It’s National Coming Out Day (which Jacques and I celebrated as our anniversary). This year: check out Alison Bechdel’s tribute to Life in Hell, a mock Akbar and Jeff number with an instance of what I think of as “celebratory” gay:

I meant gay as in exquisite, enlightened, droll, sublime and potent.

A very abbreviated history of the stages of the word’s history that are relevant here, which begins with the introduction of gay ‘homosexual’.  So: (a) reference to sexual orientation (‘homosexual’); then (b) such reference colored by disdain for homosexuality, up to: (c) a slur based on such reference (‘bad / ineffectual / etc. because homosexual’); then (d) a generalized slur bleached of the reference to sexual orientation (‘bad, lame’). We then have an ambiguity at stage (a), with “old” gay ‘light-hearted, carefree’; vs. gay ‘homosexual’. Old gay becomes “old-fashioned” gay (which younger speakers use only in some fixed expressions, like Gay Nineties), and we have gay ‘homosexual’ vs. “new” gay (very roughly) ‘bad’ (sometimes seen as “ironic”) as the main ambiguity at stage (d).

“Homophobia is so gay” t-shirts and posters (HomophobiaIsSoGay.jpg) are wry plays on the stage (d) ambiguity:

Earnest critiques of new gay appear, as in the “Think B4 You Speak” campaign:

The Think Before You Speak campaign is a television, radio, and magazine advertising campaign launched in 2008 and developed to raise awareness of the common use of derogatory vocabulary among youth towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people. It also aims to “raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBTQ bias and behaviour in America’s schools.” As LGBTQ people have become more accepted in the mainstream culture more studies have confirmed that they are one of the most targeted groups for harassment and bullying.

… The campaign was created by the New York office of the Arnold Agency, part of the Arnold Worldwide Partners unit of Havas, and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The campaign is the Advertising Council’s first LGBT awareness campaign and is trying to achieve an ending to the use of what they consider offensive phrases such as “that’s so gay”. Television commercials for the campaign include singer Hilary Duff as well as comedian Wanda Sykes.

This critique is not without its own critics, dubious about the effectiveness of the campaign — in particular in the Penny Arcade webcomic thoughtfully examined by Mark Liberman on Language Log back in 2009 (a posting that picked up 153 comments!).

Then there’s Pete Wentz opposing both generalized-disparagement gay and generalized-disparagement fag, here.

But back to the beginning of the meaning chain: celebratory gay takes off from stage (a) of the word’s history, with its reference colored by strongly positive attitudes towards homosexuality. Entirely suitable for NCOD.


One Response to “NCOD”

  1. NCOD 2013 | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 2011, with a Keith Haring poster. And from 2012, with a discussion of various senses of […]

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