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“Gay” the Preferred Term of Abuse

2 January 2009

A survey conducted in 2008 by the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) found the word “gay” to be the most common term of disrespect heard on school grounds in the UK.  83% interviewed said they heard the term being used, followed in popularity by “bitch” (59%) and “slag” (45%).  Most interestingly to me, every term of abuse reported went back to some reference to homosexuality when directed at males: “poof,” “batty boy,” “queer,” “homo,” “faggot,” “sissy.” 

Now while I’m not sure how the good ol’ fashioned “dickhead” didn’t make it’s way in, I can confirm in my recent experience that anti-homosexual language is the preferred method of verbal abuse among young men in both the UK and America.  Despite growing acceptance of homosexuality with the younger generations, teens have freely adopted hate language seeminly excoriating the same lifestyle.  Many of them do not connect the hate language with stigmatization of the gay lifestyle.  (In fact, I met a gay student at the University of South Dakota who admitted he too regularly used the word “gay” as an insult.)  The power of the insult seems to be derived not so much from the attribution of sexual perversion per se, as it might have a decade or two ago.  Teens rather relish the idea of perversion.  Instead, it stems from the social connotations stereotypically associated with homosexuals, namely, that they are weak, unmanly, and unable to function in the world of men precisely because they cannot identify themselves as “real men.”  That is, saying to someone, “You’re such a fag” is equivalent to the sexist “You’re such a pussy” to the racist “You’re such a Jew” to anti-disability rhetoric in the form of “You’re such a retard.”  Each epithet attributes a sense of psycho-social lowliness.  We might say that homosexuality isn’t frowned upon so much for its moral status as its power status.

As the above article points out, “gay” has by and large replaced the insult “lame.”  True, although the article seems completely oblivious to the fact that “lame” is by no means a neutral term, as they insinuate.  It picks fun at a group of people quite unavoidably public in their own weakness: the physically debilitated.

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One comment

  1. “That is, saying to someone, “You’re such a fag” is equivalent to the sexist “You’re such a pussy” to the racist “You’re such a Jew” to anti-disability rhetoric in the form of “You’re such a retard.” Each epithet attributes a sense of psycho-social lowliness.”

    This passage elaborated on my feelings about the use of the phrase “that’s so gay” in a far more succinct way than I’ve ever been able to formulate. Thanks for you thoughts on the subject.



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