It’s so gay!

23 01 2010

This is such a handy phrase – short, cutting, perfectly capturing the strong emotions it evokes while subtly implying that the speaker possesses infinitely superior judgement, sophistication and style than her unfortunate victim. (‘Her’ victim because “It’s so gay!” is so often the property of sophisticated teenaged or young women. No one else can quite achieve that tone of crushing disdain and the scornful delivery required by this, the ultimate put-down).

The phrase is popular though not new, and has traveled to this region along with the clothes, music, technology, accessories and everything else important in the pursuit of being cool. The interesting thing is however, that most of the It’s so gay! fraternity if reprimanded would indignantly chorus: “But I’m not homophobic! I have lots of gay friends…!”

Or: “It’s just a thing that we say. What you getting all worked up about?”

Sigh.

Anyone who doesn’t spend much time around young people and who has not yet experienced this phenomenon could visit one of Colombo’s high-end clothing stores, where a few moments of cruising around the men’s section (at the risk of being accused of being a pervert and/or gay), will almost certainly yield results. First you will hear a male voice ask hopefully: “Sonali, what d’you think of this shirt/shoe/tie/belt/sarong?

The reply will arrive after a moment of deliberation or in really dire instances – instantly: “Oh no, Ravi, – you can’t possibly wear that pink colour! It’s so gay!

After which Ravi will meekly retire to try his luck again with a more conventional colour/style/design of shirt/shoe/tie/belt/sarong. It’s as if in the great Sri Lankan drive towards universal conformity and general homophobia,“It’s so gay!” is now the official battlecry.

The identical conversation could also take place in the women’s section between Sonali and her best friend Kanthi, when they go shopping together. Each will successfully use the same phrase in order to dissuade the other from buying any item of clothing, jewellery or footwear that doesn’t meet with approval because “It’s so gay!” means it’s uncool, weird, cheesy, effeminate, kitschy or just plain Bad Taste.

Poor Kanthi. She will never get to buy that mad yellow floral tshirt she liked so much because it was too gay. And poor, poor Ravi. Long may he wish to stand out in the crowd wearing wild pinks, cool greens and fabulous flowers across his shirts and sarongs. Sonali will make sure this never happens, certain in the knowledge that pink will ensure the end of her boyfriend’s position as one of the most eligible bachelors around town, while making him vulnerable to the constant danger of appearing thus clad in one of Colombo’s society magazines. Because then, god forbid – everyone will think he’s gay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVicCD8FmMs

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6 responses

25 01 2010
hungover

Good points!

23 03 2010
Palmyrah

‘“It’s so gay!” means it’s uncool, weird, cheesy, effeminate, kitschy or just plain Bad Taste.’

Are you sure?

What if ‘it’s so gay!’ just means ‘it’s so gay’?

Straight or gay, male of female, rich or poor, all of us choose our clothes very, very carefully. This is true even of the person who dresses like a laundry-bag. It is true even of the cloddish middle-aged man whose wife chooses his clothes for him. It is true even of people who protest that they don’t care about clothes at all.

You don’t believe me? Next time you’re in a clothing store, pick out the most nondescriptly-dressed person and watch them shop. They’ll spend ten minutes fingering a garment you’d let drop the moment you picked it up, turning it over, holding it up against themselves, soliciting the opinion of their equally unprepossessingly turned-out companions and behaving more or less exactly as you do when you appraise potential additions to your own wardrobe.

What are we looking for when we look so carefully? Practical matters such as fit and fall aside, we’re looking for clothes that ‘suit us’. We rarely think to ask what ‘suiting us’ means, or if we do we content ourselves with superficial explanations like ‘matches my complexion’ or ‘makes me look taller’ or ‘not too slutty’. What we really mean, though, is ‘makes me look like the person I think I am/want people to think I am’.

Clothes are a medium of communication. Often they are a subliminal medium, conveying information from the unconscious mind of the wearer to the unconscious mind of the onlooker without any conscious intermediation whatsoever. And whether or not we can articulate these messages, we are all aware of them. So, when choosing clothes, we are really choosing the messages we send about ourselves to others.

Through our clothes, we send messages about our occupation, income, status, political orientation, religious allegiance, taste in music, level of commitment to social mores and to our jobs, and many other things besides. And of course, we send messages about our sexuality–that is one of the principal things about us our clothes are designed and chosen to communicate.

Well, now. If you’re queer, you know only too well that there’s a lot of prejudice against queer folk about. You are already aware that every queer person must make his or her personal decision on how much attention to draw to their queerness, and that the degree of attention depends to a considerable extent on the way they choose to dress. If you’re proud of being gay, or politically committed to it, or just too privileged and powerful to give a toss what other people think, you’ll choose clothes that flaunt it. If you’re more concerned with other aspects of your life than sexuality, you’ll probably downplay it. And if you’re still in the closet, you’ll try to hide it altogether.

Now consider a straight person who puts on, all unknowing, an item of clothing designed to show up clearly on the gaydar. He or she risks being taken for something they are not–and being, in consequence, exposed to all the negative consequences that come with being perceived as gay in our society, without enjoying any of the, er, compensatory benefits.

There is also the fear, widespread among heterosexual men particularly, that a member of their own sex might make a pass at them.

Not to mention the fear that interesting *women* will get entirely the wrong idea about them.

Straight people, understandably, want to avoid these perceived risks, so they don’t want to wear things that look gay. When in doubt, they turn to their shopping companion and ask, in tones darkened by the huskiness of doubt, ‘Sharmalee, what do you think of *this*?’

‘Ayyo, Jayantha, *it’s so gay!*’ comes the reply.

And so the garment goes back on the shelf, there to await the arrival of its intended owner–someone who is comfortable with the message it sends. Presumably, someone gay. And that’s really all there is to it.

23 03 2010
Vak

You obviously feel very strongly about this. I think your point about the way we choose our clothes is valid. For me, the point of this post was not specifically on our clothes, but on the perceptions that are embedded in the language we use. For eg. 19c Europeans visitors to our country wrote that SInhalese men were effeminate because they wore hair long and their features were not particularly masculine. It didn’t mean that the men were actually effeminate. It was their perception of people about whom they didn’t have much awareness or exposure to.
I have heard ‘it’s so gay’ used in contexts where it is not about clothes but about behaviour that is not necessarily queer-related but behaviour the person doesn’t like. I think you would agree that if it is used in a sense that is derogatory or contemptuous, then there is an element of homophobia in such usage.

24 03 2010
Palmyrah

‘You obviously feel very strongly about this.’

Not so much, Vak. I do think people could spare themselves a lot of distress if they looked at behaviour from an ethological rather than a political perspective. My intended purpose is to bring insight and comfort, not blow off steam.

23 03 2010
varad

“There is also the fear, widespread among heterosexual men particularly, that a member of their own sex might make a pass at them.” – love this line! if only they were so lucky – the straight men i mean. most men love the ego boost, some even respond. Did you know that in Sri Lanka around 14% of young men have had some homosexual experience in their young lives? this does not mean they are gay…just men who have sex with men.

24 03 2010
Palmyrah

Speaking as a straight man with considerable experience of the subject, I can assure Varad that most of us would be anything but flattered if another man made a pass at us. Some of us are, of course. The fourteen-percent statistic does not surprise me; actually, it is rather low, given that the incidence of male preferential homosexuality is already about ten percent.

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