Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marriage Is So Gay

There has recently been some controversy over a lesbian couple who took their children to Dollywood's water amusement part Splash Country. One of the mothers was asked to turn her t-shirt inside out because it said "Marriage is so gay" on it. A lesbian couple who was entering the park with friends were asked to make the change by a worker who said the phrase "Marriage is so gay" might offend some patrons and that it is a "family park." The couple obliged the employee, then registered a complaint with Dollywood. Dollywood has received a lot of flack over this issue. There are a few observations that I would like to make on this subject.

First of all, Dolly Parton who is the co-owner of Dollywood has been outspoken in the past about gay rights and gay marriage. Dolly has a rather large gay fan base. I for one have always been a big fan of Dolly Parton. In a 2009 interview with Joy Behar, Dolly stated her views on gay rights and gay marriage. See the video below:

Dolly is certainly not the conservative county music star that most of us see and hear about. Dolly seems more socially liberal than conservative. When asked by Bill O’Reilly if she was a conservative she told him “Not really, I’m more patriotic than political.” Dolly’s fan base covers a large range -she has both straight fans and gay fans. She has said, “I think it’s great when people accept themselves for exactly who they are and accept other people. I think that’s the key to happiness and success. It doesn’t matter who you are, as long as you do that really good. We’re all God’s children. He loves us all the same. We have to learn to love each other and ourselves a little better.”

Dolly Parton has responded to the gay marriage T-shirt controversy. Earlier this month, Dollywood front gate attendants asked Olivier Odom to turn her "marriage is so gay" shirt inside out for violating the park's dress code. Parton issued the following statement to ABC on Friday:

"I am truly sorry for the hurt or embarrassment regarding the gay and lesbian t-shirt incident at Dollywood's Splash Country recently. Everyone knows of my personal support of the gay and lesbian community. Dollywood is a family park and all families are welcome," she wrote to ABC. ABC reports that Parton's statement went on to explain that the dress code rules are enforced to protect the person wearing the shirt and keep park disturbances to a minimum.  Parton concludes in writing, "I am looking further into the incident and hope and believe it was more policy than insensitivity. I am very sorry it happened at all."  As a bit of a side note, Dollywood has gay days similar to those at the Disney Theme Parks (at least they were doing so a few years ago, I'm not sure if they still do or not).

I have been to Dollywood several times when I was younger. We used to go to the mountains (that would be the Great Smokey Mountains for my family) about every other summer. Dollywood is on the East Tennessee side of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. It was always a fun place to go, but make no mistake, it was a bit of a redneck heaven. It is in East Tennessee, Pigeon Forge to be exact, which is a bit of a country music paradise. Not all of the people there are rednecks but there are quite a number who are, some are just good country folk. The thing is, you know what kind of place you are going. I personally would not have worn a gay rights t-shirt, but then that's me. I am not one to wear something as a political statement or wear something just to be noticed. That being said, the amusement park has stated that they asked the woman to turn her shirt inside-out because of their dress code. I don't think the park was making any sort of statement against gay marriage. The printing on the shirt highlighted the words "so gay" in a way that made it look derogatory. A kid would likely not understand the play on words. Business Week reported that the couple, Jennifer Tipton and Olivier Odom, said they objected to the employee stating that it is a "family park" as a reason for her to have to hide the shirt. Apparently the couple took it personally and felt they were not looked at as a family. I think it's likely the standard line when asking any guest to remove offending apparel.

That being said, I have never been comfortable with people derogatory phrases and turning them into empowering statement. A friend of mine used to use the phrase, "That's so gay" all the time. I was the first gay person he had ever really knew was gay. I explained to him why I disliked the use of the phrase and he realized that it was derogatory and stopped. In fact, he quit allowing other friends of his to use the phrase when around him. I have also never been comfortable with the word faggot. I know that some gay people now use it as an empowering word, but for me it reminds me of all the times that I heard it in the most derogatory fashion and was so often called a faggot or a fag. I don't like the word. I don't like to read it. I don't like to write it. I don't like to hear it. I've gotten better at hearing the word queer, but I doubt I will ever get over flinching when I hear the word faggot.

