Follow-up to Yesterday

  • “Gay” as an insult, and the common slur variations, is not acceptable behavior in polite society. If you need an explanation why, the line for the remedial course in being a member of humanity starts over there. One questions the degree to which the internet is polite society, because “gay” as an insult, and more often the slur variations, are very common online. Somehow, boys and many men have yet to realize that talking about gay men a lot is the wrong way to project an identity of heterosexual masculinity. Of course, if you tell them they are compensating for their own insecurities, they try harder, which is no good.
  • As usual, I go to Language Log on linguistic issues. First, we have the use-mention distinction, which is that referring to someone else’s use of a term does not imply that we are using it ourselves, only mentioning that use. This will include fictional characters, where we reconstruct the problem. If you were offended by this comic or this sketch, you missed the point. Poe’s Law may ring ever true, but we bring attention to folly to mock it, not to endorse it.
  • Second on the linguistic front, we have taboo avoidance. Some things we avoid even mentioning except obliquely. So yesterday I avoided both f-words that are so commonly paired. I recommend that last link as the inspiration for the phrasing “homosexual in a derogatory sense”: I think the implied insult looks vapid and absurd when made explicit.
  • The picture of the internet toughguy is incomplete without the homophobia.
  • We the majority do not get to dictate to the minority what they are allowed to be offended by. When physical gay-bashing stops, we can talk about being too sensitive to verbal gay-bashing. Complementarily, we are not limited by whoever in the room claims to be most offended, and subjects of discourse are not off-limits because someone says so. You can be a jerk in either direction. Don’t.
  • Still my favorite forum mod quote, from the D&D boards: “[[Do not use the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term. (There is no conceivable way that getting someone pregnant is ‘gay’ in the literal, non-insulting sense.)]]”

: Zubon

42 thoughts on “Follow-up to Yesterday”

  1. To all concerned:

    My name is Joshua Meadows and I am an actual homosexual; I write about the subject of being gay and playing video games on a popular LGBT community blog which you may/may not have heard of, but is titled

    As an actual homosexual who got very pissed with Infinity Ward’s “FAGS” PSA, I trot out these credentials to say that anyone who didn’t realize the previous (aforementioned) entry was satirical, or did realize but still took offense at the presentation of that satire, needs to unclench. It was a very astute observation on the behavior of a depressingly large segment of the gamer population, and it was also extremely amusing.

    Don’t feel bad Zubon.

  2. To me the previous post was pretty obvious satire. Satire isn’t the same thing as a joke. It’s a rhetorical device used to attack something you disagree with. If a satire is funny, it’s funny to you because you feel that it’s an accurate depiction of someone who’s perspective or behavior you violently disagree with. The reason you laugh about it is because you think “Yeah man, nailed it…they really are that stupid.”

    Unclench indeed…

  3. What absolutely baffles me is that there is a generation of folks (perhaps 10 – 20 years younger than I) who do not link the pejorative use of the word “gay” with homophobia. I have seen depressing forum conversations where apparently reasonable, tolerant individuals have tried to explain away their mis-use of the phrase because it has fallen into common use as an insult.

    On another note – I have read your article from yesterday (and enjoyed it) I have read the linked penny arcade cartoon (and enjoyed it). However having read the language log piece on use versus mention I can half understand where the complaints are coming from. Just because the piece is satirical does not give carte blanche to “use” (as opposed to mention) objectionable language. I can easily imagine a bigoted homophobe writing a piece of satire riddled with homophobic references that would in no way be acceptable even though the intention of the piece is to be funny. Personally I think that the fact that you couched the homophobic reference in a ridiculous phrase makes it obvious that you are joking but perhaps that wasn’t obvious to everyone.

    1. I don’t understand how you can be baffled? Semantic change occurs very quickly nowadays… still, I wonder if there is a similar term, which faced such a split. “Gay” is a very interesting, albeit loaded, term. It used to have no sexual preference connotations. I’ve heard homosexual people apply the term as an adjective to inanimate objects (like clothing), and I’ve heard my younger cousin, who has gay friends, use the term as a perjorative to actions involving no humans (like a restaurant closing). It’s sister term “lesbian” I have never heard used to describe anything but homosexual females. If anybody knows about any good articles on the semantic change or perjoration/amelioration of the term, please email me.

