Monday, August 04, 2008

Casual Homophobia

Ah, on a day where I posted an entry full of colourful pics of diversity and celebration, maybe it's only fitting to be thinking about the other end of the spectrum. Good old, bad old, homophobia.

My new work place is very casual, and I recently discovered a little bit casually homophobic. It's hard to write about it because I feel kind of torn about how I feel about it. None of the people at work are nasty, or seem especially judgemental or ignorant. In fact I like them all.

I still like them but now I don't feel so much like I'm one of them.

I don't think they really set out to say anything that was intentionally offensive to anyone, at least in their eyes. However, with a couple of offhand comments that are probably innocuous to them, they have labelled me as other without even knowing it. Two of the younger girls in the office have a habit when chatting amongst themselves to do what a lot of Gen Y kids here are in the habit of doing, using the word "gay" to describe anything that is lame. "Ugh, that's so gay." Then the other day one of my male colleagues answered a phone call from one his friends with the greeting "What-up faggot?"

So, we are still in that place it would seem. I think I was especially shocked because it's my workplace, and well I haven't encountered thoughtlessness like this for a long time. It probably hasn't occured to them that they have a real life, nay larger than life, confirmed pickle smoocher in their midst. (Don't these people have eyes? Ears? I mean, I'm no flamer but I do believe in the freedom of self expression.)

And really I do think it's more thoughtlessness rather than something darker. Having said that though, I don't want to minimise the impact of this sort of thing or seem like I'm fence-sitting. It did make me feel genuinely uncomfortable, and it is negative. I'm only a temp, but if push comes to shove and I encounter more of it, or somebody says something more offensive, I'm going to have to say something. Ultimately I would rather walk away with my dignity intact, and maybe (hopefully) it would teach them something about their attitudes.

23 comments:

Michael said...

Just minutes before you posted this one of the women in my office was relating a story and used the phrase "I had to jew him down on the price a little."

It's similar to what you're saying, in that I don't think there's ill intent behind it, or even that she has any awareness of what she's saying, but that doesn't really make it less jarring or uncomfortable.

The Other Andrew said...

Exactly. Ugh. (By the way, that sounds just like it came out of Jerry Blank's mouth, don't you think?!)

Cecilia said...

Without knowing the situation, I'd be willing to bet you are right in that they were being careless rather than malicious, but it doesn't make it less difficult to be around. In some ways, it's worse that all the prejudices have seeped so deeply into our culture that people can say things without really realizing what they are saying. (One of my colleagues at work went on a rant about "bloody Asians" to my face. WTF!!??)

Sorry you have to put up with this.

The Other Andrew said...

The thing that is maybe even worse, is if you pointed out to them that you are in fact ASIAN, or I said that I was in fact GAY, there would be that akward "oh yes, but I don't think of you as Asian/Gay/whatever". Ugh, that's worse I think. Maybe. Patronising and ignorant, and all sorts of wrong.

Quatrefoil said...

That's horrid. I shall start using the expression 'that's so straight' to indicate disapproval in protest.

I had a similar feeling when I found the website of a club I wanted to join offering memberships for $120 a couple or $90 for a single person. Unintentional or not, this sort of thing hurts.

Cecilia said...

You may or may not look gay, but I sure look Chinese!

worldpeace and a speedboat said...

careless and/or thoughtless still equals offensive.

what's with the faggot thing? is it meant to be post-modern irony or straight from the mouth of white trash?

I'll never forget hearing a close cousin of mine about 8 years younger than me use the "ugh that's SO gay" line many, many years ago. ohhhhh the look on her face when I verbally slapped her down. I had never heard it used in that context and it still gives me the shits.

Ur-spo said...

most homophobia is merely tactless and thoughtlessness rather than malicious (unless you live in Arizona that is).
I try to point out cheefully their faux pas; most actally are embarassed and I think grateful for education.

mrpeenee said...

I'm sure if you mention it to them, they will get that stupid blank look of utter asonishment on their faces and then swear that THEY'RE not bigots. Oh no, not them.

Lucky Pierre said...

I have young gay friends who use the phrase "that's so GAY" all the time. It's just part of their vernacular. Of course, they also use is ironically. I don't like it, but . . .

Now, they don't get it at all when I tell them that I find expressions like "jew him down" or "what a gyp" to be offensive as well. Maybe if I was Jewish, or a Gypsy, my protest would carry more weight.

M-H said...

You may not be the only one quietly fuming. You could say something witty and gay and shut them all the fuck up. But this doesn't sound like the ideal workplace for you. Or me.

Cozalcoatl said...

I've told my nephew not to use 'thats so gay...' I think he had no idea what it actually means, but its better not to let it slide.

