Here's a letter to the editor printed in the Arizona Republic from someone who I'm sure is sweet:
Call me of the older generation, but I remember a time when to be identified as gay was to be identified as a happy, outgoing guy. Let's Be Happy Let's Be Gay Let's Declare a Holiday was a popular song.
I feel disenfranchised. I cannot say in mixed company that I am feeling gay. I would get looks.
I have nothing against the people who are of that genetic disposition. But please, come up with another widely approved description!
Well, it's a little too late to ask for "gay" to stop referring to homos. But what's interesting is this seems a lot to me like some in the community who ask us to stop using the word "queer," still believing that there's really much of a debate over the word.
What exactly should replace "gay"? Andrew Belonsky ponders:
Hmmm, "faggot" is probably out, as is the truncated "fag". Many people may find "Poofta" objectionable and "butt-fucker" far too crude. We've always been a fan of "homo," but have a feeling people won't agree.
I've been trying to figure out the words for queers out here in France. They use "homo" and it's the generally-used word, not offensive at all, but since they usually refer to "les homos et les lesbiennes," I'm guessing it's just the boys.
There's no "queen" out here, but there is "pédé." When I was visiting a boy up over winter break, he was reading something I wrote here and translated my use of the word "queer" as "pédé," but it also gets translated as "faggot." Not the same thing at all to me, although my kids call each other "pédé" sometimes and then the others tell on them.
I've seen "gay" and "gai" around here since so much gay slang in this country comes from America (a magazine I bought listed 50 essential gay words, almost all were from English, like "bear," "lipstick lesbian," and "metrosexual"). But then I was reading a column in which a homo said that he was "gai," not "gay," but he didn't explain the difference and he sounded kind of angry so I let it go. The magazine cover used the word "gay" 4 times.
Then there's the language for the T-folk; the word I see most often is "travesti." I'm guessing it's related to "transvestite," not at all the same as "transgender" or "transsexual." But am I the only one who thinks it looks a lot like "travesty" (which, incidentally, my dictionary says is "travestissement")?
Oh, and there are "drag queens" here. But say "size queen" and people will think you're shopping for a bed.
Then I realized that I was once again looking for word-for-word translations, a way of expressing the exact thoughts I think in English in French, just pop in new words. I ought to know better than that after a year and a half living in this country, but I can't help sometimes thinking that others' thought patterns are the same as mine, just with different knowledges and experiences but the same fundamental ways of processing information.
What I'm beginning to see is that there are things in this language that are different not because they're just different languages, but because people are actually thinking of these issues differently. Could it be that the gap between the people who oppose the word "queer" are actually thinking about sexuality in a notably different way than I am, that the difference runs deeper than the word itself?
I think that the letter above shows that deep disconnect. He doesn't suggest going back to the word "homosexual," probably because the baggage associated with that term is very different from the baggage associated with "gay." He doesn't have a replacement in mind in much the same way I can't think of another word that captures the meaning of the word "queer."
His asking that we stop using the word "gay" to refer to homos 40 years after "Gay is good" makes for an interesting language argument in much the same way arguing the word "queer" shouldn't catch on 15 years after it did. But the fact that I don't really know of a good replacement that expresses what "queer" gets at means that I'm stuck using it.