Josh Naftel

April 1998


I was talking with a friend on the phone once and our conversation hit upon a guy we'd known in high school. My friend had bumped into him at his university and was mentioning his doings and so forth.

"But, you know, I think he's..." my friend tapered off.

"He's what?" I asked rhetorically.

"You know..."

"Know what?"

"That he's..."

At this point, I launched into a mini-tirade about the hopelessness of the queer movement if we can't even name ourselves.

That's my complaint: Why is it so hard to say "gay"?! The word is freely substituted for "bad" by high school nimrods and rarely refuted. People are afraid to use it in conversation because it attracts attention. Why? Because those of us who are gay use the word timidly and sparingly, couching sexual identity in tired euphemisms and coded language. This allows the homophobes to use "gay" against us, to steal it from us because we didn't really want it to begin with.

But wait!, the more open-minded among you might interrupt. What if we feel words like "gay", "lesbian", and "bisexual" are limiting? (Although "bisexual", as so few seem to acknowledge, is rather limitless.) What if we want to be seen as more than a sexual orientation? Labels are for cans, etc. etc.

And with you , I'd concur. There is more to a lesbian than the fact that she's attracted to women. A gay man is first a man -- a human being. But if we want to be seen for more than our sexuality, we must first claim it. Labels can only by debilitating if they're not fitting. There are no rules that say they can't be switched or made individually. There is power in naming oneself, there is strength in saying, "I am gay."

What I'm really saying is, be proud to be gay. Show your pride by saying you are gay -- in conversation, in class, wherever. We have not reached the point at which we can dismiss categories of sexual identity because being queer is tied up with many negative myths. The self-hating closet cases and insecure repression-freaks who spew ridiculous lies about us can only be silenced when we make "gay" our own and leave them exposed in their own pile of stinking rhetoric. And when I say "gay", I most definitely mean queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, or any wonderfully unique, hyphen-ridden thing you like. To progress, the gay movement must use its voice, one which will proudly and loudly claim its identity.

Comments, questions, or suggestions about this article can be e-mailed to unaftj00@mcl.ucsb.edu

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