First things first: burgers aren’t gay. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, allow me to apologize for something stupid: several days ago, I used the word “gay” as a slur. I unknowingly dug my own grave at work when I said that I thought it was completely normal to say, “This burger is too gay.”
My friends, stunned and disgusted over what I had just said, asked if I had meant it and, more importantly, if I understood it. “You can’t say that,” one of them said. “That was really rude,” said another. They then sat me down to explain it all to me. They told me that what I said was akin to a racial slur. I used “gay” not as its intended purpose and definition but in a derogatory and misogynistic way. “How you used it doesn’t even make sense which makes it more insulting,” they told me.
I learned from them that whenever “gay” is used in the way I used it, the word turns what it’s supposed to mean into an insult. It belittles the word completely. The more I tried to defend myself, the more I showed how ignorant I was of the word and the situation. Any reasoning I gave couldn’t and didn’t take back what I said.
“You basically used ‘gay’ to mean ‘stupid,’” someone said, at which point white flags were waved and eyes were opened. I started questioning certain aspects of my life I had thought were concrete. I became afraid to say anything lest I anger the people around me yet again. To paraphrase another friend, I was checking myself to avoid wrecking myself. I suddenly felt like I was skating on thin ice as I slouched more and more in my chair, leaning closer to the ground as possible, hoping I could just hide and disappear. Too many questions ran through my head but the one that loomed largest was “Am I a bigot?”
One of my favorite quotes, which comes from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, is “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” And so by misusing the word “gay” in such a shallow and offensive manner, not fully knowing the meaning and consequences of what I said, I realized that my world wasn’t as open as I thought it was, that I needed to widen not only my perspective but my understanding. What I said was a mistake, but the real error was that I did not know that it was. There’s nothing more dangerous than being ignorant.
It’s hard and impossible to defend using a term when you’re not an expert on the situation. Sure, the term “too gay” has arguably moved and changed over the years. Everyone has heard it said in casual conversations. In some cases — like the experience I just had — it may seem harmless, that you’re not really hurting anyone but that kind of ignorance is quicksand that impedes you from moving forward, from actual progress. What should refer to something loving has been twisted into something derogatory. The more people think it’s okay to use it the way I did, the more it promotes hate and misunderstanding.
We can all claim to be liberal and progressive members of society. We can retweet and like the most pro-LGBT links in our social media accounts, but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. It’s when we’re completely unguarded that we actually reveal our faults.
Tests like these are welcome. We should be open to mistakes and to grow from them and never stop learning when we leave our homes. We should be stronger and better than our mistakes. It’s normal to trip and fall as long as we learn from it and leave it behind us. We should always get back up and move forward. There’s always room for change but there’s absolutely no room for ignorance. And at the end of the day, if we really refuse to grow up, then it’s best that we just shut up.