Earlier this week, the Gay Star News released a story about a 15-year-old Massachusetts student who made an unwanted discovery on her MacBook: an Apple Dictionary entry that defined "gay" as "foolish; stupid."
Becca Gorman, the student and daughter of two lesbians, wrote to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and gay icon, requesting that he erase the definition. Apple, wisely, demurred, choosing instead to add the label "informal, often offensive" to the entry in question.
While I can definitely sympathize with this young woman, who doubtless had the best intentions at heart, I emphatically agree with Apple's decision. Erasing a definition is not going to end gay bashing. Words have power. They have history. Whitewashing that history will not contribute to solving the problem of homophobia. In fact, it perpetuates it.
This impulse likely stems from those who desire to censor Huckleberry Finn because Mark Twain (powerfully) employs the word "nigger." (God forbid that young minds are spoiled by the knowledge that, you know, slavery happened.) Unfortunately, racism still exists. So does gay bashing. Trying to hide it (this teenage girl is certainly not the only one who would like to see the definition gone) speaks to the same "post-racial" mentality that suggests that discrimination belongs in the past, if only we could just forget about it.
Unfortunately, gay bashing is not a matter of the past. It is a concern of the present, as I well know. Furthermore, the word "gay" is used as an insult of the present — and a unique one at that. Slurs like "kike," "chink," "wetback," "nigger" (all demarcated by the "offensive" tag in Apple Dictionary, btw) create distinctions. These epithets differ from the standard, inoffensive terms ("Jewish," "Asian," "Chicano," "black") that they replace.
But "gay" as an insult is unusual. "Gay" as an insult says, "I could call you a 'fag,' but your very identity works just fine." "Gay" as an insult would see gay people relive associations of disgust and self-loathing every time they hear the word.
People often ask me why coming out is so difficult. For me, telling people "I like men" was never particularly hard at all. But to actually articulate the words "I am gay" was another matter. It's impossible to decouple the feelings of shame that the word has become drenched in. It is laden with connotations of lameness, of freakishness, of disappointment. I feel "foolish; stupid."
I want people to know that. I want people to know that "gay" means (Apple Definition 1) "homosexual." And I want people to know that the use of Apple Definition 3 is offensive. You don't get to forget the nasty backstory of a word because you'd rather not think about it, pretending that the gay experience is all "lighthearted and carefree" (Apple Definition 2).