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Monday, September 13, 2004
"This is so gay"
So, apparently there was some otherdiscussion of gay issues in comics today. Specifically, whether the above usage in the most recent issue of Robert Kirkman's Invincible is appropriate or offensive. Now, I don't normally read the book. I tried the first issue and was underwhelmed. I had the same response to The Walking Dead and every other Kirkman book I've looked at to be honest. So, I have no particular interest in either attacking or defending the man's work. The defenders of the above phrase say that it's excusable because teenagers actually talk that way, and besides the phrase is meant to indicate that something is "lame" not as a perjorative, anti-gay sentiment. Which is nonsense, of course. Yes, some teenagers do talk that way, but there is no way the phrase is meant to be anything other than a homophobic slur. It is precisely intended to indicate that something is "lame" because it reminds the speaker of something that the speaker considers indicative of homosexuality. And that this is apparently a running gag with the character in question is irrelevant. If it's wrong once, it's wrong every time. So, speaking as an actual, factual homosexual (something most of the people commenting on this do not appear to be, which I'll get to in a moment), I have to say that yes, I do happen to find the phrase both inappropriate and offensive.
In fact, this particular usage is a pet peeve of mine. I've been known to tell off people who I hear using it in the store (usually gamers, as it turns out...oh the irony...). I somehow doubt that my high school experience was atypical in this regard, but it does bear pointing out that when I was in high school there were only four words you could call someone, in front of a teacher no less, and be reasonably confident you would not face any kind of disciplinary action. Those words were "gay," homo," "faggot" and "queer."
Now, do I place any blame on Robert Kirkman for this, or feel that he is somehow to be held in contempt for this usage. No, of course not. It's not his fault people talk this way. As a writer attempting to craft naturalistic dialogue he needs to write accurate teenage slang. It wouldn't have killed him to use a phrase that wasn't homophobic in nature, but I doubt it ever even occurred to him that people might have a problem with this phrase. Which is why I say that society is to blame. American culture as a whole is responsible, for failing to teach children that homophobic language is just as offensive and inappropriate as any other kind of racist or sexist slur.
But to return to an earlier point, I do find it somewhat entertaining that people are falling all over themselves to discuss this (yes, me too, so save us all some time and don't leave a comment about it, ok? I'm well aware of the irony/hypocrisy of talking about this and making fun of other people for talking about it). The only other time I see this happen is when something bad happens to a female character in a super-hero comic. Suddenly people who couldn't articulate the differences between Andrea Dworkin's and Nadine Strossen's views on pornography (hint: only one of them thinks it's bad), or how Marxist theory has informed contemporary academic feminism and how that relates to the currently fashionable homophobic readings of theorists like Foucault (go read some Eve Sedgwick or Craig Owens--and I'm not saying that feminists are homophobic, so spare us all the comments on that score as well please) are suddenly experts on gender theory. (My reading of such events is that 95% of the time something bad happens because the character is part of the supporting cast, and therefore expendable, not because the character is female. It may be a cliche to kill/injure the wife/girl-friend to motivate the male hero, but to argue that's it's misogynistic is putting too fine a point on it, I think.) It just makes me all kinds of grateful that there are all these heterosexual white men out there to tell all the women and queers what they should and shouldn't be offended by.
...Wow, that's a lot of talking about a book I don't even read, isn't it.