I have zip zero nada no tolerance for name calling, especially when it’s discriminatory against a group of people so when a near-adult niece blithely repeated a that’s so gay comment, the kind of comment in which that’s so gay means that’s so stupid, something in me broke. Something in me broke away from my tethered position of remaining aloof and neutral in all things to do with some of my sisters because being anything but neutral with them unleashes dangerous levels of emotional toxicity and is not good for my well-being. And what broke in me wanted to take a stronger position because this niece is the daughter of a sister who has long made homophobic statements which I typically managed with humour because I thought it a higher road and I’m an adult who has no interest getting into pissing matches with anyone, especially some sisters.
I was goaded by the comment. Goaded, I said something — about the power of words, how the phrase is patently homophobic, even by people who claim my best friends are gay! and how hate and discrimination, including homophobia, start at home with words and how disappointing it is to hear that’s so gay from a near-adult relative.
My sister reacted. She told me there is nothing wrong with that’s so gay. Everybody says it. They’re just words, they don’t mean anything, so how could I be bothered? She also explained to me how that’s so gay only means that something’s stupid.
Right. I gave my head a shake which loosened a torrent of anger and hurt — gay means stupid? As in I’m stupid? Our brother’s stupid? My friends? The people I love and care about, and especially the one with her hand on my shoulder? We’re stupid?!
Inside, something more broke. I’ve been out to my family for a long time and this sister — not the brightest light on the family chandelier — has always been weird about it, making comments and saying, “but I don’t mean you.”
We were at an impasse, this sister and me. We might have reached this impasse over sociolinguistics, a debate over changing and morphing words, like gay for stupid or sick for good or murder for amazing but it was in truth symptomatic of larger issues. She only accepts me, hears me, when I agree with her and her worldview.
I shook my head and wandered through what was broken inside knowing that this sister doesn’t and hasn’t accepted anything about me unless it was money, a place to stay, child minding, or for me to take care of something for her. I decided — accepted — that what broke inside me about this sister was not worth putting back together, not worth fixing. So I took a deep breath, calmed my inner dragon, protective of me and my tribe and said calmly, “let me set something straight, or rather let me set something gay: with all due respect, when it comes to what is and is not homophobic, you don’t know what you’re talking about. And I’d like to know how words can have no meaning when you get upset over something D (one of our other sisters) said.”
It was risky. I took a stand. I wasn’t neutral and I didn’t use humour in pointing out insidious labelling of gay people as stupid. I drew a line in the sand, set boundaries between my sister and me. On the inside of my line are the wonderful, courageous, creative and brave and everyday gay people, along with people who are accepting of difference and humanity including all the homosexual people of the world who get slagged in thousands of horrific and horrid and middling mean ways every day, sometimes by family members.
The net result of me drawing that line is that she excommunicated from her life and I suspect that the consequences of my action have yet to fully unravel. I have a huge family and I am, regrettably, the oldest. What I know for sure is that if she has a fifth wedding — she just had her fourth — I won’t be invited. Maybe, in the spirit of things get better, it’s good to vanquish pretence from my life in the form of a sister who, among other things, believes I’m stupid and that’s so gay is okay to say.