Patrick J Hamilton

Making the Case for the Uppercase Gay

Filed By Patrick J Hamilton | January 29, 2014 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: community organizing, gay community, gay or Gay, uppercase G, uppercase letters

UpperCaseG.jpgIt's time for a change. I'm no longer gay. I'm tired of feeling second class, diminished, hated, denied basic freedoms and having to fight for basic rights.

So no, I'm no longer gay. But I'm now, gaily, Gay. Gimme a G! A capital G, to be precise. I'm a proper Gay. I think I deserve a proper noun.

The thought started as a bit of a folly and fun on a Facebook thread, when I half-jokingly said that from now on, I was always going to write Gay when referring to the G in LGBTQ.

But the idea's been germinating for quite some time. The seeds were planted mostly in the frame of reference of language, in general, in some very specific instances of gay history, present and past.

Words Matter

At a talk at the New York Historical Society, in support of "AIDS in New York: The First Five Years," author, AIDS activist and LGBTQ elder statesman Larry Kramer said he prefers the term "gay population" to "gay community," to give weight to a movement, and acknowledge the power of numbers. "'Community,'" he asserted, "was too friendly," all too easily dismissed or swept aside. I tend to agree, and that was the original point of my status update that day. Plus, "community" makes it sound like we're all camping. Our "community," as you may know, is not always a picnic.

At that same exhibition, there was a reference to the change in name of GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome) to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) to help separate stigma from science, and make more people pay attention to the growing epidemic.

Then there are the efforts to stop the expression "that's so gay," through GLSEN's ThinkB4youspeak site, with a running live tally of how many times a day "so gay," "dyke," and "fag" are Tweeted ("fag" appeared in over 34,000 Tweets by 9 p.m. this past Sunday, fueled in part by live Tweets during the Grammys... the very Grammys where same-sex weddings happened during Macklemore's "Same Love.") We also often cringe when the clinical word "homosexual" is used to mean gay, as it's often hurled like a brick, as a weapon, meant to sterilize and degrade us.

What we call things matters. Words matters. Words we choose, abandon, morph or misuse: they all matter.

Credibility & Respect from a Capital G?

In this age of social media, where words wield the power to bully, with tragic results, and hashtags can seriously derail a well-intentioned social media PR campaign, I think changing that one little letter could make a big, big difference. And that day on Facebook, I tried to make a compelling argument for it.

In the ensuing discussion, my friend (and artist and educator) Pete Hocking came to my aid, drawing a parallel to another community, adept at changing its own rules: the Deaf. And he's right: the Deaf have always exhibited an admirable and fierce sense of self-definition. They saw the power of a big D when it came to defining how they are framed to the world. "Just try using 'the deaf' with the Deaf," Pete noted, and he added, "the Deaf often do the civil rights work for us."

It turned out to be a great comparison, since that community-driven grammatical change now has some real rules attached to it, from none other than the AP Style Guide itself:

"Capitalize (Deaf) when a person identifies himself or herself as a member of the Deaf Culture community or when they capitalize Deaf when describing themselves."

Well, hey now. I certainly identify as Gay. I'm part of the "Gay Culture community" (well, population). So, as they say, there's precedent. Why can't we give one word, a word that helps define us, added importance with that one simple change?

In the thread that day on Facebook, our very own founding editor Bil Browning thought otherwise. "I don't think credibility and respect come from a capital G," he said.

I respectfully disagree. I think a repositioning of the brand, so to speak, could help steel efforts and bring our population one step closer to a community in the true and positive sense.

There Is Real Power in Capitalization

Just as we've helped redefine marriage - in a good way, in our own way - sometimes eschewing traditions of place, ceremony and vow, sexual roles and rules of monogamy, why not the rules of grammatical style and naming convention in the ongoing journey to self-define our own population?

It also serves to diffuse the arch-conservative claim that "They've ruined the word 'gay.'" I want to be able to say, 'No, that word still exists. You can have it. Because I'm Gay, dear. With a capital G." If they can pray away the gay, I want to uppercase it right back in. Into Tweets, into Tennessee textbooks, into the collective stream of thought.

In its own way, it honors the movement. It honors the heroes, the lost, the battered, the abandoned, the runaway. It serves as a badge, but one we apply ourselves. It's empowering. A lot of pressure on one big little letter, I know. Gee, I think it can take it.

Of course, as a past graphic designer and a current writer, I think, perhaps more than many, that there's power in words, and specifically how those words are presented. So yeah, in this (upper)case, there's also real power in capitalization.

Don't we, as a movement, as a population, deserve the distinction of a proper noun to help define us? I think it's a capital idea. In fact, I'd love to see all of us here at Bilerico lead the charge. Maybe we'll get it into the AP Style Guide, too.

Call me an uppity fag, but I think I deserve to be an uppercase Gay. So from now on, I'm Gay, it's okay, get used to capitalizing it. I promise, as they used to say on the Flintstones, we'll have a gay old time.

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