      1. The intriguing thing about the word “gay” is that it in itself is a relatively recent term and it had become the accepted non-pejorative slang word for homosexuality. The fact that it has very recently become an insult has to be attributed to homophobia whether the user intends it or not.

        Anyway whether or not the user intends it to be homophobic I have no doubt that it is very hurtful when someone who is proud to call themselves gay hears the word being used as an insult.

      2. Using the word “gay” as an insult but without an implied meaning of homosexuality makes no literal sense. They’re not implying that the thing which is bad is bad in a “happy” way. The kids using it as an insult but swearing it’s not a homophobic slur are being willfully intellectually dishonest. And it’s that implied link which is by it’s own definition (using homosexuality as an INSULT) that is inextricably offensive.

        1. Ok…. me and Rav just had a convo that led to a little bit of illumination.

          My contention is that the kids who use “gay” as an insult are trying to use 2 + 2 = 5 double-think to justify their habbit. I say that’s no good. But Rav pointed out that what someone REALLY means with the “gay” insult in practice is not tied to sexual orientation at all, but rather the broader concept of emasculation. I realized he’s right.

          Now the only problem is that folks don’t all agree that that’s what’s happening, but I think it’s inevitable that the use will continue along those lines. So it’s still degrading to the unmasculine, but that’s not singling out a minority, so it’s hardly any worse than saying something sucks or is lame or is stupid. ;-} Those degrade plenty of very real people as well!

          1. It does, however, point out the inherent misogyny in homophobia. Being in any way like a female is bad, and so obviously bad that it does not even require an explanation of why. Anything less than a Man is sub-human. I am deciding about continuing the topic with a post on why hating on half the species is a bad move.

            One could make a case about how a man should be a man and a woman should be a woman, and if anyone wants to make that case, I look forward to seeing your essay on the manly virtues by the end of the semester. Make sure to cite Nicomachean Ethics and Alasdair MacIntyre as appropriate.

            1. That’s a little more of a stretch. ;-} Making broad and crude insinuations about what proper manliness is? Yes. Inherent misogyny? No, dude. There’s space between.

        2. Way late to the discussion, I know.

          Growing up my step-brother used the word “gay” to insult anything he did not like. So at any given time, I was gay, our parents were gay, the music on the radio was gay, somebody’s shirt was gay, the neighbors car was gay, the fact that he had to mow the lawn was gay. It was the all-purpose word for him from age 13 until some point after he (thankfully) moved out of the house.

          So while I am sure that the word gay was always a derogatory reference to homosexuality at some place in his mind, I am also quite sure that he did not literally think that mowing the lawn was a physical act representing homosexuality. His constant use robbed the word of its meaning and turned into a plastic substitute for mere dislike.

          I think the illustrative example was Elton John being on the radio one day and my step-brother commenting that he was gay. I said that yes, he was in fact gay, to which he responded “No he’s not!” Logic need not apply.

    2. Just because the piece is satirical does not give carte blanche to “use” (as opposed to mention) objectionable language

      In general, yes. And yet, Zubon did not use the f word, or gay or ghey, as the complainer referenced.

      In fact, for awhile I thought that person responding was the one who was making fun of gay people. By playing up the stereotype of being hypersensitive and needing coddling and their feelings made better. My original response was blasting the responder for trying to make gay people look bad by responding to Zubon’s post that way.

  4. Zubon,
    Great post and collection of interesting supporting material, especially the Slate article. It amazes me, being 40+, that the current generation of teens still toss “gay” around without any sort of self-awareness.

  5. I should point out that the word ‘gay’ had a double-meaning as homosexual at least a hundred years ago. Especially in the theater. Two hundred or so, it meant licentious, as in a ‘gay house’, but the transition was complete at the beginning of last century.

