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KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 22-Nov-13 13:53:47

"You're so gay" - the words which cast a shadow over my childhood

As you probably know, we've teamed up with Stonewall on Gay. Lets Get Over It - a campaign to address the misuse of the word 'gay', and provide guidance on homophobic language to schools, parents and young people.

Here Rosie Ellingham - Stonewall's Young Campaigner of the Year 2013 - reminds us why the campaign is so important. Do read - and tell us what you think on the thread below.

Rosie Ellingham

Stonewall's Young Campaigner of the Year 2013

Posted on: Fri 22-Nov-13 13:53:47


Lead photo

The campaign aims to challenge the pejorative use of the word 'gay'

"You’re so gay!". These days, if someone says this to me, I can respond with a jovial "yes, yes I am!". I can be proud about being ‘so gay’ - and if someone says that the rubbish weather we are having is ‘gay’, I have the confidence to question their meaning of the word, and I can turn around what is meant as an insult into a compliment.

But ten years ago, when I heard those words, that wasn’t my response. Being gay when I was at school was not something to be proud of: it was an insult, something to be ashamed of. Gay, in short, meant something was rubbish and wrong.

I was nine years old when someone first called me gay, and I remember not knowing what gay meant; but I also remember knowing that whatever it was, it wasn’t something I wanted to be. Gay was a dirty word; it was not at all something to be proud of.

I never really understood why I was bullied for being gay. I was a good person; I was friendly and helpful - so why did people insist on calling me such a bad word? Why was I equated with homework (that none of us liked!), which was also called ‘gay'? Why was I being called gay, along with our new school uniform, which we hated?

I spent more than five years of my life believing this. I fought against it, I argued back, I pretended to fancy boys, and I defended my best friend when he too, was accused of being gay, so strong was my belief that good people couldn’t be gay. Little did I know that my best friend was actually gay, and that so too, was I.

I never really understood why I was bullied for being gay. I was a good person; I was friendly and helpful - so why did people insist on calling me such a bad word? Why was I equated with homework (that none of us liked!), which was also called ‘gay’? Why was I being called gay, along with our new school uniform, which we hated? I’d like to say that I understand now, but in truth, I don’t; I will never understand why being gay is equated to being bad, rubbish or worse.

Some people know their sexuality, yet choose to hide it, scared that they will be perceived as being a bad person. For others, the belief that being gay is bad is so entrenched that it doesn’t even enter their consciousness that they might be gay. Neither of these situations is worse than the other; but the effect that using the word gay pejoratively has is very clear.

I would love to believe that in our ever more liberal society, the word is no longer used this way. But I have a younger sister in a secondary school, and I know the language that she hears every day, and I know that gay still means bad. And while we are still brought up believing this definition of gay, with no education to say otherwise, young gay people will continue to believe that it is bad to be gay, and they will continue to struggle unnecessarily.

By Rosie Ellingham

Twitter: @StonewallUK

WowOoo Fri 22-Nov-13 17:40:07

I agree with you entirely. Sorry it was so tough when you were growing up.

So glad Mumsnet is involved in this campaign as there are parents who might just let the phrase go over their heads.
If it reminds some parents to sit down with their children and explain how offensive it can be, that's a great thing.

EXTERMINATEpeppa Fri 22-Nov-13 19:49:43

glad you are so confident OPgrin grin

I am big supporter of LGBT rights & love how much attention the issue is getting during anti-bullying week.

Hope you and your friend are both doing wellsmile

HerrenaHarridan Sat 23-Nov-13 00:58:31

This thread has sat with 2 replies all day. That is pretty much what happens whenever I post a thread that mentions my preference for women.

The stonewall/mn campaigns thread was initially derailed by people complaining that the energy going into that should be going into timc.

The thread about the dh who likes to wear pretty clothes near tore my heart.

Mn is a lot if things to a lot of people but it is not very lgbt aware.

I'm sorry you had such a rough time Katemumsnet, I appreciate you sharing your experience here, hopefully it will help some people see the battle is a long way from won.

evelynj Sat 23-Nov-13 00:59:06

I love this campaign. I'm from a small backward town which
I'd say is generally homophobic, (hopefully through long term ignorance rather than blatant hatred.

Please could someone tell me an articulate response to 'that's so gay' as a retort to an adult? Don't think I've heard anyone say it in a long time-more likely to come from my gay friends than anyone else; also something for children to respond to, (hopefully won't be needed for a few years for my kids but best ti prepare).


WallyBantersJunkBox Sat 23-Nov-13 01:02:06

My DS is 8 and came home from school this Weds with a furious face...

