Why Words Matter By Lisa Bullock

“You are so GAY!” A person younger and hipper than me once said to me at work, when I was being particularly difficult one day. I have a feeling I was being dismissive about Friends, or Greys Anatomy or Skins or fidget spinners or Fortnite, or dabbing, or some other cultural landmark of which I am totally clueless, because I spend all my time watching old episodes of ER and imagining it is still 1996, instead of accepting that it is almost 2020 and I am knocking on a bit.

 

I digress. The colleague didn’t man to actually offer a statement on my sexuality. What they meant to do, is imply that I was a bit useless, unknowing, hopeless, stupid, yada yada. Instead of just saying that, they chose to use the word gay. I should have challenged them on it. I don’t believe for one moment that this person was a homophobe – but they were entirely guilty perpetuating inequality by misusing language.

 

“Oh come ON! All the kids were saying that 5 years ago…does it really matter? They don’t really mean gay people are bad! Oh my GOD lighten UP!

Well, actually, it does matter.

When you use language to negatively ascribe traits, you are cementing the idea that being gay means you are less than, wanting – unequal. In the same way that I regularly hear both men and women saying “stop being such a girl” when trying to say someone is weak, shy, scared, pedantic, bitchy or any other number of negative personality traits, these connotations seep into our collective cultural brains, and are dangerous for the body of people the words themselves represent.

How can we hope to create a more equal society when we chose to deliberately use words as a catch all for things we view as bad?

 

In a week where the language of our ruling classes and those who seek to make and administer laws which govern every facet of our lives has reached a terrifying nadir of spiteful carelessness, I’ve thought so much more about the language I use on a daily basis, and how those words might feel to someone.

We can use language to love, to be kind, to thrill, and most importantly, to help others understand us, and what we mean.

Language is powerful, and deserves respect.

Misusing that power can lead us down dangerous paths – we’ve seen that in our not very distant past, and it is not an exaggeration to say that humans have died as a result. In a world where it is increasingly easy to be heard through social media, comment and demonstration, use your voice but please, mind your language.