

      1. Am sorry but I totally disagree with you here I use this phrase all the time, and I most certainly do not find been gay a negative thing nor have I ever thought that. I know am not the only gay or lesbian that uses the phrase.

        On a side note to GingerlyColors, do you know what the Preston Guild is? Cus I keep getting asked if I have died my hair blue for it by random people :S

        1. Afro Americans use the “n word”, but it is still offensive if a white person uses it. Russell T Davies wrote “Queer as Folk”, but “queer” is still used as an insult.

    2. Gay as a pejorative DERIVES from the use of the word gay to mean homosexual.
      Claiming that this change in usage is a mere coincidence belies the fact that it gained traction after the use of ‘gay’ as a general playground insult.
      This in turn lead to the coinage of it as a pejorative in the “it’s so gay” context on South Park, a show which whilst a self-confessed equal opportunity offender has inadvertantly triggered a meme.
      Before South Park I never heard it coined that way. It didn’t bug me as much the first time I heard it but now it’s caught on I find it grating.

      1. Unfortunately ‘South Park’ will be playing for years to come. Wonder if we could get it censored?

    3. Spanner1960 30 Aug 2012, 12:34pm

      As the Flintstone’s theme song says: “We’ll have a gay old time!” :)

  4. I can confirm this from experience. At my school i hear this as well as ‘queer’, ‘faggy’ etc used everyday. I often feel depressed, i’ve felt suicidal once or twice and i’ve also got anorexia. I suppose im just lucky i don’t get taunted directly.

    However thank you for this study cause i’m going to use this as a reason to get people to stop using gay to describe something bad. Thanks! :)

    1. Start using “gay” to describe things that are really good or that you really really like , sound enthusiastic when you say it, change the language back again.
      “Your trainers are so gay I have to get some too”

    2. charmonium 30 Aug 2012, 3:58pm

      Sorry to hear what you’re going though Linds. Wishing you strength. I hope the idiots at your school will start to change – or at least that you’ll soon be able to graduate and never see them again :)

  5. I prefer to use the expression ‘that’s so christian’ (or ‘that’s so religious’) to describe something worthless, offensive and negative.

    At least that’s not offensive. It’s not offensive because it’s true.

    1. Love it lol

  6. Schools should no longer make excuses for dealing with this kind of language, this proves that they are damaging kids if they do nothing!

  7. I liked dAVID’s suggestion, and perhaps we just need to say “That’s so straight” more often when describing naff or rubbish items, events or situations, just to level the school playing field again.
    “Those trainers are so straight”

    1. Saying “that’s so gay” is so straight.

      “I hate my straight life, it really sucks”

      Straight is the new gay.

    2. Nice idea in theory, but as the straight community as a whole haven’t had a history of being ostracised for their straightness or being part of a discriminated minority, I doubt it has the necessary context to make them sit up and take notice.
      If straight people were 6 percent of the population, then they might get it.

    3. charmonium 30 Aug 2012, 3:55pm

      Nice idea, but I don’t think it will work. Straight people won’t feel hurt by it, because they don’t risk bullying or discrimination because of their straightness. In fact it could backfire, straight people will say “Well, I don’t get upset when you say “That’s so straight” so you have no right to get upset when I say “That’s so gay”.”

  8. Part of the problem is a reluctance to use ‘gay’ in an affirmative way.

    Projects such as LGBT History Month try to address this failing is schools, but more needs to be done in the media as well.

  9. Spanner1960 30 Aug 2012, 12:31pm

    I for one have never found the phrase particularly insulting or derisory, but I have pulled up a couple of kids for using it, trying to explain why they shouldn’t.

    I guess in the UK, being gay is generally not such a stigma as it probably is in many areas of the US. As someone who has visited Chicago a few times, I can vouch that Michigan is fairly accepting.

    I think it has to be recognised that the phrase has somewhat fallen into common vernacular, and there is no malicious intent, but hopefully it will die out over time.

    1. Christopher 30 Aug 2012, 8:19pm

      Chicago is in Illinois. Detroit is in Michigan, whnich is across the river from Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

      1. Spanner1960 31 Aug 2012, 9:57am

        Sorry – my bad – even so, they are very similar.

