Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is it ever OK to say, "That's so gay?"

Is this OK?

When I was a kid, I probably heard someone say, "That's so gay" two or three times a day. I'm not sure if I ever said it myself. 

But times change, and when I hear someone say it "in real life" now - along with "That's so retarded" - I think, "Oh, please. They still make you?!"

But are there ever exceptions?

Ally training

I recently attended ALLY training at Red River College, which is an initiative to ensure that LGBTT individuals have a safe and inclusive place in the classroom and aren't marginalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

When you've taken the course, you're an "ALLY" in that you declare your support for LGBTT individuals and work toward creating more inclusive and safe places.  

It's a great class led by great teachers. The discussion is wide ranging and blunt, including whether it's ever OK to say, "That's so gay."

Not surprisingly, most attendees said, "No, it's not OK."

At least one attendee said she finds the expression funny in an ironic sense, and would say it among her friends - straight and gay - knowing that none of them actually meant what they were saying (perhaps not unlike the clip from the 40 Year Old Virgin at the top of this post).

The course leader suggested that it's better not to say it, but also pointed out that there are two schools of thought on the issue:

1. You should never say it under any circumstances, because you don't have to say it and it hurts people when you do.
2. You should say it, thereby reclaiming the expression and removing its power to hurt and offend.

Can a comic say anything?

I then asked the question: what if a comedian says, "That's so gay" in an ironic sense, onstage? Again, most attendees said "no," until I mentioned Sarah Silverman and some agreed that she might be an exception.

Sarah Silverman's act is steeped in irony, so does that make the jokes OK?

What about Louis C.K., who has taken flack for this bit in which he uses the word, "faggot?"

C.K. explains the bit to NPR:
"I had a conversation with [openly gay comedian Rick Crom] about [the slur.] I asked him about it. He didn't lecture me or say you shouldn't say it. He just said 'If you're interested, it's totally devastating.' And he gave me that information. And I never forgot it. I was about 22. I have said [the slur] a number of times since then. But I know what I'm saying. I know what it means now."

"I've done material about gay and heterosexual differences since I started stand-up, because it's one of the most unsettled and most - it's one of the most divisive things in American culture right now, that line between gay and heterosex[uality.]
To me, I love being on that line and talking about it. And I think when you do that, you have to use all of the words and go to every extreme. I think that's what comedy is about. Comedy isn't polite and it isn't correct and it isn't accurate, even. It's just a mess. So that's the way that I approach it."
Do you buy it?

Tracy Morgan got in trouble for his comments recently, but Lisa Lampanelli is celebrated for her extreme comedy - bashing her audience with racist and homophobic insults, like Don Rickles or Joan Rivers before her, and whose audience considers it a privilege to be at the receiving end of the barrage:

As a teacher and good-hearted citizen, I understand why no one could or should say what these comics say in real life.

As a sometime standup comic, I also know that irony can be a powerful force for good by expressing the opposite of what you know to be true.

But what if your boneheaded audience doesn't get that you're being ironic and thinks it's awesome to do what you do? Do you then have a responsibility to censor yourself?

What do you think?


  1. I'm a 100% supporter of LGBT rights, but I don't really see it as anything too awful.

    It might be because I have several homosexual friends who use the phrase more than I do that's contributed to my use.

  2. I don't like the phrase "that's so gay" in everyday conversation. By associating homosexuality with something negative, you're implying that it is negative thing.

    However, I do feel that it can be used in comedy to great effect. Funnily enough, I'm watching Conan as I'm writing this, and he just made a joke about Tracy Morgan apologizing to the gay community, and the punchline was: "It wasn't very effective because he said 'I'm sorry for my remarks, that was totally gay of me'". It was a great joke, and I laughed. But he was making fun of Morgan and not the gay community, and most of the audience would understand it.

  3. I think there's a definite line, and Tracy Morgan crossed it. That being said, I agree with Jennifer when she says she doesn't like "That's so gay" in everyday conversation. It makes "gay" equated to a negative thing, and that's not good.

    In terms of Lisa Lampanelli, she's a true champion of the LGBT community. Her response to the Westboro Baptist Church's picketing of her show was nothing short of brilliant: - This wasn't an apology of any type - this was activism.

  4. The only jokes that genuinely offend me are the ones that make light of the Holocaust or Nazi atrocities. Other than that, I generally don't react; the person who made the joke can suffer for it later.


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