A Simple ‘Bad’ is Good
I can’t remember the last time I heard the word ‘gay’ used as a serious insult. I’m wildly lucky in that respect, lucky enough to be in circles where such an insult isn’t an option — the last time I remember that sort of an insult being an option was way back in high school. Back then the word ‘gay’ wasn’t just used to helpfully identify homosexuals but was also used as an cudgel against undesirable people and undesirable things. Calling someone out as gay, for really any reason, was a move that made you different and better than your target. Being worthy of being called gay didn’t have a whole lot to do with your sexuality or gender presentation, being more about your weakness and worthlessness in general.
Things, too, were gay. This gay pencil just won’t sharpen. My stupid gay car refused to start this morning and made me late for school. My gay-ass mom and dad grounded me for an entire month and I’m just bored as fuck.
The maturity of time and the efforts of progressive activists have led to unprecedented and spectacular cultural victories for the LGBTQ community in recent years, relegating the use of ‘gay’ as an insult to those wretched prudes who shriek at the sight of their own genitals in the shower every morning.
Other insults, though, still abound, insults which carry the weight of worthless prejudice against particular people.
Hillary Clinton was blind to the pain of the American working class. Donald Trump is insane to talk to foreign leaders that way. This stupid lame pencil just refuses to sharpen for me.
Much like the literally-sophomoric infliction of ‘gay’ upon anything and everything that’s bad, these insults do what they do by basically dehumanizing people who live a particular kind of life.
“Being blind isn’t a kind of life!” you might say. “So-called blind people are just normal people with an ocular disability!”
“Being gay isn’t a way of life!” you might say. “So-called gay people are just normal people with a heterosexual disability!”
This plays into the central pretension of unexamined modern life, that the abnormal is the subnormal. Statistically-normal people just don’t have to think about their identity the way that non-normal people do, which can lead to friction when non-normal people ask normal people to think about identity too. The best ideal for the future is one in which non-normal people get to lead the same frictionless life that normal people do, and a proactive consciousness of the language we use is a big and important step in that direction.
A word of caution: progressive language politics can lead to some wildly unhelpful results, creating spaces in which everybody is just competing to call each other out and where you can only convince people who already agree, all while the material mechanisms of oppression march along unopposed.
Oppression can be subtle and complex, and rooting it out and moving along can require a mountain of vigilance, but I think that the simple act of paying attention to how you say that something is bad is a simple way to change the way we think, broadening the moral net that we cast across humanity. Progress will require jettisoning some words from some contexts, and that’s okay — people who enact hate for the sheer sake of enforcing their right to hate will claim that we’re losing something, as if ‘the richness of language’ can only ever spring from a monotony of identity, and I don’t think they could possibly be more wrong.