In the 1930’s during The Depression, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers entertained with song-and-dance movies such as The Gay Divorcee (1934). These movies were definitely meant to take viewers’ minds off America’s economic woes and were lighthearted, happy, gay” in the old-fashioned meaning of the word. Romance was strictly depicted for heterosexual couples.
Then It Meant Homosexual
In the year 1935, “geycat” was used to refer to a homosexual boy. By 1938, in the movie “Bringing Up Baby,” a screwball comedy between two heterosexuals, (who in real life may have been gay), Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. In one scene, Cary Grant, who has no clothes, is forced to put on Hepburn’s slinky bathrobe decorated with fur. Of course, the doorbell rings when Hepburn is in the shower, forcing Grant to answer it. The unexpected visitor asks “what are you doing in those clothes?” Grant quips: “ I just went gay – all of a sudden.”
By 1955, gay was used to mean homosexual. P. Wildeblood notes in Against Law: “ Most of the officers had been “gay,” an American euphemism for homosexual.” Gays may have used the term among themselves long before then.
1980’s: New Definition with School Slang
By the 1980’s, school kids were using “gay” to mean lame, stupid, negative, boring, definitely uncool. “That’s so gay” or “you’re so gay” are so widespread now that nearly nine out of ten students report hearing these slurs at school according to the 2011 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network National School Climate Survey.
Often the speaker of “that’s so gay” thinks it’s a fairly innocuous remark. But in the eyes of the recipient, it’s a real put- down. Using the term perpetuates the negative associations people have with being GLBT.
Lingering Effects of Calling Someone or Something Gay
The effects can be awful as a college survey of 114 self-identified GLB students, aged 18 to 25 years, attest: feelings of isolation, and experiencing physical health symptoms (i.e. headaches, poor appetite or eating problems). See (Journal of American College Health, Vol. 60, issue 6, 2012, “That’s So Gay!”)
The Comeback to “That’s So Gay”
Cathy Friedrichs’s About.com Guide GLBT Teens suggests the following:
- You know, saying that it insulting to gay people.
- I’m sure you didn’t mean the extremely hard pop quiz we just had is attracted to the same gender.
- How would you feel if I used a characteristic of yours, like your race or religion as an insult?
- I know a lot of people say that, but I find it offensive. Can you make an effort not to use that phrase?
With awareness, and being called out for saying the pejorative term, hopefully “that’s so gay” will get an extensive “time out.”