This Lawsuit is so Gay

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A friend of mine is a Young Men leader and has invited me to a couple of Xbox LAN parties which exposes me, on a limited level, to the current trends in Mormon teen slang (at least for males in Southern Alberta). The winner for the most used politically incorrect statement is, “That’s so gay”.

Does this shock you, gentle reader? Should it? Come to think of it, it probably wasn’t a lot different than what my friends said as teens.

Apparently LDS teens in southern Alberta aren’t the only ones that consider it acceptable to throw the phrase around. Back in 2002, at a California high school, when freshman Rebekah Rice was teased about her LDS upbringing by the question, “Do you have 10 moms”, she quipped back, “That’s so gay”.

She found herself in the principal’s office with a warning and a notation in her file and as a result of her punishment, her parents have filed suit.

The MSN news article brings up a good question, “When do playground insults used every day all over America cross the line into hate speech that must be stamped out?”

I never mentioned my annoyance at the young men’s continuing use of the phrase, but it did make my skin crawl. I am not the Young Men leader, so I didn’t feel like stepping on anyone’s toes to give them moral guidance, and if no malice is meant by the phrase, does that make it OK?

33 thoughts on “This Lawsuit is so Gay

  1. Perhaps it would be well to do an etymology of the word. From Wikipedia we learn:

    “The primary meaning of the word gay has changed dramatically during the 20th century—though the change evolved from earlier usages. It derives via the Old French gai, probably from a Germanic source. The word originally meant “carefree”, “happy”, or “bright and showy” and was very commonly used with this meaning in speech and literature. For example, the title of the 1938 ballet aptly named Gaîté Parisienne (“Parisian Gaiety”), a patchwork compiled from Jacques Offenbach’s operettas, illustrates this connotation.

    The British comic strip Jane was first published in the 1930s and described the adventures of Jane Gay. This did not describe her sexuality (she had plenty of boyfriends), but was a play on Lady Jane Grey.

    The word started to acquire sexual connotations in the late 17th century, being used with meaning “addicted to pleasures and dissipations”. This was by extension from the primary meaning of “carefree”: implying “uninhibited by moral constraints”. By the late nineteenth century the term “gay life” was a well-established euphemism for prostitution and other forms of extramarital sexual behaviour that were perceived as immoral.

    The use of the term gay, as it relates to homosexuality, arises from an extension of the sexualised connotation of “carefree and uninhibited”, implying a willingness to disregard conventional or respectable sexual mores. Such usage is documented as early as the 1920s. It was initially more commonly used to imply heterosexually unconstrained lifestyles, as for example in the once-common phrase “gay Lothario”, or in the title of the book and film The Gay Falcon (1941), which concerns a womanizing detective whose first name is “Gay”. Well into the mid 20th century a middle-aged bachelor could be described as “gay” without any implication of homosexuality.”

    Could it be a new usage of the word without reference to sexual proclivity? Compare it to words like “hip” and other words that teens used when you were growing up. Words evolve, and expressions that mean one thing to one generation can mean something entirely different to another.

    We tend to lock-in our definitions as we grow older, and perhaps that is why their use of the word makes your skin crawl. It could be they use it as a form of expression, not a salacious put down.

    Remember the beatniks and hippies and their expressions?

  2. I grew up after words like “hip” were cool. In my day and age things were either “Awesome, radical, or in some extreme examples, bodacious”.

    Beatniks and hippies were from my parents’ generation(s), but I get the sinking feeling that the above terms originated from the beatniks and hippies. If that is the case, I feel a little embarrassed that I didn’t know that.

    I agree that most/all people’s use of the phrase “that’s so gay” doesn’t have anything to do with sexuality—as evidenced by the kids in the CBS video link above.

    I’ve noticed the phrase recently in pop culture. In an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa and Nelson kiss some of the other kids say, “That’s so gay”, which, I suppose, is funny on many levels.

    As far words changing, yep, it happens all the time.

    I think if the principal was concerned he should have given her a verbal warning and left it at that. He didn’t need to record it in her file.

  3. Don’t really have a comment on the “that’s so gay” part, because well, being in my mid thirties that wasn’t a part of when I was younger. Personally I would find it distasteful for people to use that phrase, since it is a word that has evolved from “happy” to “homosexual”.

    I remember getting in trouble for saying “Suck’s up” referring to someone who well, sucked up to a teacher or what have you. :) My mother said I should say “kiss up” instead. Lol.

    Hmm, Kim says he remembers it and I am only 2 years older than him so maybe I just wasn’t with it…

  4. So was there no punishment for the children who were persecuting her based on her religion? This seems a little ironic to me.

