Wednesday, 14 January 2009

You Gay Spacker Chav!

If you work with teenagers, you hear the title of this post, and variants of it, a lot. Language changes. Words shift in meaning. There are no young romany homosexuals with cebebral palsy at any of the schools I have visited. 'spacker' means a stupid or incompetent person. 'gay' refers to general worthlessness. 'chav' means tacky and low class. I can cope with wicked meaning both morally bad and cool. I can cope with cool meaning both impressively hip and cold. I can cope with get the idea.
And to be honest, I grew up with a generation that thrust its tongue over its teeth into its lower lip and flailed its arms erratically to denote stupidity. I do it involuntarily. the other day I crashed a supermarket trolley into a bollard and suddenly, I'm making the "spacker face"- to nobody! It was just my immediate, self deprecatory reaction! It's not big or clever, no. But it doesn't mean I'm not cool with people with cerebral palsy. I am. It just means I have a bad habit, which I learned when I was about 5.
As for chav, I am reliably informed that it is a Romany word for young person, so chav, like 'Pikey' as an insult is basically calling someone a 'dirty gypsy', a la Enid Blyton at her best. I don't think it's cool to do this, for preference I prefer the term 'Kevs' for what most people call chavs (maybe that's more classist than racist, but there you go). However, chav is universal now, and I use it. And I do like Moon Chavs by Jay Foreman, despite the fact that it advocates wiping a social/racial group from the face of the earth, because it's funny.
So why do I get all up in arms every time I hear 'that's so gay' and variants? Gay used to mean cheerful, fun or brightly coloured - for a while, it was a euphemism for prostitution ('gay girls' was like 'loose women' in Victorian times) - and eventually it came to mean anyone not straight, including trans and bi people. Then it narrowed down to gay men, sometimes including lesbians dependant on context. Then, like spacker and chav, casual bigotry made it an insult.
So, am I just a hypocrite, offended by 'gay' because I am gay, and willing to let 'spacker' and 'chav' slide, because I'm not.... a spacker chav?
This is the issue. If i had cerebral palsy or was a gypsy, I'd say 'I have cerebral palsy' or I'm a gypsy'. I MIGHT call myself a crip, or a spacker, or a chav, or a pikey, same as I call myself a dyke or a lezzer sometimes: in a joking, reclamatory context. If I say 'I'm gay', I'm not reclaiming. I'm using the RIGHT SODDING WORD! If you want to be homophobic, fine, but use slang. There's a wealth of it out there. Apart from homo, queer, fag, faggot, battyman, dyke, lezzer, lesbo, rugmuncher, cocksucker, arsebandit, fudgepacker, lettucelicker, jessie, etc etc, there are the more subtle ones like bugger, and saying that something sucks (I'm assuming this is originally short for 'sucks dick', thus handily insulting sexually active gay men AND sexually active straight women. Yay!)

Bigotry isn't cool. But telling someone they can't use a word MAKES it cool. You think we weren't told not to mock people with cerebral palsy? We were. Daily. It just added to the power of words like 'spazz' and 'spacker'. Being wildly inappropriate and in bad taste is one of my greatest pleasures, smug in the knowledge that I'm being ironic and that really I know better. but gay... sorry. That's taken. It means gay.



  1. Rich in Columbus, Ohio25 April 2010 at 21:40

    Hello, Work Geek!

    I love words too. Honestly.

    I don't know that you're being hypocritical so much as suggesting that what's good for the goose is NOT good for the gander. that I think about it, maybe that's the definition of hypocrisy.

    I could say, "sorry, that's taken"; it still means carefree, cheerful, fun or brightly coloured.

    So, yes you HAVE re-claimed it. And that's okay, but...

    If kids want to re-claim it again to mean "generally worthless", or stupid, or lame, I think they have as much right to it as those who re-appropriated it in the first place.

    Homosexual men decided to apply the word to themselves because they think of themselves as carefree, colorful and fun-loving. Fine. But the kids who use 'gay' to mean 'lame' do so because, from their perspective, it is.

    What would happen if heteros one day decided that the word 'happy' now means 'heterosexual'? That wouldn't go over to well, would it? Everyone who liked to use that word to mean 'joyful' would be a bit put-off.

    What goes around...

  2. Hi there Rich, welcome...

    That's some interesting perspectives you've got there.

    "Homosexual men decided to apply the word to themselves because they think of themselves as carefree, colorful and fun-loving.

    Interesting theory. Actually, the etymology of the word gay as in 'homosexual' is less clear than that. Because men who have sex with men and men - and women who have sex for money were afforded a similar social and legal status in the Victorian era, they were seen as roughly the same group - ie sexual deviants, and the word gay as applied to prostitutes - as in 'good time girls', perhaps, spread to include the alternative sexualities. There are also rumours that the word was not invented, but reclaimed in a more specific to homosexuality context, by attaching to it the 'backronym' Good As You.
    I don't believe it was a case of going. 'gosh let'th call ourthelveth GAY, it'll be THOOPAH!'

    "But the kids who use 'gay' to mean 'lame' do so because, from their perspective, it is."

    And, in my opinion, they need re-education regarding what's appropriate in society. Would you sit back and defend a child's right to the phrase 'filthy arab' (still occasionally used in my neck of the woods to denote anyone with poor hygiene) because from their perspective, middle eastern people are dirty? I, personally, would challenge it.

    Last point. Do you REALLY use gay to mean happy? I mean, REALLY? Homosexual is problematic because it refers specifically to the 'mental illness' of male-male sexual attraction.
    Personally, I prefer 'queer', but gay IS the least contentious term out there today.