African-Americans have been doing the same thing with the N-word. I detest that word, and I am white. I heard it far too often in a derogatory way growing up in the South. Yet, black people don't want us to call them nigger, yet they will use it themselves. I received a text message the other day on my phone that read, "Damn you act like you don't no a nigga." The fact is that I did not know the person. It was a wrong number, but I would assume that the person was black. I have no proof of that though.

The lesbian woman wearing the shirt seems to me like cafeteria-style political correctness on the part of the couple, in the same way the person who texted me did. We want people to stop using words in an inflammatory manner, but we still want to be able to poke at something when it's all in good fun. This one has to be all or nothing. Either kids continue to call something or someone "gay" in a derogatory manner or we stop it now. All of us.

How do you feel about inflammatory/derogatory speech when it is used in an empowering way?


Writer said...

Well, isn't that the whole point of the word "queer"? That we reclaimed it. It's like the Joe Jackson song "Real Men": Don't call me a faggot unless you are a friend.

JoeBlow said...

Writer, I guess, but it still makes me uncomfortable. There are too many emotional scars related to those words. Quite honestly, every time I hear the word "queer", I seem to always hear it in my mothers voice because she can make it sound like the most awful/disgusting thing in the world.

Writer said...

I hear "queer" in a coworker's voice who still in da 2000s used it in its original meaning.

But I think reclamation of the terms is good in that it both reflects the negative connotation back at people but also lessens the punch of it.

But I also see your point.

JoeBlow said...

Writer, I see your point too.

Anonymous said...

I refused to allow my students to use the term "gay" in the typical "that's so gay" connotation, nor were they allowed to use any other derogatory terms for anyone. It bothers me that blacks can use the n-word to refer to each other but no one else can - it's a "good for the goose..." type of thing - you either allow it or you don't.

There have been posts by younger people in the gay blogworld who have said that words shouldn't mean so much, but you know what, they do. Sticks and stones - HA, put up with your name being turned into "Gay" as a derogatory term and tell me words don't hurt - it's all in the context!

Peace <3

becca said...

i personally do not like anyone using words in a mean spirited way. i try to teach my son to treat everyone with respect and to speak in a respectful manner. i also try to teach him that words can hurt and once spoken can not be taken back so to think before he speaks which is what i try to do. now that being said having friends that are gay if they insist that it's ok to use certain words in their proper context then i'm ok with it but i detest when i hear someone speak words in a foul manner and i will very strongly correct them.

JoeBlow said...

Jay, I completely agree with you. I don't allow this in my classroom either.

Becca, I don't like for people to use words in mean-spirited ways either. I understand that something can be said in a more jocular good-spirited way, I can handle it.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps my parents got angry, used the f word...but if we as children did, Wam.
We knew better...
Reclamation is good, but, you mr. CP, teach me what one can do with our considerable language...find new words, and NO, do not use a word that is ugly, or ever was.
One can say "ice cream" with HATE in their voice. We can not forget the "bad" words, and why they were considered bad.
I say, lets use the real words, Negro, Homosexual, all pretty things.

underduhrainbows said...

I don't really understand the idea of reclamation, making "bad" words good by giving it "good" connotations.

I had this discussion about the word "queer" how it's been taken back by the lgbtq community etc...but it doesn't make sense to me.

Because a straight, homophobic person using that word would still conjure the same feelings of hate it was used for even if using the word queer amongst the queer folk means empowerment...simply, homophobes use it, it's bad, we use it, it's good. What was reclaimed when words still contain both meanings?

Nothing in my opinion. Although, I don't think of queer as a "bad" word, and maybe that's a product of reclaiming words...

With the n-word, the distinction is that "nigger" is a bad word regardless of who uses it but "nigga" is word only Blacks can use...this also doesn't make sense, because why would anyone want to use a word, that for centuries, meant inferiority?

Words matter absolutely.

JoeBlow said...

Anon, I think there is other language we can use. The English language is such a complex language that we don't have to use these words with hurtful meanings. There is no reason not to call a spade a spade. Most of those words have origins in euphemisms, gay/happy, queer/odd, etc. The meanings have changed over time, but many of us did not grow up in that changed climate.

Underduhrainbows, I agree with you. I don't think we need to reclaim those words. They were hurtful to us, their meanings may have changed but they still have the same origins. I think if we are going to ask others not to use these words, then we should lead by example and not use them either. Then again, all of this is just my opinion.