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Ready Or Not?

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One afternoon about a year ago, my friend and I were walking down the hallway at school between classes. Looking outside the window at the lush playing fields, we observed a group of heavily clad boys tossing around a little white ball with long sticks.

“Lacrosse,” she said, rolling her eyes, “is so gay.”

I bristled. I was used to the term casually being thrown around, but it never failed to send a feather of heat down my spine. I squared my jaw and faced her.

“What do you mean it’s gay,” I spat in disgust. “What does that even mean? Do you even know the definition of gay?”

“Well, sure. Gay has a bunch of different meanings,” she went on, as if she were an expert on the subject. “It can mean gay, as is homosexual. Liking the same gender. Or it can mean happy. But then it also means stupid. Weird, or uncool.”

I was shaking my head now. “No, that’s not what it means at all. And you know that’s offensive to, like, a whole lot of people.”

“I mean, yeah,” she said, shrugging and flipping her hair behind her shoulder. “But everyone says it.”

“I don’t,” I said.

If you ask anybody, most people would say our society as a whole has made leaps and bounds in the past few years regarding gay rights. More and more states are legalizing gay marriage, as well as enforcing punishment to those committing assault or bullying based on sexuality. The Trevor Project, and organization devoted to preventing suicide in the LGBT community and funding other such endeavors, has gained widespread endorsements from celebrities such as Daniel Radcliffe, Neil Patrick Harris, Barack Obama, Paul McCartney, and Justin Bieber. Additionally, popular television shows such as Glee, Pretty Little Liars, and Modern Family encourage acceptance, understanding, and tolerance regarding homosexuality. They portray the early struggles of the coming out process and facing the opinions of others, but also the eventual relief and comfort in loving yourself and having a strong support system of friends and family. Songs like Macklemore’s Same Love and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way have become anthems for teens across the world facing similar situations. These days, it is very common to find children in school who are comfortable and open with their sexuality, and who face little to no torment. Taking a quick glance, it is impossible to not acknowledge the incredible progress we’ve made in dealing with this hot topic. It is impossible to not deem our world finally ready for embracing gays and lesbians as equals to everyone else.

However, on closer inspection, my experience with my friend was unfortunately not an anomaly. Far too often, I hear “gay”, “faggot”, and “dyke” being casually tossed around wherever I go—in the hallways, on the buses, even at sports practices. It has easily slipped its way into our everyday vocabulary.

“Yo, stop being a faggot”

“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the gayest...”

“That shirt’s too gay, don’t bother...”

But it’s more than that. Too many people don’t even realize the magnitude of what they let slip off their tongues on a daily basis. They don’t realize the insult and offense they’ve caused to people around them. Just like my friend, they’ve conveniently disregarded the harm that comes with incorrectly using the word gay. But most importantly, they openly conform to the stereotypes set by our society. And they’re okay with that. They’re okay with accepted standards and seeing things not as they actually are, but as the world has decided they will be. In Macklemore’s hit song Same Love, he highlights this issue:

“When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
cause I could draw, my uncle was,
and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face.
She's like, "Ben, you've loved girls since before pre-K
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head . . . A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant . . .”

In the world today, something as simple as a high school boy trying out for the musical or possessing a slightly higher voice could stick him with the label of being gay. We’ve grown up in a society where we can’t help associating the two in our minds. Just as Macklemore describes, we have been so heavily conditioned by society that we’ve created ideas about simple characteristics such as a man being artistic or organized. In popular culture, there exists a list of celebrities who, based on physical appearances, interests, and clothing choices, have been judged as gay by their fans and peers. In other words, based on stereotypes that have been accepted worldwide.

Therefore, despite the significant headway made from years past, the world is not yet ready. The world will not be ready until the sexual orientation of another is not used as an insult, synonymous with “stupid” and “weird”. The world will not be ready until boys are no longer judged as gay for enjoying singing and art, and girls for short hair and baggy jeans. The world will not be ready until the “Gay List” is ignored and taken down. The world will not be ready until a gay person and a straight person can stand side by side and be considered the same. And we can’t rely on a document stating gay marriage legalization to make us ready. Because that won’t rewire a lifetime of pre-developed concepts. It’s up to us to change the way we think as a society and eradicate homophobia—even the subtlest forms—for good. It’s up to us to seriously consider these disturbing, reoccurring patterns. So hopefully, next time we ask ourselves if we’re ready or not, we’ll be sure to know the answer.

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Willy_Troy said...
Jul. 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm
While I do believe that it's wrong to use homophobic stereotypes to portray negativity, I completely disagree with the idea of demonising words. Definitions change as a langauge evolves and this I what has happened with the terms 'gay', 'faggot' et al. This is a fact of linguistics and the meanings of those words have changed. Yes they have sinister origings, but so do so many other word.
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