What Is It?
That phrase - sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me - first appeared in the mid-1800's as a child's nursery rhyme. And while the sentiment is nice, it doesn't always ring true.
Casual homophobia is the use of terms like 'so gay' and 'no homo' in everyday language. While the use of these phrases, and others, may seem innocuous at first glance, the overuse of the phrases creates a potentially hostile environment without ever meaning to do so.
So what if I use the phrase 'so gay'? I don't mean anything by it.
That's the thing. That's why it's called 'casual' homophobia. These terms are thrown around casually, in our everyday language, and we're not necessarily considering the impact these words and phrases may have on someone else.
By saying something is 'so gay' you're generally referring to something you feel is stupid, or less than something else. But the implication that being gay is stupid, or that gay people are less than equal (which is partially true).
The impact of those words is, honestly, immeasurable. But when someone who is already afraid to come out of the closet hears these words being tossed around so casually, the impact it can possibly have on them could be detrimental to their health.
4,600 kids between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide yearly, making it the third leading cause of death among this age range. 157,000 kids in that same age range are seen annually for self inflicted injuries.
You may not mean to imply that being gay is stupid, but that's the thing with casual homophobia - the context belies your intent.
If you're still confused, look at it this way: If I thought something were stupid, or I didn't agree with something, would it be acceptable for me to say "That's so black?" No, of course not. So why is it okay for you to say 'so gay'?
Okay, you got me there. But it can't possibly be that big of an issue, can it?
Oh but it is. The Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, Canada, has a website tracking hits on Twitter for the following words and phrases: Faggot (also includes fag), dyke, no homo, and so gay. The results are shocking, and a sign that many of us aren't thinking before we speak...or Tweet, as the case may be.
They've been tracking the occurrences of these terms since July 5th of 2012, and you can see the full results from that time until now. The site also provides a constant feed of the tweets containing those words. Some of the tweets are rather volatile and are obviously meant to hurt. The others, the casual tweets using the words and phrases, are a bit harder to read, because the people (including some within the LGBT community) are using the words without thinking of their impact upon others.
For example, since July 5th, 2012, the word 'faggot' has been tweeted over 25 and a half million times. Sure, some of those tweets were sent in fits of anger and hatred, but what about those that weren't meant that way?
And more so, what about the impact those words can have, regardless of your intent?
Do you use social media? (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
So what am I supposed to do?
Well, stop using those terms, for one. Be more aware of what you're saying. Ultimately, thinking before opening your mouth is the best step to take.
What you say can impact someone else, regardless of how innocuous your intent is. That doesn't mean you have to walk on eggshells around people and not speak your mind. But you also wouldn't casually say things like "That's so ni**er" either, would you? Just think before you speak.
And take into consideration things like social media. When you put something out there on Facebook or Twitter, it's out there for the world to see. And while your close circle of friends may not be offended by something you've said, you can't assume no one else will be offended.
Generally, if it's questionable, and you can't easily determine whether it's offensive or not, it's in your best interests to just keep it to yourself. You can have opinions and call people out on their B.S. and give people a hard time without offending an entire group of people in the process. It's not that difficult, I promise.
Say something when someone says 'that's so gay' or calls someone else a 'faggot' or a 'dyke', regardless of their intent.
Also, you can show your support for putting an end to casual homophobia by using the hashtag #NoHomophobes on Twitter.
Here's a few places to go to get more information on casual homophobia
- Think before you speak. Don't say "That's So Gay."
A project from GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network
Stonewall, an LGBT charity, and their effort to end homophobic language used in the UK
Homophobic language isn't always meant to be hurtful, but how often do we use it without thinking?