In which I swear a bit…

by Mr Wainscotting

While I believe expletives are acceptable components of civil discourse (more on censorship later), I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so I’ll place all the naughty words below the fold. There aren’t even that many, anyway.

I was absent-mindedly watching the tellybox the other night — I think it was Rules of Engagement, or one of those other substanceless sitcoms we use to stave off the boredom between dinner and bed. One of the male characters was being mocked by another. His crime, watching a reality tv dancing competition, which therefore, according to the other character, made him “gay.”

I was busy working on my MMP post at the time, but I quickly jumped over to Facebook to post this:

I’m often told that it’s not a big deal, or that they didn’t mean ‘gay’ as in ‘homosexual.’ Well, what the fuck else did they mean? He was found to be doing something that women enjoy and for that he is accused of being homosexual. Accused — as if it were a crime. I am so fucking sick and tired of not only hearing these queerphobic insults thrown around again and again and a-fucking-gain (not to mention the gender-role assumptions inherent in them), but also having them dismissed as irrelevant. They are not irrelevant. They fucking matter — a lot. If they were truly irrelevant, then Google, one of the most influential companies in the world, would not have jumped on the It Gets Better bandwagon with their Chrome advertisements (seriously, go watch that ad), nor would they have an It Gets Better bandwagon to jump on. People kill themselves over these insults — I nearly did.

Sure, it’s not necessarily these comments themselves that spur teenagers to suicide, but they’re an insidious part of a queerphobic culture which leads to harassment, discrimination and bullying.  The insults, on their own, have little power. But approaching the insults on their own is misleading and pointless — these insults exist in an entire universe of other insults and comments and ideas and messages; of meanings and ideas. You can’t just look at a single slur and declare it insignificant, or claim it doesn’t matter — you have to step back and notice how they significantly permeate our culture. It’s there, quietly sending the message that we are lesser beings than straight men, paving the road down which bigotry, ignorance and hatred march. They normalise homophobia and make it seem all the more innocuous.

These jokes are everywhere. Nearly every sitcom I’ve seen has, at one time or another, had a joke centered around a straight man’s awkwardness at being labelled gay — not making fun of his awkwardness (his awkwardness is his expected response) rather the joke plays on the assumption that it’s a bad thing for a man to be considered gay. These jokes and insults aren’t declared ok or irrelevant by genuinely having no negative effect — they are deemed irrelevant by their very ubiquity. Gay jokes are everywhere, not on the bigoted fringes, so they must be ok, right?

No. They aren’t. Just because everyone does it, it doesn’t mean it’s right, or fair. As I’m sure you gathered from above, this particular topic really draws my ire. The sheer omnipresence sends a subtle yet effective message to gay people that they are second class citizens. The ‘straight’ majority aren’t able to truly see it — their privilege affords them the luxury of never being able to comprehend it, in the same way that my masculinity affords me the privilege of never being able to truly comprehend the rape culture that many women are acutely aware of.

When the overwhelming majority of references to homosexuality is in the negative (even though they don’t explicitly condemn it) is it any wonder that Dan Savage was compelled to tell kids It Gets Better? And while gay men have to put up with constantly being told we’re bad, lesbians are rarely even shown to exist at all outside of frat house jock fantasies, and that’s saying nothing of the almost total non-existence of bisexual, trans and other queer characters in our media.

We need more positive queer anecdotes, not just insults and slurs — or for the straight characters to brush them off as the non-insults that they are. We need more positively portrayed queer characters that aren’t just flaming balls of stereotype (though stereotypes are fine in the right context — more on that later). We need more Will & Grace, more The L Word, more Queer as Folk, more Glee — ok, maybe not more Glee. We need our existing shows to incorporate more characters who just happen to be gay, or just happen to be trans, or bi, or pan, or queer. There are a lot of notable and excellent examples, but very rarely will they make it anywhere near the mainstream.

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