[ 3 min read ]
My son is 12. I remember that around the age of 8 (maybe even 7) he and his colleagues (other boys) started making jokes about gays. I’m pretty certain that at least 99% of them didn’t even know what the word meant in adult language, but it didn’t bother them. Neither did it stop them from making those jokes.
The idea was, of course (taking into account our human nature) to ridicule and persecute certain people. People who are different. People who stand out. People who are not “normal”.
What was different about gay people those young boys didn’t know, or didn’t know exactly. What they did know was that calling someone ‘a gay’, a ‘faggot’ or a ‘fag’ was a way of making fun of that person, or, a little bit later, also to stigmatize him — as someone weird, not normal, flawed, broken.
I even found out that in teen slang the word means “bad, inferior, undesirable,” without reference to sexuality (after Online Etymology Dictionary), which makes sense if you consider that pre-teens start using this word before they actually know what it means in adult world (that’s how it was in my son’s case). Which means that the word means something else to pre-teens and teens then it does to adults. It’s the same word but it bears different meanings to different groups of people.
Does it matter that pre-teens and teens have gotten it all wrong and they use a certain word not the way it should be used? Not at all. At least I don’t think so. A different meaning of that word developed (naturally, I guess), and both meanings are equally correct.
If we as adults denied a certain group (young people) the freedom to develop / change the meaning of certain words, it would mean that neither they nor we can develop our own definitions (in adulthood), and it would hit us hard. Why should I (or anybody else) accept as my own certain dumb definitions that dominate in the society? Why should I let the society impose certain dumb definitions on me? Why should I not have the freedom to develop my own definitions, if that’s what would make my life better? The definition of ‘success’ being probably the most crucial of them all.
They (my son and his colleagues) used this word which had come to us from the English language, but nobody told them that a ‘gay person’ can also be a woman. So they assumed (like most adults in this country) that the word ‘gay’ refers only to men. That’s where both meanings definitelly overlap (the one pre-teens and teens and the one adults use in this country). Or, perhaps, we had taken that word from the English language and someone decided that here it will be used only with reference to men. Why, I have no bloody idea. One explanation could be that it was used differently in the past in native English speaking countries, then it evolved, and we failed to update our dictionaries, or we updated some dictionaries (definitely not all of them), but the majority of people living in this country didn’t catch up, because they are used to the meaning someone once offered them and assume that it’s unalterable, and they wouldn’t even bother looking it up again in a dictionary.