The following is a bit of a story I found on the BBC News site. It’s something that has actually been pissing me off for a while, and after this story I’ll tell you in simple terms why it pisses me off.
Every generation of schoolchildren has them, the playground put-downs that can leave a pupil’s reputation in tatters among their peers. For the current generation, “gay”, “bitch” and “slag” are the most frequently used terms of abuse, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). They are used by children of all ages, from nursery school upwards. But the worst offenders are secondary school pupils, says the teaching union. The most popular by far is “gay”. Of the teachers interviewed, 83% said they heard it being used regularly and much more than its nearest rivals, bitch (59%) and slag (45%). So how did it achieve this dubious honour?
“Every generation grows up with a whole lexicon of homosexual insults, in my day it was ‘poofter’ or ‘bender’,” says slang lexicographer Tony Thorne. “They were used much more because they were considered more offensive than ‘gay’, which is more neutral.
“It’s only in the last four years that I’ve documented it being used so much by young people. It’s what we call a ‘vogue’ word, which is a fashionable word.” One reason for this increase in use could be because “gay” has partly lost its sexual connotations among young people, he says. While still pejorative, for the majority of youngsters it has replaced words such as “lame”.
“I have interviewed scores of school kids about this and they are always emphatic that it has nothing at all to do with hostility to homosexuals,” says Mr Thorne, compiler of the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. “It is nearly always used in contexts where sexual orientation and sexuality are completely irrelevant.”
The ATL survey seems to say otherwise, lumping it in with clear insults such as poofter and batty boy. But Katie, a 12-year-old from Colchester, knows it in different context. A bad pair of trainers is much more likely to be called “gay” than a person, she says. “It’s used as more of a way to tease a friend rather than have a real go at someone. I wouldn’t call someone ‘gay’ because I know that’s sort of bullying them.” The use of “gay” in this particular way was first recorded at the end of the 1970s and developed among US high school students, says Mr Throne. It’s not only youngsters in the UK who have recently adopted it, the same has happened to the German equivalent, schwul, he adds.
This mutation of the word is one reason why using “gay” as in a pejorative sense often goes unchallenged. Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles caused controversy in 2006 for his casual use of the word. He said he’d used it to describe something as “rubbish” and was backed by the BBC. “The word has what we call multiple coinage and that’s the problem,” says Mr Thorne. “While teenagers are generally using it to mean ‘lame’ it can separately be used as a homophobic term of abuse.”
It’s this ambiguity that prevents some teachers from tackling pupils who use it in a negative sense, says ATL. They are afraid of “blowing trivial matters out of proportion”.
Ms Cowie has observed schools developing children as “peer supporters” to listen, mediate and support bullied children. But “boys have a “harder time” adopting such roles because the attributes are not seen as masculine. “In one school we studied they were known as queer supporters,” she notes. Recalling her time as a boys’ secondary school teacher in the 1970s, Ms Cowie recalls how “obsessed” pupils were with
homosexual innuendo. “It didn’t seem to matter what you read to the class they’d always find an gay innuendo.”
Right, here’s how I see it. If a child is using a term that’s a descriptive term for a group of people as derogatory in any manner then they obviously need some education. Lets face it, if this were skin colour or religion or pretty much anything else there’d be hell to pay, yet sexual orientation is somehow acceptable? If Katie from the story was complaining that trainers were “so negro” or “so jewish” simply because they’re a bit crap this matter would be taken a lot more seriously by a lot more people.