    (innuendo, 1868)

  6. For everyone worried about the blog post Zubon made, I welcome you all to log into xbox live and play a few rounds of a FPS. Just don’t blame me when your ears bleed and you feel any hope you had for the human race quickly dissipate.

  7. As yet another gay reader who has KTR on my blogroll, I was a bit taken aback when I first read the line from yesterday’s post – only after a “double-take” reading did I “get” the joke Zoob was trying to make.

    I actually took much more offense to another blogger on my blog-roll for calling someone a “fgt” down in the commentary. *That* was totally uncalled for and inflamatory Syn, and you lost all cred. with me there. Just ‘cuz you can be prick, doesn’t mean you should be. Just my .02

  8. Just had a really good lunch convo with a non-gamer about this subject. My favorite part was about how she called herself a black woman in front of a white Scottish friend once and he was very taken aback. The Scot said it would’ve been a self-debasing insult in Scotland, where they called themselves “colored.” In my neck of America, calling someone “colored” would be an insult.

  9. Marchosias, so you mean that you are going to take offense at the use of a word regardless of context and intention?

    I think there is a lot of people who love to feel insulted at something. I don’t use words like “gay”, “faggot” or “nigger” to insult someone but I do call someone who is bother me a “motherfucker”. Am I being intolerant and hateful against all incest adepts out there or just plain rude?

    Appologies for the rudeness.

  10. I like the fact that we are having these conversations. Gamers have been using immature homophobic slang for at least as long as I’ve been playing online games (well over a decade, but now I’m dating myself) and until recently, nobody has cared, or indeed even noticed. That we’re having this debate proves to me that progress is being made, however slowly.

    It seems to me a primary purpose of a blog is for posts to provoke discourse. Kudos to Zubon for poking the proverbial hornet’s nest and doing just that.

    1. Bri I guess this is just a reflection of the fact many of us gamers are getting older. Teenagers and young adults spout off insults without thinking but once you have been around the block a bit you are more likely to realise just how hurtful some of this stuff is.

  11. I think the intent was to be inflamatory and derogatory, and yes I will ALWAYS take that as offensive. Syncaine may as well have walked up to some black guy and called him a “tar baby” or somesuch totally inappropriate language. And if you can’t see that it is inappropriate, you’re part of a much bigger problem.

    His only “context” was basically: “Shut up you stupid faggot” without any other surrounding text. I hardly think that counts as satire.

  12. My point may not add much to the discussion, but remember, also, that some people are just not very good at recognizing appropriate humor forms (Zubon being definitely not in that category). For instance, in a comment to the previous post, someone mentioned a comic who told “rape” jokes. Compare these two scenes: 1. you’re reading this blog and you’re laughing because you are recognizing something absurd, which is the congruence of a well-spoken, calm person (read: someone who seems like a respectable human being) using *recognizably* horrible insults; 2. you’re in a club where a comic is telling jokes in a form like “it’s not rape if you [insert action]”. In the second case, the action chosen to finish the joke may be some objectively clever turn of phrase or culture reference, but you don’t know if the other people around you are laughing because they agree that (in this case) a rape victim “should” be treated that way, and you can assume that at least a couple of them are, and you also don’t know if the comic himself is telling the joke with the complex sub-texts of “I am making fun of socially bad behavior”/”but really I don’t think it’s as big a deal as people make it out to be”/”and I also understand the rapists’ point of view because I take pleasure in the suffering of a particular group of people”.
    Now, if you asked the comic, he’d say “I’m just making fun of rapists,” but attempts at subtle humor fashioned with a bludgeon can often belie a person’s hidden bigotries. That’s not satire; that’s passive aggression.
    Personally, I gauge my reaction on whether or not I think someone belonging to the group under ridicule would identify with the situation being described. If they’re saying, “Ha ha, yeah, that sounds like me!” then it’s poorly done at best. Faced with a screed like Zubon’s, however, I think they’d probably just reply, “… F–.”

    1. I find that article both highly amusing somewhat disturbing.
      Give a human a way, any way, to communicate with another human with no voice or face and somehow it breaks out in a flame-war of sorts, moderators/editors be damned.

