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Bethany

March 2000

By this time, many of you have probably seen the new GLSEN-sponsored TV spots with Judy Shepard, Matt Shepard's mother. For those of you that haven't (I myself have only caught them when channel surfing and have hit MTV, for some reason) they start in a locker room, where a succession of various boys yell demeaning comments at the camera, which backs up as the boys approach. Then it cuts to Judy Shepard, and then to a photo of her son. After that, it returns to a tearful Judy, saying, I believe, "Please don't let there be a next time." As the last thing we see, there's a phone number to call for more information. The first time I saw the spot, catching only about three-quarters of it, it caught me completely off-guard, and frankly scared the living daylights out of me. That is its intention, and something it does really rather well.

The spot hits on the most hurtful form of homophobic abuse- being directly called a f*ggot or a queer. The youth in my school call lesbians f*ggots, so I think that insult has become less gender-specific than it used to be- or the kids in my school could be even more clueless than I thought, I don't know. And it's good, excellent even, that GLSEN is trying to get people to realize how much those kinds of insults hurt. As a big, handmade poster in my school cafeteria reads, "Words Hurt". The people who call something queer when they're displeased have to learn that those words are completely unacceptable in that context.

The next thing I think GLSEN should highlight in their spots should be the more benign form of calling someone a f*ggot. That happens to be "THAT'S SO GAY!!!!" I have very few pet peeves, and most of them deal with grammar, but one of my non-lingual ones happens to be that comment. I never realized that a t-shirt or a television show could be gay until it was pointed out to me by my oh-so-observant peers. Or that my milk carton could be queer. I guess it prefers to date other chocolate milk cartons versus dating white milk cartons like all the other chocolate milk cartons. If you doubt that my milk carton is queer, ask a friend of mine. She'll tell you, and then grin and apologize for improper word choice.

I am gay. My milk carton is not, nor is some asinine rule at my high school queer. However, the phrases are so pervasive in today's teen slang that you can't escape from them. I've been directly called a dyke, most recently by this little eighth or ninth grader in study hall on Valentine's Day. That bothered me a lot, mostly due to the fact that an underclassman would have so little respect for a senior as to do that, but what bothers me constantly, and on a much more regular basis, is something being gay or queer by teen standards. Most of the time my friends have the courtesy to refrain from using that kind of language around me. And I've even got some random classmates behaving. But generally, I hear someone or something being called gay several times a day. We all do. Whatever happened to good old fashioned insults like jerk and butthead?

GLSEN is starting something with their high-impact public service announcement. Momentum is building in the gay civil rights movement. But until even seemingly benign degradation is dealt with, there won't be any equality. Kids in my school are taught from a very young age that using racial slurs is wrong, and that making fun of people's physical or mental characteristics is inappropriate. Until the same is done with "that's so gay," or "he's such a queer", not to mention even more offensive language, we aren't going to get anywhere. Language is the basis for most human interaction, and it defines how we deal with each other. Of course, I'm preaching to the choir on this, I know. But I'd bet most of us have caught ourselves thinking, "that's so gay," about either a shirt or an outfit or something random like that. Consider how pervasive it must be for us to degrade ourselves unconsciously. Anyone else see a problem?

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Bethany is 17 & from Western Massachusetts. She graduates in three months!!!!!! In the meantime, she's a member of her school's GSA/diversity club, plays flute in the jazz band, and can be contacted at k41632@yahoo.com


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