That’s so gay

(Somewhat out of the expected order of postings, so that I can get this out on Pride Day itself — or Priday, as I’ve taken to calling it. This is another posting inspired by randomly selected tracks that have popped up on my iTunes.)

This time it was Pansy Division’s “He Whipped My Ass in Tennis, Then I F****d His Ass in Bed” (as iTunes prudishly insists on printing it; ass-whipping ok in print, ass-fucking not). Which then led me to the Pansies’ most recent album, “That’s So Gay” (2009).

But first a bit of academic play with the word pansy (from the Middle French pensée ‘a thought’):

(The OED draft revision of June 2010 has “frequently derogatory” pansy ‘a male homosexual, an effeminate man, a weakling’ with cites from 1926, in the first sense, through 2003, in the third. The name of the flower goes back to about 1450.)

The title (also refrain) of the ass-whipping song pretty much says it all. The gay punk rock band Pansy Division is sweetly celebratory, defiant, fearlessly in-your-face sexual, and often “political” as well. As founder Jon Ginoli explains in his recent book (deflowered: my life in Pansy Division, 2009) and in the documentary Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band (also 2009), he started by writing and singing the sorts of music he wished had been available to him as a teenager.

So they sing bouncily about ass-fucking (in many songs, starting with the track “Anthem” from their first album, Undressed, with its memorable chorus beginning, “We’re the buttfuckers of rock & roll / We want to sock it to your hole”) and gay cowboys (in a cover of “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other)”), bemoan the rocky places of gay male life (crabs, lack of reciprocation in sex), don’t shy away from AIDS, and do their noisy best to reclaim the epithets and mock the stereotypes by flaunting them, as in their re-working of  “Colored Spade” (from Hair), “C.S.F.” (“Cock Sucking Faggot”). The black model:

I’m a
Colored spade
A nigra
A black nigger
A jungle bunny
Jigaboo coon
Pickaninny mau mau

Uncle Tom
Aunt Jemima
Little Black Sambo

Cotton pickin’
Swamp guinea
Junk man
Shoeshine boy

Elevator operator
Table cleaner at Horn & Hardart
Slave voodoo
Ubangi lipped

Flat nose
Tap dancin’
Resident of Harlem

And president of
The United States of Love
President of
The United States of Love

(and if you ask this man to dinner you’re gonna have to feed him:)

Hominy grits
An’ shortnin’ bread
Alligator ribs
Some pig tails
Some black eyed peas
Some chili
Some collard greens

And if you don’t watch out
This boogie man will get you

P.D.’s version (from Pile Up):

I’m a cocksucking faggot, a flaming faggot
A fuck bunny, fruitcake, cum superdeli, homo
Uncle Walt, Auntie Mame, little sissy pansy
Fudge-packing butt pirate, drag queen, hairdresser
Interior decorator, pervert, pornographer
Sodomite, sex fiend, mincing, limpy-wrist
Scat-nosed poof prince, a resident of Castro
And president of the united states of love
Said president of the united states of love

If you ask me to dinner you’d better feed me
Honeydew, penne pasta, goat cheese, herbal tea
Some Perrier (so you say), some quiche lorraine (so you say)
Focaccia (so you say), radicchio (so you say)
If you don’t watch out this bogeyman will get you
Ooooooooh, yeah
Ooooooooh, yeah
So you say!

But that was the past. On to 2009, with two things of lexicographic and sociolinguistic interest (lyrics as in the album booklet):

Some of My Best Friends
[“the first original Pansy Division song written by a hetero!” – words and music by Joel Reader]

I can’t believe you or I can’t believe my ears
Did I just hear you ask, “What’s up with all these queers?”
You should watch your mouth
This is not the south and
You never know who’ll overhear

Some of my best friends are those guys who make you sick
Some of my best friends like to suck dick
“So what if they do” is not your point of view
So, one of my best friends won’t be you

I may not be gay but I know this much is true
I’d rather fuck an asshole than be one just like you
This is not a threat
Or at least not yet
You’d better watch your ass around straight people too

That’s So Gay
[words and music by Chris Freeman]

I heard what you said, I’m not stupid you know
What do you take me for, hetero?
The next time you say it make sure I can’t hear
‘cause you’re pissing me off, is that clear?

What’d he say?
He said, “That’s so gay”
And if you say it again
There’ll be hell to pay
I’ll show you what it’s like to be gay

I heard what you said, just a figure of speech
If you meant nothing by it, practice what you preach
The next time you say it you’d better think twice
Some pissed off faggot may not take it too nice

I heard what you said, I’m not stupid you know
What do you take me for? Breeder …
The next time you say it, make sure I can’t hear
’cause you’re pissing me off and you’re not even queer

The first angrily bridles at the expression “all these queers” by inverting the customary use of the formula “Some of my best friends are …” (usually followed by “but …” and intended to provide cover for derogation of “those people”). Here the singer really means it.

The second is a little lesson in how you can’t assume that the innovative use of gay to mean ‘lame, stupid, etc.’ — an all-purpose put-down — will always be understood as having been bleached of its reference to homosexuality, leaving only its derogatory affect. Some pissed-off faggot might just not get it.

(I’ve been very modestly gay for this Priday, in my beautiful fag-lavender polo shirt, with my wedding-equivalent black hematite ring on a silver chain around my neck, watching SF Pride on my computer with my daughter — Pridays tend to be be family events, in several senses — while we sorted through boxes of Xmas decorations packed away 25 years ago, when her mother, my wife, died, and not opened since, an exercise that turned out to be much less sad than we had feared, but instead left us with a feeling of accomplishment at having finished clearing out an entire closet, leaving us each with only a few mementos. Not to mention relief that there was absolutely no water or rodent damage, so that the task wasn’t disgusting.)

6 Responses to “That’s so gay”

  1. Serene Says:

    You just equated “lame” with “bad”. This is as not-cool to me and my fellow disability-rights advocates as is equating “gay” with “bad”. Just so you know.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    No, Serene, I didn’t equate lame with bad; I reported on the near-synonymy (and similarity in tone) of innovative gay and slang lame. Glossing innovative gay isn’t easy: ‘bad’ and ‘unpleasant’ and ‘unacceptable’ are very poor glosses on purely semantic grounds, and the other candidates that young people routinely suggest in their place — ‘retarded’, ‘dumb’, and ‘lame’ — all use words that are as open to objection in their own way as innovative gay is, though they do convey the tone pretty well.

    The root problem is that the concept referred to by these words is very (sub)culturally specific and has no straightforward counterpart (with accompanying label) in the larger culture; when confronted with the task of defining words like gay, lame, retarded, etc. in their slang senses, people tend to fall back on telling stories illustrating the usages. It’s sort of like slang dick: in its anatomical sense, there are non-slang glosses, but the sense in “He’s a real dick” is very hard to convey accurately with neutral vocabulary. Evaluative terms (and the concepts they convey) are like that.

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