Friday, March 30, 2007

Voices from the back seat

The one good thing about chauffeuring teenagers and their friends around to their many critically important appointments (e.g. the ones with the salesgirls at Pac Sun) is that they often seem to forget that there's not a glass privacy screen between them and their limo driver; I get to hear the teen tribe speak in their native tongue rather than the grown-up as a second language that they speak to us directly. So I'm driving them, and mom's boring alternative radio station is on for aural camouflage. They're talking about what they're going to do in the junior-high musical. One of the twins says, "I might do sound," and their best friend responds, "Oh sound is so gay! You should do stage crew." Suffice it to say, they didn't end up doing sound.

So let me say here that these are girls who, during their childhood, were taken every month to a "Families Like Ours" (Gay, Lesbian, interracial, and otherwise oddball families) potluck social. They know and are at ease with the many openly gay men and lesbians in our world. And we've always told them, "Love is rare enough that it doesn't matter where it comes from." Blah, blah, blah.

So I have some wonderings (not,'How can they allow their friend to use that as a slur?!' I remember being a teenager well enough to know that not being seen as a dork is a whole lot more important than anybody's rights, gay or otherwise). What I wonder is:

1. What does their friend, in this context, mean by "gay?" It's clearly not 'homosexual' because, unless things are REALLY different these days, sound crew is the province of geeks not gays (and I know some of the kids doing it -- geeks). So.... "gay" just the only acceptable all-purpose slur left? The twins are asian and their friend is multiracial, but even if they were white, I really can't imagine them saying, 'Oh sound is so Asian,' or 'Sound is so black.' So does it have some nuanced meaning to them? Unmanly? OK, but they're not guys so who cares? Finicky? Then why not say 'it's too picky....'?

and finally....

3. What do my daughters think when they hear it? Do they think of their former (lesbian) babysitter who they adored? Do they think of our many lovely friends and wince internally? Or is it, to them, just meaningless junior-high speak -- like girls calling each other 'dude?'

If I were to ask the girls, they'd just look pained and mumble, "I don't know." And I don't know either, but I listen and wonder, and it does keep my brain busy while I drive them all over creation.

Any thoughts, anyone?


Anonymous said...

I think it's that kids this age don't know anybody important that's gay (i.e., their age and gay) so it's a safe epithet. What little content it has is slightly homophobic but that's not a real concept to them yet. Since they don't _know_ their sexuality yet, they want to use a term that safely puts them in the mainstream, whatever that is, and 'gay' seems to do the trick. It has legs, too: I can remember my nephews and nieces using it 10 years ago, and I can remember it being used when I was in high school. It's too bad that this is the safe epithet (why couldn't they say "That's so British!") but as you point out, there are lots worse alternatives, and I doubt it expresses any significant bad sentiment, except as a reflection of the anti-gay bias in our society.

Elizabeth said...

What a thoughtful comment! Thanks, and I'm sure you're right. I remember innocently holding hands with a friend in fifth grade and being tease, "you two look like fags." I didn't really know what that meant, but we stopped holding hands because it clearly wasn't good.

Someone Near Their Demographic said...

Some of my friends (including me) use it as a simple adjective. It's become pretty common. So common, that one of my friends, (who is just as equally guilty of use of 'gay' as I am) started challenging herself (and now me too) to use a word to describe something that doesn't refer to some social/ethnic/or other group. Example (using the always wonderful and bland 'that'):

Person A: That is so gay. (Obviously derogatory)
Person B: OK, use another word to describe it.
A: That is so lame. (again, offensive, but only to physically disabled folks)
B: OK, another word.
A: That is so retarded. (again, inflammatory)
B: OK, ANOTHER word.
A: That is so queer. (back to square one)
B: ...
A: That is so Dumb/Stupid (could offend people who have no other mental conditions other than low IQ - Forrest Gump. More accepted, but still semi-offensive).
B: ... ...
A: That Sucks. (obvious reference)
B: You're right. This does suck.

For some reason, people in general (around my age, including me), and possibly the taxi occupants, can't find any other way to degrade something that to compare it to some sort of disenfranchised social group. I guess it's the sad, de-evolution of the English Language.

And on a closing note, we never really say "That's so lesbian" so at least someone's safe.

Anonymous said...

How about That's pathetic? Or sad for the vocabulary-challenged? Or my current favorite, That's so manly ... (insert smiley emoticon here)