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Friday, August 19, 2005

Back to Sociology Class

Is it considered politically incorrect for straight people to use the term "gaydar." This one time at college I used the term in front of a gay man when recollecting how I was good at identifying who is gay and who isn't. I received in return a severe tongue lashing about the fact that only gay people have gaydar and that the heterosexual appropriation of the term is offensive. This was mind you, at Oberlin College where everybody is overly sensitive about at least five issues (speakouts were a regular part of our campus experience, not that any of us voted or anything). Since then, I have heard straight people throw the term around as if it's their own with nary a hint of doubt over the appropriateness of its usage.
People who engage in various discourses surrounding allocations of social power, discrimination and subjugation (go english major!) are always quick to point out the dangers of using a terms specific to historically marginalized groups. As a straight, white woman they would tell me that it's unacceptable to use the term gaydar no matter how clever it's application (as in, my gaydar is malfunctioning. i think it is burnt out from too much contact from gay boys over the weekend). But are they right?

Here are some questions to think about:
-By limiting the use of the term "gaydar" to gay people are we respecting their community and their history, or merely pandering to academic political correctness?
-What are some instances where lingo previously "owned" by marginalized subcultures have successfully and without much controversy been assimilated into the mainstream's lexicon?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm of the theory that if you can head out to Remmington's on Capitol Hill and have a damn fine time, you're perfectly able to use the term...

That being said, I feel like the term has lost its trendy-appeal... In my mind, it is now in the same catagory as "wicked" and "awesome." Fun to use for a spontaneous moment, but not a regular term-of-use.

- D.S.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Michael J. West said...

If you've got gaydar, call it gaydar. Jebus, it's a made-up word that's intended to be funny, and (unless it's actually copyrighted or something) a person or group of people really has to have a lot of nerve to claim proprietorship over a word.

As for minority lingo that has been easily absorbed into the mainstream, there's tons. Black jazz musicians of the 1940s began the trend of calling each other "man," and in fact Louis Armstrong invented the use of the word "chops" to describe someone's artistic abilities.

This is sorta a part of that "cultural imperialism" thing I was writing about last week, methinks. I feel like once a word or idea enters the atmosphere, it's up for grabs. If you don't want something to be appropriated, it should only be circulated privately, within the company who can acceptably use it. Use it in the public domain, and it BECOMES public domain.

Whew. That was a long comment.

2:22 PM  

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