so gay” has become the latest formerly forbidden but
now acceptable—like, totally—mark of
social criticism among straight people. Not older
ones—they still sort of harrumph when this sort of
thing comes up. But younger ones adore saying it when
they’re referring to what used to be called
“wussy,” or, for those on the cutting
edge, “random.” “Random” is
right up there with “whatever.” “How
random is that?” covers just about every social situation.
Some things that used to be described as random
are now definitely allowed to be described as gay. A
pink shirt by the designer called Pink from one of the
stores called Pink used to be called random by those who
thought it made the wearer look really gay. Now they say it
looks gay. This is better than “faggy”
or “swishy”—words gay people have not
brought back to their bosom. But it is saying that,
while the shirt may be attractive, something about it
announces that the wearer is Different, and not in a
This is a nice, safe code for straight people.
They’re not using a derogatory word, but they
are making their opinion clear. In the mass of
straight people’s minds, especially younger ones,
“gay” means effeminate, epicene, or, in
its broadest embrace, just plain weak. And yet every year
right about now a whole bunch of us celebrate being gay. We
take to the streets to announce how proud we are. This
confuses many straight people. How can we be so proud
of being so weak?
It’s time for a new way to describe
ourselves, especially since so many of us also use
“gay” in a self-deprecating, if sarcastic,
way. A writer I know recently described something as
“gayer than reading the new issue of
Details in your leather chaps.” Another told
me something was “as gay as a baton twirler in the
Yeah, I laughed too. And yet we all know that
the word “gay” in those sentences is
loaded with a certain view of homosexuality as a lifestyle,
not a life, and not a terribly endorsing one—unless
we all endorse each other’s kinks,
idiosyncrasies, and choices. That is something that gay
pride is supposed to do but rarely does.
The most flamboyant, theatrical, outrageous
things get noticed at pride, while the earnest and the
ordinary get shunted off to an expo booth. Flamboyant
and theatrical things get noticed more in the nongay world
too, but nobody would say that Mardi Gras is emblematic of
all things straight. Yet the noisiest elements of gay
pride are the ones that even gay people adopt as the
expression of our truest selves.
Black people understand this problem. Hip-hop
music is an expression of the young black experience,
but it is so ridden with overtones of crime, misogyny,
and violence that older black people are often ashamed of it.
Unlike black people we struggle for acceptance
within our own families as well as society. And for
acceptance within ourselves. “Gay” means we
have won the battle, and that is the opposite of weak.
We need a word that says that. Something random.