  10. I hate the use of “gay” in that way, and I think it causes harm both directly and more subtlely – directly if it upsets the person the comment is aimed at, and more subtlely as it reinforces the idea that gay=crap.

    Using “gay” as a term of abuse was banned at a school I worked in some years ago, and it worked well. It was a primary school, but even those children could get the idea that it was an unkind and offensive thing to say.

    1. Almost all children grasp that words have a time and place. Just sometimes they enjoy breaking the rules.

  11. Bob Robinson 30 Aug 2012, 2:32pm

    I never understood why this phrase is used as an insult. Surely it’s more insulting to say about someone/something “that’s so straight”
    i.e. really boring and conventional.

    1. Some children like to single out people with differences, so sometimes in school being perceived as different in any way can lead to bullying remarks. I also think that the use of the word ‘gay’ as an insult might be connected with insults like “He throws like a girl” or “Don’t be such a girl” (aimed at a boy). It’s linked with the idea that women/girls are inferior and no ‘real’ boy/man would want to be like one. Then, of course, that ‘being like a girl’ leads on to homophobic slurs against gay men or boys, or those perceived to be gay.

      Just as ‘throwing like a girl’ means ‘throwing in a crappy way’, ‘that’s so gay’ means ‘that’s so crap’. Both untrue and both nasty. But any insult that has the desired affect (upsetting the victim) will be used again and again. Children also copy, so ‘trendy’ insults soon spread.

  12. Many don’t even realise the negativity of it (mainly the young), which is surprising. It’s become such a common phrase.

    However, it is offensive, and I know it makes me feel uncomfortable whenever I hear it… Doubt that’ll change.

    Hopefully, this evidence/research enables us to hinder the usage of the aforementioned phrase.

  13. What utter twaddle.

    The gay rights movement itself has conditioned the gay sensibility to see itself as the downtrodden victim and to perceive hatred in every conceivable shape and form.

    The phrase “it’s so gay” is more often than not an indirect compliment as it is often attached to a trend or fashion that is hip and/or forward thinking.

    Until we learn to stop seeing hatred where it does not exIst we will forever play the eternal victim card and lay ourselves open as targets to those who really DO set out to harm and bully us.

    1. I couldn’t agree more!

      1. Tim Chapman 30 Aug 2012, 6:46pm

        I couldn’t disagree more!

    2. Mark Young 30 Aug 2012, 7:58pm

      What the fck are you talking about? nobhead. I suppose you think that’s an indirect compliment too.

      1. Ooh talk nasty to me. Love it!

        Seriously, hardline militant gays, call them what you will, have become so indoctrinated with PC that they think the whole world should be tip toeing on egg shells so as to not risk offending anybody in the slightest way.

        This madness means they spend their entire lives gazing at their navels and missing the bigger picture, so intent are they in scaremongering (one of their favourite words, the other being judgmental) in identifying any perceived slight against their sexuality while wallowing in their own persecution complex.

        Funny that, when all non-attention seeking gay people I know – including a couple of recognisable actors – choose to just get on with life to the max and are happy and content.

        If the militants stopped politicising their sexuality and took a few deep breaths, they might start feeling the same way too.

        1. I’ve just pulled up a relative who replied to a post by his brother simply with the word “gay” on Facebook. Believe me, I know the lad (he is 16, and should know better), he did not mean it as a compliment.
          He is mildly autistic, I resisted the temptation to ask how he would feel if someone said “that’s really autistic”.

  14. A few years ago I recall a lgbt rights activist visiting a school and the kids assuring him that they weren’t being homophobic by using ‘gay’ pejoratively. So he proposed that ‘black’ and ‘Muslim’ could be used as an insult without being racist or sectarian. The children were outraged by this suggestion. It’s the old story; some people’s feelings matter more than others.

    1. Really clasping at straws here.

      Strange that it’s only gays who perceive we are bullied by a word we chose to embrace as our own!!

      Strange how we don’t hear many cases of bullying of other minorities such as the blacks and Muslims you mention.

      Could that be because they are empowered by their peers to ride above small words or, in some cases, to fight back?

      And what about that other most persecuted of minorities, the Jews?

      “Jewboy” is a distasteful epithet that has been around since time immemorial, and I clearly recall Jews being visible at my school as we were invited to leave assembly for our own prayers.

