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Suck on That

As if I didn’t know enough about heterosexual mating practices, I learned even more today when a man grabbed the woman he was walking with and shoved his tongue into her gaping mouth. It took me a moment to realize what I was witnessing. At first I assumed he wanted her gum, and the Dysonesque sucking sound seemed evidence of that.

I was also distracted by the age difference. She, a woman maybe 20 years old, was kissing and groping someone who could have played Pong while listening to Pablo Cruise on 8-track.

Had I not averted my eyes and ducked into the nearest building, I might have come to appreciate their bold celebration of love (or lust or whatever), the love that does not have to dare speak its own name because it can simply declare itself publicly and, uh, orally.

I honestly believe there’s nothing wrong with their behavior, but I’m a little jealous of their freedom of expression (or would that be freedom of assembly?). Some of you are thinking, Fine, kiss a dude in public if you want. Do it, get it over with, and stop whining. But come on–you surely know that context is everything. Outside the walls of a gay bar, even touching my partner’s shoulder would set off a yellow-level homophobic alert. A kiss would probably be declared a terrorist act, or more likely (and worse), it would be called pathetic, flaunting.

One thing it wouldn’t be called is “gay.” That term is reserved for ugly ties, malfunctioning computers, and other mundane stuff. To those inclined to say it, anything annoying, boring, frustrating, unwanted, etc., is “gay,” and if it’s particularly anxiety-producing, it’s “so gay.” This is not news to anyone who has worked or studied in an American school within the last decade, not that those are the geographic and temporal limits.

Nah, public displays of same-sex affection (or lust, or whatever) are not “gay” in that sense. But that hetero, spit swapping, doesn’t-lose-suction kiss surely was that kind of “gay,” at least for me. It was an annoying, unwanted, and briefly nauseous-making sight. “So gay,” indeed.

I love the irony, but I’m not going to let myself get comfortable with that language. For years, I’ve been challenging students’ use of this phrase and other similar phrases. I haven’t expected to eliminate it; that’s not really the point. Do you realize the impact of what you’re saying? That’s the point.

There’s a new ad campaign devoted to this cause. I’m skeptical that it will change much, and I suspect it will increase the use of the phrase as people make fun of the ads. But the effort is important and long overdue. Free expression is great, but when it’s used to say nothing of value, “shut up” is a fair request.

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2 Responses

  1. You and Lydia must be on the same wavelength. She only yesterday pointed out this ad campaign to me. First, she asked me if I had noticed the problem (the derogatory and misuse of the term “gay”). Then, she described the ad to me, and remarked that she thought it was a good idea but didn’t know if it would be entirely effective.

    So, your blog gives me the chance to see the ad and to consider it. I think it’s pretty well done, and, although like you I don’t know if if will change anything, it at least raises the issue with Duff’s demographic. And we have to raise the issue before change can happen.

    Now, if only a pop icon who appeals to adults would step up. I’m not kidding: Justin T, Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps. Could you imagine that?

  2. Dysonesque – brilliant word

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