  5. There never is punishment for persecution based on religion. Or for any other teasing and persecution. Only a slap on the wrist and the admonition “children will be children”. Ridicule of any sort is wrong. Yes, it’s ironic, but it always is the case. And it is something I have always had huge issue with. As adults, it would be considered harrasment and would be illegal. But for children, to whom it does the most damage, it is tolerated and accepted. It’s not something I tolerate at all with my own children. They know from the start that any sort of ridicule or “ganging up” or unkind teasing is not allowed in any way, shape or form. I won’t have my children turn into bullies. I was on the other end of this treatment when I was a child and I won’t have my children be involved in, nor be the perpetrators of such behaviour towards others.

  6. I think it’s a bit harsh to call a little school-ground teasing as persecution, but I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how mean-spirited it was.

    But I wonder if accusing the teachers of allowing the teasing to go on is a sign of persecution complex?

  7. Jeff

    And see, that’s it “a little playground teasing” is what it is viewed as. But unless you have been on the other side of that “playground teasing” you don’t know how such teasing can have long lasting effects and negative consequences.

    I struggled with my weight throughout my later childhood and my teen years. I cannot count how many times I was “teased” and called all manner of nasty names and expected to just “ignore it”. As if that was going to make it go away. Which it doesn’t, because children thrive on an audience, and when they have others egging them on or encouraging them through laughter, they don’t need the victim’s response to give them satisfaction.

    Now do I have a “persecution complex”? No, not really. I spent years suffering from very low self worth, but was able to pretty much overcome that. Except for the fact that I have zero tolerance level for anyone treating anyone in such a negative manner, I escaped relatively unscathed.

    By allowing children to mentally abuse others in this way, we allow them to grow up thinking it is ok to treat others in such a derogatory manner. And many continue this type of juvenile behaviour in adulthood. But when they are adults, it’s considered bad behaviour.

  8. I won’t have my children be involved in, nor be the perpetrators of such behaviour towards others.

    Good Luck! How big is the bubble you plan on keeping them in?

    But unless you have been on the other side of that “playground teasing” you don’t know how such teasing can have long lasting effects and negative consequences.

    I’m pretty sure there isn’t a soul in North America who hasn’t been on the wrong end of playground teasing. You make it seem like you had a very unique childhood experience. Perhaps a poll is in order?

  9. How big is the bubble you plan on keeping them in?

    What does that have to do with teaching children correct principles and how to govern themselves in a Christ-like manner. Surely, you don’t believe that following Christ’s example is living in a bubble.

    You make it seem like you had a very unique childhood experience.

    I don’t think Mary was specifically referring to Jeff when she said “you”. It seems she is speaking much more generally.

  10. What does that have to do with teaching children correct principles and how to govern themselves in a Christ-like manner.

    Surprisingly nothing. Mary’s comments in #9 said nothing of teaching Christlike principles. Rather, her absolute declaration of the rules with zero wiggle room. It’s to that approach that I say good luck! Despite your best efforts, I’m sure your children will slip up somewhere along the way, regardless of your tolerance or lack of it for such behavior.

    I don’t think Mary was specifically referring to Jeff when she said “you”. It seems she is speaking much more generally.

    Perhaps her experience was very hard on her, but I resent the preachy tone, as if she is the only one who experienced childhood teasing.

  11. Hopefully there is room for me to—in typical style—slip right down the middle of this little debate.

    First off, I want to say that I don’t think it’s impossible that the girl in the story was being persecuted, but as indicated earlier we don’t know how mean spirited the teasing was.

    The point I was trying to make is, if we, as a any kind of group, start to assume an event like this was meant to hurt us, then we might have a persecution complex.

    I have had my fair share of feelings hurt and I know that kids can be very cruel. Learning to deal with that is a healthy part of growing up.

    It’s when we begin to see hatred directed at us where hatred doesn’t exist that is the potential problem.

  12. her absolute declaration of the rules with zero wiggle room. It’s to that approach that I say good luck!

    Why? Do you know what methods she plans to use to implement this? Without knowing what she plans on doing to ensure her children do not become bullies, how can you be so dismissive?

    Despite your best efforts, I’m sure your children will slip up somewhere along the way, regardless of your tolerance or lack of it for such behavior.

    They already do. But just because our son throws something at his sister or she insults her younger brother, does not make them absolute bullies. It takes a lot more than the occasional name calling to abolish all the love they express to each other most other times. My definition of bully certainly doesn’t include occasionally calling someone “bad” when later the same day she reads a story to him or helps him with a problem he is facing.

    I resent the preachy tone

    Likewise I resent your accusatory tone. I guess we can all do better at being more civil.

  13. For the record, Jeff, I do not think the girls were being persecutory. At least not with what I read in the article? Mean? Maybe. Insensitive? Of course.

