The pejorative "gay"

by Rob Horning

16 October 2008

 

Growing up, I was often guilty of using the word gay as a synonym for lame, a bad habit for which there is no excuse. So I’m glad to learn, via AdFreak, that the Ad Council is making public-service spots that point out the unacceptability of the pejorative gay. I don’t think that the word can really function as a compliment either; ideally it works as a neutral, descriptive word, typically applied to people. But can it be used also to suggest certain qualities in certain species of pop culture? I’ve said that Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs is gay, and in a non-pejorative sense (though I could understand why my interlocutors would be confused, in that I also think it’s annoying), but I can’t quite articulate what I even mean by that—not that it is made for and by gay people; not that it’s conforming to certain gay stereotypes, as in being campy or flamboyant; not that it addresses gay themes in the way that say, the unequivocably gay Bronski Beat did. Coldplay seems “gay” to me in the same way, and John Mayer too. The TV show Three and a Half Men. I’m probably not making any sense. Do these things share some ineffable quality that can be called “gay” or am I merely transferring the negative valence of homophobia to pop culture that is lousy? (Also, the uncertain status of the word suck needs to be reconsidered in this context as well.)

 

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