Wednesday, November 29, 2006

From gay to GAY

How has a word rooted in happiness been transformed into classifying sexual orientation and found itself as a slang-termed insult?

When I added the bachelor of arts in creative writing curriculum with a minor/focus in journalism to my plan of study at the end of this summer I was so excited. I made the decision to put 79 credit hours focused on calculus, physics, and chemistry on hold. I took the plunge, changed my plan of work from a bachelor of science in chemistry to a bachelor of arts in chemistry and decided to do what really made me happy- write. For the first time in my college career (College becomes a career when you take more than four years to finish) I am not failing a course, I enjoy classes, I am upset if I miss class, I am not stressed or depressed, and most importantly I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

With the creative writing curriculum came a linguistics requirement, so I analyzed the grade distribution and picked ENG 327: Language and Gender; hoping that the sociology classes I had taken would come in handy. The class has been interesting. I've been able to learn about the differences in men and women's speech, which I hope will aid me in my future radio career. But now it's crunch time.

The semester is coming to a close, projects are due, finals are in less than two weeks, and term papers are causing anxious habits to surface in even the best of students. I am by far not one of the exemplary students- one of those over achievers, nope, not me. I am a procrastinator. I tell myself I work well under pressure and I actually do; it's one of those natural journalism traits. But now I need some help.

For my term paper I am examining the use of the word 'gay'. I will define that critical period in history when being gay went from a happy and excited state to a notion of one's sexuality. Was it the movie industry, novels, music, pop culture, or the complex construction of society that initiated such a drastic change in the context of the traditional adjective? Yet, most importantly, I want to know, or attempt to know, why people feel the need to use the phrase 'that's so gay'. Is it done unconsciously? Does it offend homosexuals? Do homosexuals use the phrase? What repercussions will society bear after decades of using the phrase?

Behind any project there is an underlying inspiration and in this case I am brought back to the crucial developmental years of adolescence.

I can remember it so clearly. It was the summer before my freshman year in high school, two weeks before school started to be exact. We were standing in the breeze way, waiting for our parents to pick us up from our first day of band camp [insert band nerd jokes here]. I was the fat girl out of my group of girlfriends; the dorky, socially sheltered, flat-chested, yet-to-be-kissed girl that could play French Horn pretty damn well. Being in band was one of the areas of my life in which I could excel and still feel comfortable. It was where I made some of my closest friends. We stood there, the three of us, chatting about all of the rules and disciplinary actions which we had been introduced to earlier that day.

" I can't believe we have to do ten push-ups when we mess up," Becca said. She was the fully developed, peppy, smart-mouthed, rebel, trumpet player.

"Yeah, I know. I can barely do three push-ups," Emily said. Emily was the daughter of well known doctor, slightly plump, quiet, smart but still cool, clarinet player.

"I suck at push-ups," I remarked, glad to know I wasn't the only wuss.

"Having to do push-ups when we mess up is so gay," Becca said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

I was confused. Gay? I thought gay was when a guy liked a guy, or when a girl liked a girl- like Ellen Degeneres.

"What do you mean 'gay'," I asked.

"You know, gay- like stupid or dumb," Becca replied with a tone in her voice that made me feel another level of nerd for not knowing what gay meant.

"Oh yeah, of course," I said.

It was from here on out that when anything got on my nerves, was not easily understood, or lacked a readily available insult it became 'gay'. I became conscious of my use of the phrase when I came to college. Taken out of my Southern small town comfort zone and placed in a melting pot of cultures and sexualities I realized that I might be offending someone.

This language and gender class has given me the chance to find out the details behind the word gay. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am working with a short deadline. I want my paper to reflect a wide array of ideas, so I am asking for your help and input. Take a minute to reflect on what I have written, process g + a + y, and tell me the origins of your vocabulary.

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1 comment:

mr. x said...

This makes me think of an ironic use of the word "retarded" - a similar out of context denigration like "gay".

I have a friend born with a developmental disability, but he says things are retarded nonetheless. I don't think it bothers him at all when people say that, but I think it's in large part because he tends to deny he is what other people would call retarded, so it's probably more of a way for him to fit in.

I guess it'd be like a homosexual saying "that's so gay," simply to not appear gay.