The way to address discrimination isn't to attack the dominant groups

I like the overall idea of this website, which is addressing the use of "that's so gay" to mean that something is stupid. The campaign starts out in the right direction, acknowledging that this usage has crept into people's vocabularies and gets used without an intention of hurting anyone.

What I don't like though is that they take it a step further and try to illustrate the issue by using similar slurs against jocks, cheerleaders, and gamers, and even go so far as to describe stereotypes of people who belong to these groups. That's not OK. The basic strategy of "putting yourself in their shoes" is fine, but it can be done without insulting anyone, as is done in those questionnaires where it asks people to reflect on how their family reacts to them being straight or what it's like when they mention at work that they have an opposite-sex partner. It isn't necessary to make disparaging remarks about "popular" adolescents, who can often be just as lonely and confused for different reasons. This reminds me in a way of the failed Dove campaign depicting plus-sized models as "real" people, implying that there is something wrong with thinner people's bodies rather than the intended message of acceptance for all bodies.

Plus, the strategy of making fun of the "cool" kids for being a member of that group really downplays the real issue of queer kids (and kids perceived as queer) being harassed, threatened, harmed, sexually assaulted, thrown out of homes -- all of which leads to high rates of suicide and self-harm in kids who've experienced this. All labeling, even positive labeling, is harmful to our youth, but it's really pretty offensive to imply that anti-GLBT bullying is similar to cracks about being a jock or a cheerleader.

The other really frustrating thing is the aspect of the site that points out that calling someone a "faggot" really means that they're "a bundle of sticks." Wasn't the original point that these words are hurtful? The origin of the words is immaterial when they're being used in a hurtful manner, and it's also worth mentioning that the words are often used in a positive manner when they're reclaimed by GLBT folks.

I guess what really irritates me about this approach is that the people behind the campaign don't seem to have much of a grasp of what works with teenagers. The teens I've worked with will actually use the original definitions of these words as an excuse as to why it's acceptable to use these words ("but all I called her was an embankment that holds back water!"), and teens especially are going to tune out any message that insults their intelligence. They know good and well what the words mean, and it seems to work best to be honest and frank with them about why I'd prefer not to hear a word, rather than trying to pretend that I feel very strongly about them not referring to bundles of sticks. I once had a group of teens in which a young girl was very effective in asking her peers not to use this kind of language. When someone would say something like, "dammit, these paintbrushes are so gay," she might say something such as, "that doesn't even make sense; paintbrushes don't have a sexual orientation, and I don't think it's right to make fun of anyone's sexual orientation anyway."

Worked a lot better than pretending that we all think "gay" means "happy."


Not Whitey Bulger said...

"but all I called her was an embankment that holds back water!"

A levee?

fenwayguy said...

Yep. A male cow levee.