      Far from rising to the bully’s bait, we just got on with it because we had the nous to realise the only person really suffering was the bully himself, who soon moved onto other targets when he realised he wasn’t getting a reaction with which to feed his power lust.

      So convinced are we that we’re still a persecuted minority that we now look for hate where it simply doesn’t!!

      1. I am not grasping at straws. You are netting red herrings, to mix a metaphor.
        The personal strategies in response to stigmatised-group bullying that you cite are perfectly valid individual responses. They are not in opposition to trying to create a general culture and atmosphere where it is not acceptable to use words associated with historically denigrated minorities as a form of general disparagement. It’s the old false argument – ‘can’t you take it?’ is actually used to mean ‘actually you just should.’ It also is a blatant denial of the huge social power of language for good and ill.
        And I’m not sure about what you say about the bullying of other minorities. I think it gets heard about plenty.

    2. “Your trainers are so black” , “Your dress is so Muslim”
      Yes, it quickly puts this in perspective and makes it ieasy to see what’s really going on.

  15. Mark Young 30 Aug 2012, 8:00pm

    can’t stand the word gay. fullstop. stupid word that men who love men have adopted from people who hate us. it would be like calling black rights nlgger rights. it just isn’t right.

  16. Well this is REALLY interesting.

    Just a couple of days ago, in response to photos posted on Pink News, people on this very thread were defending and cheering on the placard-waving nuns and drag queens at Manchester Pride displaying messages such as “Gay men suck cock” and denouncing those of us who claimed such offensive public exhibitionism set gay rights back and made it harder for teens to come out.

    Now some of those same commentators are agreeing with the findings of this study and expressing faux concern when they clearly do not recognise the rank hypocrisy in their postings.

    How can a phrase “that’s so gay” be offensive on the one hand if, on the other, you are also defending the rights of a minority to gay extroverts to degrade who we are in public with obscene placards:- the very kind of behaviour that elicits such schoolyard euphemisms in the first place…

    In response to the placard-wavers’ cheerleaders, Spanner wrote:-

    “It’s funny how people are allowed to do ‘their…

    1. …own thing’ until it goes against their principles. Some people want to stop gay men sleeping in their B&B, which they find offensive, but by the same token still want to refuse straights entry to their gay bars.

      Democracy is a word constantly bandied about until that group is in the minority, at which point it becomes ‘mob rule’ and the socialist ethos of ‘human rights’ is wheeled out. You people are so bent by your own political beliefs you cannot even see straight, let alone act it.”

      I posted my admiration at the time and I’ll say it again:- that must surely be the response to end all responses…

  17. GingerlyColors made a perfectly reasonable point and is red-arrowed by the groupthink consensus that must never be questioned:- i.e. “That’s so gay” can only be perceived as derogatory and insulting.

    Really, you guys are your own worst enemies:- condemned to play the eternal, downtrodden victim, and in doing so condemning the next generation of gay kids to the same mindset.

    If you chose instead to empower yourselves and one another instead of feeding and encouraging the victim mentality you might create a better, more tolerant world for tomorrow’s gay youth.

    You choose the reality you want to live in:-

    Be strong, be proud, rise above the provocation and win respect,


    Fight fire with fire and end up becoming the enemy you’re fighting.

    Break the vicious cycle, show you’re better than our enemies with displays that invite admiration not hatred, and the war is already won.

    Those of you carrying a collective chip on the shoulder are the problem, not our perceived oppressors.

    1. Balls.
      Chucking out derogatory homophobic statements like “That’s so gay” as a euphamism for “crap” is not something I’m going to be reclaiming any time soon.
      Those who ape our ‘percieved oppressors’ under the misguided notion that they are somehow gaining respect and reclaiming the vernacular are the problem. What about that is so hard to get?
      Try substituting the words “black” or “Jewish” or “crippled” as a blanket euphamism for “crap” in mixed company and see if those groups interpret it as some newfangled street slang that they want to be a part of or just making yourself come across like Bernard Manning circa 1978.

  18. What is it with militant gay men and simple truth?

    Why are they so scared of it and hide from it when, to embrace it, would empower them to be happy and authentic human beings living fulfilled life with integrity?

    Sad. Very sad.

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