Note: For FAQs with stars beside them, I propose a little challenge to you… think about the answer before you read it.
*** Why is it not okay to use words like ‘gay’, ‘retarded’, or ‘lame’ in place of negative descriptors?
Using these words (just to name a few) is equivalent to saying that people who personally identify, or whom society identifies, as falling into that group are also negative. Very simply, when you say something like “this bad situation is so gay”, you are equating gay to bad.
The other day, when I explained this to someone, she actually replied with “but I’m not talking about gay as in homosexuality, I’m talking about the different use of the word”. Nope, not acceptable. A statement like that oozes of privilege; of someone who has never been forced to face the dehumanization of oppression. And yes, I’ve spoken with many gay people who use the word “gay” and see it as a word that transcends its original meaning. However, there are others that don’t see the word in this way, and who would be hurt by its use. Why take take the risk of offending/alienating/oppressing another human being simply because you’re too lazy to think of another, more appropriate word?
*** What should I say to make someone stop saying these derogatory slang words?
I don’t pretend to be an expert on this; in fact, I’d love to hear your opinions on what to say when a stranger or friend (often especially hard to confront) uses derogatory slang. Here are some ideas. For all the options below, make sure eye contact is involved.
“It makes me very uncomfortable when you use the word ______ as a synonym for something bad.”
“I really don’t like it when people use that word like that.”
“I really don’t like that word, please find something else.”