I use "what a gyp" meaning 'what a rip off' I never even knew it had any kind of undertones....
I guess it can happen to anyone.

Mikey (TLE) said...

I agree with most comments, including the fact that it is probably not meant maliciously. But from a legal (and socio-emotional standpoint) it's the impact the usage has on the receiver not the intent of the user when it comes to matters of harassment/discrimination. If it was me, I would say something. This happened at a work function to me a few months ago. Some of the "lads" (including two partners of the firm) were engaging in a bit of "lighthearted" gay bashing between themselves. None of these guys were bad guys so I ignored the first couple of comments, but I eventually joined the conversation and told them to shut the f*ck up. They were surprised and (genuinely) apologetic. Whether it's intended or not, people need to be reminded that it's not OK.

Quatrefoil said...

To think about this differently, it occurred to me after I'd uploaded my comment that your original comment about the use of the word 'gay' to mean 'lame' is actually an example of how this works - a word which might originally have been offensive gets desensitised. I'm not suggesting for a moment that you would be consciously prejudiced against people with physical disabilities, but nonetheless you used a term which might offend someone who walks with a limp(as have I, I'm not pointing the finger). While 'lame' now has a secondary meaning of 'ineffective', 'unattractive' or perhaps 'not cool', perhaps in time we'll see 'gay' as having a secondary meaning which has nothing much to do with sexual orientation?

OK, now I'll take my lexicographer's hat off.

Nanna Peter said...

The hardest thing is: 1stly, being a temp- you have no real leverage; 2ndly, I use the word str8 for ugly, pedestrian clothing styles (it's amazing how soon gay is dropped out of usage in the office); finally, you need to inform the guy that calling someone a faggot has nasty connotations ie: homosexuals were burnt using faggots (bundles) of wood. Ask him if he has any objections if you call him Poofta - you will reasure him it would be ina jokey sense of course. You will notice he will decline.
Grrr to callow youth in workplaces.

jason said...

I work with teenagers, so I hear this ("so gay") all the time. I think there's a real disjunct in their minds...many of them at least...between the two meanings.
Some of them *are* gay ferchristsakes.
And then I hear it often enough that it's begun to not only not bother me so much as to almost work its way into my mind. That's how insidious it is.

John C said...

Yeah, that's the usual thoughtlessness. I've been indirectly encountering the nastier kind recently, doing occasional design work for one company who are closely affiliated with another run by an unpleasantly homophobic couple. Tempers flare since the good bunch (my lot) don't get on with the other bunch for a variety of reasons, this merely marks the pair out as common shits on top of everything else. I was told they'd looked at my blog and decided I was "sick"; I merely laughed at that, I don't have any direct contact with them so they can think what they like. Far worse is their attitude extending to not wanting to sell music by an artist they'd decided was "too gay". That's despicable and works for me as a corrective to feeling too complacent about the way many people still are in this country. Things have changed a lot but there's still a long way to go.

Mel said...

My standard response to "that's so gay" is, "You say that like it's a bad thing." I've noticed that nobody at work really says it anymore - at least not around me. I think quite a lot of people never really consider the words flowing out of their mouths.

Of course, I used to work with a lesbian nurse who called me "nelly little faggot" while I called her "redneck dyke bitch", but it was done with the deepest affection and we'd break up giggling, which is an entirely different thing. I think.

Tom said...

Some of the bright (or not so bright) young things I'm hanging around with on my course use gay as a pejorative adjective but I agree with those commentators who have said that it has become dislocated from the homosexual meaning and they don't mean any offence by it.

The What's up Faggot boy might be showing a case of protesting too much. I'd say there's a good chance he's trying to convince both himself and the person on the other end of the phone that he isn't into men! :)

PS: I've been stalking from the RSS feed rather than actually visiting the site recently, so it's probably not new, but love the new header you've done. Very Roaring 20's! :)

The Other Andrew said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments everyone! I was hanging out with the girls in question this afternoon, and I really don't think that they meant any harm in their use of the term. In hidsight they might be a couple of 'fruit flies' in training actually. :) However, I still dislike the context of it.

I'm not lame, I'm fabulous!

Quatrefoil said...

"I'm not lame, I'm fabulous!"

Damned straight (er, gay?) you are!

textillian said...

I just recently had to deal with this at my work. First it was one person, whom I was about to talk to (with the help of my boss,) but then it spread to others on the project. I asked to be removed from the project because I just wasn't comfortable there anymore, and if I stayed on, I would feel like they would clam up around me without actually having changed their thought process.

Cecilia said...

I have never heard these songs or even heard of the singer, but I thought this is relevant to your post:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2008/aug/08/popandrock.gayrights