  13. @ Marchosias, I think Syn’s post was intended as a typical sort of response you would hear from the kind of person at whom Zubon’s post was targetted. While I can’t speak for Syn (as i don’t know him and my psychic powers are not at their best) his own blog doesn’t contain anything that would lead me to think that he meant it as a genuine attack. Seems to me that it was pretty tongue in cheek.

    I do think that anyone who feels as though they are being denigrated, demeaned or abused by speech of any kind should speak up. However I don’t think that means that our sense of humour has to be checked at the door.

    1. I’ll concur that I took Syncaine’s reply that way. I can also see how you might still think that’s not cool, since there are some things we still “*-word” out instead of saying. In polite society. Usually.

      1. Actually I was calling you a fat green turd, and I’ve now come to realize how insensitive that was not just to fat people (do fat people even count as real people?), or the greens (everyone knows blue is better), but all the turds in the world. I’m sorry turds, you deserve better.

        I should have just called you a flaming short bus-riding ugly idiot with no life, and told you to kill yourself slowly with a pen so you can burn in hell forever. Amen! (That would have been a lot more appropriate, and I again apologize to all the fgts out there)

          1. No no, I like me too. And if you were me, you’d like you too. (no homo) (Oh wait, I can’t say that right?) (Goddamnit) (Wait, can’t say that either) (Um… bye?)

            (I’m gonna go do some work now, falling behind with all this fgt talk on blogs)

            1. man…there is nothing funnier then reading a respected blogger pissing on some uptight readers pc notions : )

              grats to you both Zubon and Syn for making my day!

      2. Agreed – I usually like Syn’s “bile-licious-ness” but in this case where the context was already clouded and being actively misconstrued, it was throwing gas on a fire. And relying on the other replies to provide “context” is always a bad idea. His post in its entirety: “Your QQ tears are delicious fgt.”

        I’d have been perfectly fine with that if he’d left of the last three characters. I guess I expect too much, even from the “evil” posters/poseurs.

        ZOMG, I think I feel a whole blog post shaping up, and it ain’t gonna be pretty… well maybe just a little pretty .

  14. This is an interesting discusssion, one that I’m sure was a bit unintended, but welcome.

    Intent is a well and good. But I don’t have the luxury or interest in dissecting every single person’s intent when they use an anti-gay slur. Even now, after having discussed this with Zubon and knowing his perspective, I would be offended if a similar situation arose.

    I find it very interesting that many of the people here discussing the issue are not in the affected minority, yet seem to somehow divined what it must be like to be lgb or t and understand exactly what would bother us. Some members of the community would not be bothered by comments and slurs. Some are. This thread has heard from both of those perspectives.

    It is not reprehensible to raise the issue where we see it. It is irresponsible to attempt to dismiss it at a non-issue simply because your perspective doesn’t see it that way. My kudos to Zubon, Ravious and some commenters for discussing the issue openly and honestly.

  15. I’ve recently joined a new guild in Warhammer. On two occasions the guild leader has referred to Order as Faggots. I took offense but bit my tongue. I’m just tired of being around this language. I’m tired of confronting people. And this weariness makes me think of all the times straight people, particularly younger ones have asked me why there is a need for gay guilds. I wish I could find one in Warhammer.

    1. I think there were some LGBT guilds in LOTRO, but I think more than anything, I try and find tolerant guilds. I like surrounding myself with a diverse group of interesting people instead of 16-24 white, male gamers. I would find guilds with lots of older people, couples, etc., maturity speaks a lot for communal enjoyment/tolerance, IMHO.

  16. Is Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” still part of the high school curriculum? Just curious.

  17. Here here!

    I always cringe when I hear “gay” used as a derogatory term. Like when I was a kid and told not to “Nigga lip” a cigarette… it’s just messed up.

    I am myself bisexual, and have had friends who were G, L, B, and T.

    The derogatory use of “gay” is one of a number of words and phrases used in everyday speech that’s nearly impossible to avoid hearing while growing up.

    Straights grow up afraid of being perceived as gay, and gays grow up afraid to admit what they are. Psychologically, that’s not good for either group.

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