Why gay shouldn’t mean shit.

Yesterday, we published an article by Hugh Bassett that defends using the word gay to mean bad. Here’s why I think he’s wrong.


You can read Hugh’s article here.

‘Your hair looks so gay’.

I was guilty of it. Most kids in my school were. This beautifully poetic metaphor is how, nine times out of ten, the word ‘gay’ would be used in our playground at school. It would probably be coming from one of the boys in the ‘cool group’ towards someone who wasn’t. By this they meant: your hair looks shit.

Stock photo of Tom

Relations at school, especially an all-boys one like that I went to, are based around insecurity. Everyone’s nervous, everyone wants to fit in. Bullies are those who hide their insecurities by making everyone else feel even worse about themselves.The word gay was an insult used to hurt someone else and make them feel silly, small, un-manly.

In other words, gay = shit.  How did this happen? I couldn’t tell you. But it’s time it stopped.

Last week, gay rights charity Stonewall launched a campaign to highlight homophobic language in schools and revealed that 99 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people hear phrases such as “that’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” in school.

Now of course, most of the boys and girls using the word gay this way aren’t trying to offend gay people. But by using the word gay to mean shit, the idea of being gay is being linked to the idea of things being bad. In the 70s and beyond, the word ‘Jew’ was often used when someone was stingy or just being a dick – but now most people see this is wrong. When rates of suicide and self harm are as high as they are for LGBT people growing up in Britain today, this can’t happen. It’s offensive, and it’s blindingly obvious.

Will Young has come out in support of Stonewall’s campaign. And he won Pop Idol.

This is the way words work, and why the language we use is so important. Language is how we understand the world we live in and underlies how we all relate with one another. To dismiss it as unimportant is dangerous and just stupid.

Maybe this issue isn’t so important at uni. But school is where this happens the most, and where those being hurt might not be in a position to fight back. David Goldsmith is president of Imperial College SU, and I was friends with David when he came out as gay at our secondary school. He said, “For secondary school children in particular, it is a remark which can insidiously inflict shame, regardless of whether that is the intention. A word can be very powerful, particularly when it is uttered incessantly by all those around you.”

Amongst other things, using ‘gay’ to mean shit is, well, lazy. Here are some suggestions of alternative ways to convey your disgruntlement: pants, toss, arse, wank, naff, balls, offensive to multiple senses, rather displeasing.

It’s great that Hugh isn’t offended when people use the word gay to mean shit. But it’s fairly obvious that he misses the point. Using the word this way is not only offensive to most gay people, it also reinforces the underlying homophobia that runs through many secondary schools in this country.