While the LGBT community has made leaps and bounds increasing tolerance and acceptance, homophobia is still clearly evident in our society. We are used to seeing the hate-laced diatribes of members of the Religious Right hell-bent on putting all homosexuals on an island, and then blowing that island up. We hear the ignorant remarks from politicians, celebrities, corporate officers, and citizens as they try to condemn us to eternal damnation or convince us that we’re second class citizens.
But what we’re missing (or at least I missed it) is another, quieter form of homophobia – Casual Homophobia. It’s a term I hadn’t heard of until today. And it’s running rampant through social media, especially among the younger generation.
Initially, I was going to just discuss the origins of some of the pejorative language, like faggot and dyke. I still plan on doing that, because it’s important to know how these terms came about, and when they became derogatory. However, in doing research for the post, I ran across a website with some incredibly sad statistics. It’s run by The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies And Services, within the University of Alberta.
The site looks for the use of faggot, dyke, ‘no homo’, and ‘so gay’ in Tweets posted on Twitter. That was the current count just for today, at about 5:27 pm. Over twenty five thousand tweets contained the word faggot or fag. You can see for yourself how quickly the numbers climb by clicking on the picture. From there, you can also see the use of the tweets as they roll in.
So what is casual homophobia? It’s using phrases like ‘That’s so gay!’ in an incredibly passive manner, not paying attention to what that phrase actually implies. It’s the act of complacency we partake in when we don’t call people out for saying ‘that’s so gay!’ regardless of how innocuous the statement may seem. The website defines casual homophobia as language we use that may not be intended to be hurtful to any one particular person or group of people, but is ultimately rooted in a derogatory nature.
As the site says, we’ve addressed racist language. Terms like nigger are considered highly volatile language and are classified under hate speech. We’ve worked at addressing sexist language as well. Rather than say ‘mankind’ we’re far more likely to use the all-inclusive ‘humanity’.
But little to nothing has been done to address homophobic and transphobic language. As members and supports of the LGBT community, that falls upon us. We need to make a big stink about this. Because this is a situation where sticks, stones, and words can hurt. The impact of the term dyke may face no real consequence with me personally, but it could seriously affect someone struggling with their sexual identity. It could keep them from being who they really are, and in extreme cases, push them over the edge to suicide.
Embracing these terms is not enough. Sure, it might be fine if a gay man and his group of friends call each other faggot or fairy in a playful manner. Yeah, it may make the impact of the word sting a bit less. But it doesn’t lessen the impact of the word faggot when someone else uses it to try and demean someone else.
I’m not saying that groups like Dykes on Bikes are in the wrong. They’re proud of who they are, and make a show of it by taking the word and flinging it back at protesters. But for that teenage boy who feels completely alone in this world because the other teenagers around him call each other fags, embracing the term isn’t going to help him feel accepted.
Letting people know it’s not okay to equate gay with stupid or wrong – that’s what needs to be done. Telling your friends that the word fag is not acceptable – put a stop to it. Of course we have freedom of speech, but that only falls to the constraints that government cannot restrict or restrain speech (certain exceptions apply, even then). We also have the right to live our lives without fear that death could be a justifiable reaction for who we are.
I ask you to visit this website. Take a look at the tweets. Think about what casual homophobia means. Then do something about it.
I’ll be writing an origin of homophobic language in the next post.