  14. I’m probably reading her tone much differently than she would say it. :-P So difficult to interpret a stranger’s disposition…

    Do you know what methods she plans to use to implement this?

    All I know is what she wrote and the tone it came across as having. I’m sure my imagination is filling in any blanks.

  15. So difficult to interpret a stranger’s disposition…

    Hey, you’re the one who cancelled our meeting. It’s your fault we’re still strangers. :)

  16. Insulting behavior in an institution can be handled by the norms and rules that the institution provides in its policy concerneing the behavior. Why go to court?

    They both generalize, clearly the first statement that was made generalizes about the mormon religion. It does not reflect the views of the entire community. The quip is a generalizing statement referring to the views of all homosexuals. Both statements, blatently false.

    Slander is a word for generalizing. Institutions deal with slander under a blanket. A lawsuit uncovers slander with similar conviction, but with much more public documentation.

    I would never tell anyone how to raise his or her child. I am not a parent however, comparitively, a conflict on the playground which is easily resolved with little documentation seems more appropriate than a publically documented lawsuit which could hypothetically uncover more than these parents might be willing to wager on the fiber of their convictions relating to playground slander.

  17. Nick Literski: I just noticed your name! I knew you in college. Hope you’re well.

  18. What amazes me is to how we have had homosexuality crammed down our throats. There was a movie on recently where teachers were accused of being homosexual and the reason that they used a rumor of homosexuality was that it was pretty much the worst thing that someone could have been accused of. When I was a kid, if you were a known homosexual, you were considered the lowest thing that a human being could be. Interesting how times have changed.

  19. What amazes me is to how we have had homosexuality crammed down our throats.

    Have you watched any popular media lately? If anything, it is heterosexuality that is crammed down our throats. By any account.

  20. garry in 1967:
    “What amazes me is how we have had race crammed down our throats. There was a movie on recently where LDS priesthood holders were accused of having one drop of African ancestry and the reason they used a rumor of African ancestry was that it was pretty much the worst thing that someone could have been accused of. When I was a kid, if you were known to have one drop of African ancestry, you were considered the lowest thing that a LDS man could be. Interesting how times have changed.”

    I promise, garry, not to cram my homosexuality down your throat, literally or figuratively.

  21. I think we became inured to an endless diet of heterosexual promiscuity in our media long ago, and the homosexual content still comes as more of a surprise.

  22. Nick, assuming you actually mean any of what you just said, I’m quite surprised that your experience differs so dramatically from mine. When I was growing up, I was certainly never taught that black people were “the lowest thing an LDS man could be.” I was taught that they were good people who, for whatever reason the Lord might have chosen, couldn’t yet have the Priesthood, and one day would have it. We were thrilled when the Priesthood was made available to them.

  23. ltbugaf, I wasn’t describing my experience at all. I was just pointing out to garry that his same comment could have been made in the mid-1960s to criticize the increasing attention to racial issues.

    I have no question at all that the vast majority of LDS were elated at the announcement of the 1978 priesthood revelation.

    You still need to e-mail me, so I know which old college friend I’m hearing from! :-)

  24. Kim, I wonder if we’re totally safe in assuming that the word “gay” as used in the examples you gave to mean “undesirable” or “ridiculous” is necessarily to be equated with the use of “gay” to mean “homosexual.” I think it probably is, but there’s room for doubt. Words take on different and multiple meanings all the time. I don’t know for certain that the people speaking were thinking “homosexual” when they said, “This lawsuit is so gay,” and so on.

    Just a thought.

  25. ltbugaf,
    While words do take on different meanings, those different meanings don’t spring up out of thin air. Early on, “gay” meant happy, carefree, joyous. It became customary to euphamistically refer to certain unmarried men who’s behavior raised questions of orientation as “living the gay life.” From there, the usage became abbreviated to simply identify a homosexual person as “gay.”

    There was a time, as garry has noted, when such things just weren’t talked about in polite company. With the appearance of AIDS, however, homosexuality became a more public topic, often with very negative judgments attached. If you think back, this early 1980s period is when you first began to hear schoolkids use the word “gay” to mean “undesireable” or “ridiculous” or “stupid.” The usage has pretty clearly evolved in this way, whether or not a current high school student stops to think about that evolution. People don’t hear that usage in a vacuum, either.

  26. What I’m suggesting is that it’s possible the word has moved on, so that the “undesirable/ridiculous” meaning has become separated from the “homosexual” meaning, so that it’s now used independently, without necessarily evoking thoughts of homosexuality in the minds of those who use it to mean undesirable.

  27. Kim, I blew it. It had been so long since I read the beginning post that I mistakenly thought you were the one who had posted it, rather than Jeff Milner. My apologies to both Kim and Jeff.

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