But for those of us who are gay, homophobia is painfully prevalent in our daily lives. We deal on a daily basis with the jabs and jokes from people who don’t understand what it’s like. They talk about us as though we’re less than human — scum to be swept away from the superior culture because we’re different.
But what is it about this type of language, gay bashing for instance, that is so painful? Why is it that a straight person can cause such intense feelings in a gay person through only the use of words? Let’s explore this for a moment.
According to the Williams Institute, a national think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles Law School focusing on LGBT issues, 3.8 percent of Americans identify as gay. This is a very small group of people; four people for every 100. This small group of people has grown up in a straight society where being masculine and objectifying women is normal, thus making them feel abnormal.
From a young age, they are put into a subgroup because they don’t identify with the rest of society. As they continue to grow, they want to be like the other 96 people and make friends, but many of those 96 make them feel like outcasts because the gay kids are different.
Do you begin to see why these words might hurt? A child who wants to be part of a large group who is shunned for being different can be hurt by anything that reminds him or her just how different he or she is. Anything that says to that kid, “Hey, you’re a freak and you’re not allowed to play in our reindeer games because you’re different” is going to hurt.
Language that can cause pain can come in many different shapes, especially today. There are many names for a guy who likes other guys: gay, queer, fag, homo, fairy, sissy, fruit, queen, poof, and those aren’t even the most offensive ones. These names and jabs cause pain because there is meaning behind them. Maybe each word has its own history, but these words mean that we aren’t accepted. It means that you are better than me and I am a minority and I had better not forget it.
It’s no wonder that language is so important in our culture. It has changed significantly over the years; it is an organic and ever-changing idea. We place such meaning behind our words that, even though some of things we say don’t make sense, the meaning comes through crystal clear. And in that, language has power over people. Our words cause people to feel because they have meaning. I just hope that one day, our meanings won’t be so hateful.