First off, I finally did it. I finally overcame my absolute refusal to join in the tumblr fun because my usual handle @rockstoff was taken. So here I am. Thanks to being grown up. And thanks to Troye Sivan. The link to my tumblr is in the menu.
I’ve just been thrown a piece by the social feed on my htc one x (one of its very few redeeming qualities) written by Will Young in the Guardian (http://gu.com/p/3kjty). It’s about how the word “gay” has to stop being used as a synonym for “crap” because it’s damaging to those who are gay.
I should declare at this point that I am in agreement, at least with the part about how damaging it can be to those who are gay. The negative connotations around the word are in some cases enough to have a bad effect but in other cases just the negativity around the word can lead to a whole wave of victimisation and bullying which in real terms have nothing to do with words and everything to do with people’s insecurities.
But are attempts to control the use of certain words merely futile? History teaches us that attempts to control language in the past (typically linked to power and rule) have ultimately failed. The Norman conquest of Britain being a fine example – where French became the de jure official language. In the end English became a melting pot of words of many origins, including French. Britain has also long been a melting pot of cultures and immigration, which have brought new words and meanings to the language we commonly use. As the British Empire expanded we brought that language to the rest of the world, and it has adapted itself to the cultures of the people it serves. It’s why there are so many different versions of English in the spell checker!
A more contemporary example of attempts to forcibly change language use would be to look at some of the words used in English to describe people in terms of race or skin colour. This has been and still is a sensitive issue to some people which in itself makes the argument that this battle can never be won; we are all individuals and no one solution is going to please everybody.
But if I was to highlight the word “coloured”- many young people today have been brought up to know of this as a historical term, and one which is interpreted somewhat pejoritively. I would guess that this is even how most people of any age would feel about this word, having been told that the proper or politically-correct term would be “black” or “African-American” to describe a person whose skin pigmentation was of a certain darkness. And yet I also know from speaking with certain individuals in my role as an Equality Rep that there are people out there from a particular generation who self identify as “coloured” and would abhor referring to themselves differently.
So there was born a movement. A movement away from referring to people as “coloured” and towards other terms seen as more politically correct. Why is this argument not being repeated in the same way today? Why are “gay” people not looking to run miles from a word which has become synonymous with “crap”?
Perhaps to begin to answer this we need to look at those who used the words first. Maybe “coloured” is a word given to common English by the ruling white people of the past. Conversely it could be that “gay” was a word chosen by the homosexual community as a way of self-identifying as attitudes towards homosexuality became increasingly accepting. This is perhaps why one group fights to protect the use of their adjective whilst the other group on the whole was happy to shed it.
In any case it’s irrelevant. The real issue here is the damning legacy of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act. This was finally repealed in 2003 but to this day many schools shuffle awkwardly when it comes to homosexuality, or sexuality in general for that matter. The education system of the nation is broken. We don’t nurture kids – we don’t nourish them with the real facts of life – nobody teaches them about the risk of impairing your credit rating by going to payday lenders or employment law and how to stand up for yourself in the workplace.
But mostly we don’t embrace diversity in schools. Left unchecked kids have the capacity to be evil, as they all clamour for a social standing among peers. There are no equality champions in schools and when young people are at an impressionable moment in their lives, where they begin to really develop a conscience and begin to question the world and think for themselves, they should have access to all the real facts of life and be encouraged to embrace difference.
Whoever promised me this in their election manifesto would get my vote anyway.