The Gay Word


The documentary The Gay Word follows host Amy Ashenden as she travels around southeast England to find out why some people say “that’s gay”. She presses the important question: Is it homophobic, or has our language evolved?

Personally, I’ve never been offended when someone says “that’s gay”. Generally, the people who say it aren’t putting active thought into using it as a derogatory term, and thus no offense should be taken. That’s not to say there aren’t people who do use it with intent to harm—there are—and that that it’s right—it isn’t. Which begs the question: why? Amy explained:

“I decided to make a documentary exploring how this piece of language had evolved, and speak to people both gay and straight to see how they felt about the word taking on a negative meaning…Some gay people I spoke with were content with the word evolving, while there were straight people who were outraged.”

In the documentary, she explores the history of the word and speaks to various academics, gay rights activists, and students about how they use ‘the gay word’. Watch the trailer below:

When I was growing up, I remember hearing people say, “That’s gay,” to the point where it became a part of my vocabulary, even though I had suspected that there was something about me that phrase was alluding to. Of course, these were the thoughts of an eighth-grader, and so my fear of not fitting in and the desire to not be called ‘gay’ found me also using the word. As I grew older, I began to realize that it had simply become a part of the vernacular of my generation, and that even though it was casually homophobic, people rarely gave a second thought when throwing a casual, “That’s gay,” out there.

As a child, I remember that the word ‘gay’ was often seen to be on par with alien, embarrassing, stupid, or wrong. Until we start actively teaching otherwise, children will grow up believing these things, and there will always be a disconnect between society and gay identity, culture, and sexuality. High levels of casually homophobic language is wrong, and even though it may not offend you, and “that’s gay” has become not much more than an offhand way to express one’s displeasure, we still have to understand that it’s not a very nice term to use.

Here is a handy list of words you can use instead of ‘gay’ (which you can also find in a thesaurus): heinous, hideous, dim, foolish, uncouth, hapless, corrupt, inane, unfortunate, ridiculous, trashy, deplorable, atrocious, preposterous. Doesn’t “that’s absolutely deplorable!” sound so much cooler than, “that’s gay”?

I think so.