What’s in a word? Stereotypes, for one…

Sunyani Goes Gay as Mills Cuts Sod for Construction of New Varsity

okay…so, sometime back, I would not have paused to look at this headline twice. Why? because when I was growing up, the word ‘gay’ only meant ‘happy’. Of course, blame that on a near absence of homosexuality from the vocabulary I was exposed to growing up – which was a definitely a bad thing.

Now, though, when I use/hear the word ‘gay‘, it almost always refers to homosexuality. So when I read part of the headline above, my immediate reaction was to click on the link and then smile at the probably naive person who came up with the headline. The next moment though, I wondered, why did it catch my attention? why did I think it is naive of him? The author probably just used a word he was comfortable with; or he might just not care what the word ‘gay’ has now come to mean in popular parlance.

And that led me to think of how often I find around me, men who seem to be hyper-aware/cautious of being labelled ‘gay’. This reflects in the part-mocking/part-horrified way in which some of my friends speak of having seen grown men holding hands as they talk or walk. Yes, I speak as an Indian and Indians get made fun of in this manner quite often. So do Ghanaians, from what I have heard around me here. Of course, often, the ‘holding hands’ bit is an exaggeration – driven by their own prejudice of how awkward it is to be seen ‘touching’ another man – and usually is a description from just a snapshot. Many amongst those who comment likewise, are all for equality otherwise. But if I (mistakenly or otherwise) touched one of them for a second longer than what is ‘considered proper’ while shaking their hand or patting their back, I would almost surely feel a jerky reaction from the other person pulling his hand off and/or moving clear off me. And that would be considered normal.    

My bigger point is this – it’s great that more and more people seem enlightened and are willing to fight prejudices against homosexuality and rally against any discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, how real is this enlightenment if we continue to be hyper-aware/cautious of being misunderstood as being ‘gay’ in our daily lives. If being homosexual is normal, why would I care if someone saw me giving another man an affectionate hug or spotted me touching someone’s hand or whatever! and labelled or speculated about me being ‘gay’? If I did care, I am being fake. My activism is reserved for ‘them’, and doesn’t translate into an attitude that has altered in ‘me’.

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