Some of the older boys in the play ground had been taunting using the word Gay. You're gay if you do this, your gay if you do that.

I asked him what he said or did.

"I told them to grow up mum. I told them that my goddaddies are gay, and they are the most awesome men in the world."

I think my heart nearly burst with pride.

HerrenaHarridan Sat 23-Nov-13 01:02:52

On a happy note and then to sleep

My best friends dd was getting to know a new friend and somewhere in the process of conversation said
"My parents are gay"
The lassie she was talking to laid into her about it without hesitation. Brave lass, good job!

However bf's dd then explained "no really, they're gay as in they are both women" grin

Catsrus Sat 23-Nov-13 08:09:53

"don't use 'gay' as an insult" was a mantra I had to use constantly when my dcs were young. We have gay and lesbian friends and my DCs certainly never thought of it as anything negative - they did have a hard time equating 'gay', the word meaning a bad thing with 'gay' meaning homosexual. They would argue that words often mean different things and 'gay' could also mean 'happy'.

I do think there is a lot more awareness now of the power of words like this to cause harm (one of my friends describes this as "death by pinpricks" a constant stream of words telling him he was not 'right'), I really wish a campaign like this had been around when my dcs were young - I don't think we can underestimate how ingrained the use of the word is.

OTOH Things are getting better - my dcs had G&L friends who came out at school - unthinkable in my day - and were shocked when I told them that when I was there age men could be arrested for being gay.

EXTERMINATEpeppa Sat 23-Nov-13 08:15:56


I would burst with pride toogrin

ClovisWrites Sat 23-Nov-13 08:17:53

You've got to be so so careful. I lived in a house of five men at university and while I genuinely believe none of us had a homophobic bone in his body we regularly jokingly used the word gay like this. Then it turned hot one of us was secretly gay and he'd been upset by the comments. What an unpleasant atmosphere we'd created. You can't be too careful with what might upset people, especially those in a potentially difficult position.

ClovisWrites Sat 23-Nov-13 08:20:08

I meant 'turned out' not 'turned hot'!

Babapeela82 Sat 23-Nov-13 10:45:18

I have shared this post with my 10yo ds as I know this is something that has come up amongst his peers. It opened a lovely discussion with him where I learned that he has challenged the pejorative use of the word gay in the playground recently. I think this post articulated what I had been trying to explain to him in a way that really makes sense to the age group that need to hear it.

MrsTaraPlumbing Sat 23-Nov-13 17:58:18

Many of my friends (male and female) are gay and so might I be if was not with my sexy husband smile
I have bought my children up totally aware that it is perfectly normal for couple to be MF or MM or FF, they know gay couples.

Hearing the word "gay" shrieked as an insult by school kids seems so strange now that they would be in serious trouble if they were making racist comments. Our country is wonderfully tolerant now - unlike when I was a teenager in the 1980s and before when homophobia was supported by legislation. I think some of the older generation may still be passing on very intolerant views to their kids but also others just hear and use this word without thinking what it may mean.

My eldest has just started in secondary school and I have the impression "gay" is the generic adjective used to describe everything - I am so disappointed in this. I have had some serious talks with him about it how important it is to not use such language and that if he feels able he should challenge it when he hears others use it.

On a positive note I have just read The Misfits by James Howe, which is a very funny book that would appeal to kids ages 10-13 and is all about name calling, iit includes a gay teenager though it is not all about him. I will be thrusting it upon my kids. My son is currently reading House of Hades (a best seller) in which a popular central teenage character turns out to be gay.

I am pleased that our part of the world has changed beyond belief since I was a teenager.

MrsTaraPlumbing Sat 23-Nov-13 18:00:42

ClovisWrites - Your story is exactly why is it wrong! Thank you.
Shame about the Hot typo!

Homebird8 Sun 24-Nov-13 00:05:37

I think I was about 11 in 1980ish when I first learned that the word 'gay' didn't just mean bright, cheerful, lovely and happy. I didn't know what the other meaning was but I knew it was a grownup thing and a quizzical', IMH11YrOldO, adaptation of an ordinary word.

On finding out about homosexuality, the word gay seemed to have been robbed from me for normal use but I was happy that love and attraction should be described by it.

I must be really behind the times because I'm sure it was only a year or two ago, in my 40s, that I heard it used perjoratively in a non sexual context for the first time.

There are so many words which have been aimed at, or used by, gay people to describe their sexuality over the years; some of which are still current colloquial currency and some which have almost been forgotten. I'm just so sad, that along with the lack of gender and racial equality, sexual orientation is still used as a battle ground.

