'That’s so gay'
Why has it become acceptable to use the word ‘gay’ in a negative way? Dad Nic Borain objects.
"That's so gay, man!" Steven says to 14-year-old Jessie, about his new, ready-for-school haircut.

Jessie glances across at me at where I sitting tapping listlessly at the computer.

He knows what is coming, but is hoping it won't be as embarrassing as usual.

The two school friends are sitting across from me in the communal study in our home. I am hunched over my laptop trying to chase the holiday fug from my brain.

Jessie and his friend Steven are playing 'Zombies and Plants' on the mother's computer because the relentless Cape Town Southeaster is tearing the world apart outside and "there's nothing to do!"

"What's so gay, Steven?" I ask, without appearing to stop what I am doing, although I was, in fact, marking time.

"Jessie's haircut, it makes him look ... " Steven seems to search for a word, "so gay, man".

I stop typing, but leave my hands poised over the keyboard. I take a long time before I continue; long enough to cause Steven's eyes to begin to flick between my face and my son's.

It’s starting to dawn on him that Jessie's pained expression and my blank unfocused look might presage some new and perhaps gloomier terrain in the Borain household than anything he has, up until now, traversed.

"What's wrong?" he says, still looking between my son and me.

"In what way," I ask in my most clipped and tight-lipped tones, "is Jessie's haircut, as you put it, 'gay'?"

"It just looks a bit stupid ... it makes him look ... young," Steven says, gamely forging ahead.

"Leaving aside that he, like yourself, is only 14 years old and therefore looking 'young' is not entirely inappropriate, the issue I have with your statement, and with similar statements I hear every day from people younger than about 23, is most of you seem to casually use the word 'gay' as a pejorative. Since when is being gay the same as being 'stupid', 'ugly', 'unpopular' or, as in this case: 'young'?"

"Excuse me?" Steven said, his face screwed up with perplexity.

"Your parents' best friends, Stefaan and Marius? Gay." I state, beginning to tick things off on my hand. "Your aunt Pippa. Gay. David and Felix? Gay. At least two excellent teachers at your school, teachers I know you and Jessie like, teachers I know have helped you particularly Steven ...."

"I was just joking!" he attempts to interrupt, but I hold up my hands and continue.

"This fashion of you and your friends using 'gay' as some vague reference to everything negative is hurtful, stupid, uncreative and, ultimately, a kind of bullying."

"Sheesh!" Steven says, looking for support in Jessie's pained face, "It's just the way we talk. Everyone says 'gay'."

"Not everyone," I said "When I was your age most kids used the 'K' word and most adults I knew thought Apartheid was normal and natural.

"There are places in this country where the corrective rape of lesbians is normal and gay bashing is justified. One day, when you are my age, someone your age will look across at you and wonder what you were saying about that ..."
"Let's go and explore Platteklip Gorge," Jessie says, grabbing Steven's arm.

"It's a howling black Southeaster out there!"

Jessie pauses in pulling Steven towards the door.

"And in here?" he asks.

"Yeah, you're right", Steven says as they exit with a wary glance backwards.

I turn back to the computer.

Read more by Nic Borain

How do you explain to teenagers which slang words are unacceptable? And is it up to you to correct your child’s friends?

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