Words are powerful, but they also have the potential to evolve. I myself have been very guilty of using the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way without really thinking about the impact of that word. My argument has always been that the word, in a certain context, has a different meaning – but is that a cop-out?
Sanya Weathers thinks so. In an interesting article, Sanya discusses the way gamers tend to use the word ‘gay’ as a casual insult.
Gaming forums, being somewhat dominated by young straight males, tend to be one of the last places in our culture where you can toss around homophobic (and misogynist) slurs with abandon. I don’t mean there’s always evil intent. When you ask one of these kids why he said “gay” when what he meant was “stupid” or “contemptible,” most of the time he’ll just blink at you. A few of them mumble an explanation that basically goes “I didn’t mean gay, like, GAY. It’s just a word on a gaming forum, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Well, it’s not just a word, it does mean something, and I don’t allow it to be used in a derogatory way on any channel where I have mod powers. If you do allow it, you’re basically saying to every kid who is LGBT or questioning that his or her kind isn’t really welcome in your community, and that the only way they can stay is if they pretend they don’t care. Just like you don’t care if some mouthbreather uses “gay” as the very worst possible insult.
Is this a case of political correctness gone mad, or is it a valid complaint? My view on these things is if someone is genuinely offended or upset by the way in which I use a word, the onus is on me to be more careful with how I use it.
Sanya is looking for a change.
It will cost you nothing to change this paradigm. It doesn’t take very long, or many repetitions of “do not use that word” before people find other, better insults. You don’t even have to ban, or get agitated. You just have to say no. I’ve proven it on multiple forums ranging in size from hundreds to tens of thousands of people. So much for “it’s just a word gamers use.” Gaming forums do not have to be ruled by the worst our genre has to offer.
So, speaking of help: Help me, fellow mods and CMs. (And help me, players, by reporting and not responding when you see it.) We’ve got to stop tolerating homophobia in our communities. I’m not saying we have to go and get gay married. You don’t even have to support an agenda of any kind. All you have to do is say that you will not permit one of your customers to call another one of your customers a faggot.
Personally, Sanya’s piece has made me question the way I use the word ‘gay’. Plenty of minority groups believe that taking control of a word and transforming its meaning is a powerful act of defiance, but as a heterosexual male, it isn’t really my place to do that.
It Gets Better, and It Begins With Us [Eating Bees]