I fully expect the “stop being so politically correct” comments to come pouring in for this, but I’ve always been bothered by the phrase That’s so gay.
I’ve heard it from even my most liberal friends—friends who fully embrace equal rights for gays and lesbians. It is part of our culture. I even said it myself for a number of years. Its offensiveness is only tangential, but it is still existent… existent enough that I find ways to avoid it (and still feel good about being able to express myself—don’t worry!). After all, That’s so gay really just means That’s so stupid or That’s so undesirable to do. Whereas the word gay used to be associated with happiness, it is now in everyday speech associated with the undesirable, the stupid, and the uncool. In the end, people who use the phrase are probably not likely to start yelling faggot! and dyke! or to start beating up gay people for being gay, but I just don’t see why we need to create (reinforce?) negative associations with the word gay. If you mean That’s so stupid or I don’t want to do that, then say “That’s so stupid” or “I don’t want to do that.” It’s completely unnecessary to say “That’s so gay.”
This is an entirely different phenomenon from the association of black with bad or yellow with cowardly. There simply exists no other simple word for the black market other than the black market, no other word for blackmail than blackmail. The only thing that seems artificial in the English language’s use of the word black is in application to skin color. All the supposedly “black” people I’ve met are various shades of tan or brown. I’m supposedly “yellow” for being Asian, and I’ve often heard people refer to Asians as “olive-colored,” but for the life of me I don’t see how my skin tone is either tint. Since Malcolm X took it for granted that what he then called Negroes (as was the popular label of the time) were, in fact, “black,” he took offense to the association of the word black with that which is negative. I view it as quite the other way around—it was probably already part of the English language to associate black with the negative and then a logical extension for racists to then attach the “black” label to overall darker-skinned individuals. The fact is that even white people are not white (with the exception of albinos), and that in the United States it was court decisions that had to decide whether or not Arab-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and Filipino-Americans qualified as “white”—ultimately deciding the societal worth (and not really the race) of those individuals.
What we’re seeing now with the word gay is the opposite. It is now firmly entrenched in popular usage to have gay mean “attracted to the same sex” with only a vestigial connotation of happiness. There’s absolutely no reason to start or continue to associate it with the generally negative (the stupid, the undesirable).
The worst part about the phrase That’s so gay is, however, not its pervasiveness so much as its subtlety. Unlike blatant slurs like faggot, That’s so gay is very difficult to counter without appearing oversensitive or “politically correct,” and the explanation of why it might be harmful is quite lengthy (see how long I’ve been writing about it so far?), so most people just let it go.
I just hope the day doesn’t come that people start saying That’s so Asian to describe that which is undesirable.