I want to throw a party. I want to throw a gay party. And I don't care about the sexual orientation of the guests. And nobody will feel second rate, or different, or judged. Who's coming?

MamaPingu Sun 24-Nov-13 08:59:03

I was in year 8 at high school when the word gay started appearing as an insult.

Its meaning had nothing at all to do with homosexuality!!! None what so ever, it did not mean any insult to gay people in the way people were using it. It was literally just a word people said maybe if something was cheesy or they didn't like something.

But it was honestly never used as an insult to gay people in those ways IYSWIM. Obviously some people would use it as an insult directed at gay people but 99% of the time it was nothing to do with it, just a silly word kids were using.

I do completely understand how a gay person may be offended by it but I hope it helps to know that if someone says something is gay 99% they don't have any intention to insult gay people, it's just a silly word people get the habit of saying! It took me years after high school to completely stop saying it purely due to habit!

MamaPingu Sun 24-Nov-13 09:02:55

Ps. I am not saying therefore it is ok to say it!! I am just pointing out a lot of children who say it aren't aware of the damage it can do to someone who maybe is gay but isn't able to tell anyone. I definitely think children need talking to just to explain the damage they may be doing to one of their school friends!

YoniMatopoeia Sun 24-Nov-13 09:42:28

Thank you for the blog.

I think it explains why, even if kids are not using gay to mean homosexual, it can hurt people hearing the word used as a negative adjective.

My 14 y DS knows not to use it, but says that loads if kids at his school do. I will contact them about the stonewall campaign.

AngryBuddha Sun 24-Nov-13 14:08:05

You have my support and I will educated my kids!

My eldest school has had a big sign in its reception saying " So what I am gay, over it". And has done for the last 3 yrs he has been there.

Nerfmother Sun 24-Nov-13 17:24:32

It's not about the word though, is it? That's almost a symptom of the intent behind it - that being homosexual is wrong, and it's an insult to accuse someone of being gay. So, we could ban the use of the word gay, and then it'll be 'homo' or whatever else. A bit like every word used for SEN turns into an insult - 'bit special are we?'
We have several gay members of the family, and obviously my kids don't use the word as an insult. I do remember how worried one of them was about a party and his aunties coming, in case he got teased later. I wish we could just make being different just not that big a deal.
No idea what the answer is.

Wolfiefan Sun 24-Nov-13 23:47:33

YY to a gay party!
I have been a teacher for nearly 20 years and have often heard gay used as an insult. (Much less frequently in past 5 years. Hopeful emoticon?) I have NEVER allowed this to stand unchallenged. Gay does not mean less or bad or worst. It makes me bloody cross to hear it used this way. (Straight but irrelevant!)
This word used in this way is an attack on all who believe in equality.

MamaPingu Mon 25-Nov-13 06:48:55

I just really hope you all understand that the use of the word had nothing to do with homosexuality.

I know some gay people will unfortunately feel insulted but I've known gay people who've genuinely not minded cause they've realised it is no attack on them.

Honestly the use of it was like for example:
Person 1: says something cheesy and embarassing
Person 2: that was gay!!!

It has nothing to do with gay people and I wish everyone knew, I know it doesn't make the use of it any better but it just makes me sad some gay people are hurt by it! sad

singarainbow Mon 25-Nov-13 07:42:07

Thanks so much for writing this. I am really encouraged by the MN support for the campaign. As lesbian parents with 3 kids, we are probably more aware of the use of the word "gay" as a negative, and I hope our kids would never use it, or any other word that oppresses any group. Our kids have grown up in a happy, "out" family environment, and to be honest, only the eldest DD (10) has just become aware that our family may be viewed negatively by some members of our society, ironically only because we were talking about the issue of marriage, she just didn't understand what the problem was, and thought we were already married (we had CP back in 2005).
I will certainly be taking the stonewall info to both kids schools, and see what happens.
Great piece, thanks smile

desi279 Mon 25-Nov-13 08:39:39

Mamapingu that is the exact point of the blog. You don't have to direct it to someone to cause offence. The use of the word in a negative context automatically causes offense as it implies gay is negative. According to your example... 'cheesy and embarrassing' is just so 'gay'.. a word that happens to also equate to homosexuality and you don't see the connection?? You may be removed from the original negativity but by continually using it, you have unconsciously become a propagator. Ps I am not gay but I am a minority and am acutely aware of how easy it is to cause offence with 'easy' words.

killpeppa Mon 25-Nov-13 08:48:02

I think the use of the word 'gay' in any context but a mature one is wrong.

You wouldnt say 'that is so black'
You would say 'that is so disabled'
You wouldn't say ' that is so obese'

so why say gay?

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