This is a joke from Demetri Martin’s album These are Jokes:
A dreamcatcher works.
If your dream is to be gay.
Which is just a syntactically humorous way to say that dreamcatchers are gay. It’s what this blog post’s going to be about, how dreamcatchers are gay.
That I’m satisfied by Martin’s joke’s jokework without any personal offense surprised me when I thought about it long after I just laughed at the joke. Maybe it points to the newfound importance I’ve placed lately on jokework and the thinking thereon. Maybe it points to what little regard I, too, give the dreamcatcher. Stupid knot of feathers and weak hope.
Mostly why it’s funny is that it’s true, and that gay as a word means things that have shifted, historically and recently, and that are slippery and difficult to pin down. It’s not a synonym for “stupid” in that Heidi Montag isn’t gay. It’s not “lame” in that dreamcatchers aren’t lame. They are gay. And they’re not like rainbow jockstraps in this regard, or the complete Dykes to Watch Out For on your coffee table; owning a dreamcatcher would never make me assume you’re homosexual. Perhaps the opposite.
I’m reminded of two things. First is that episode of South Park where the kids called noisy Harley riders “fags” and didn’t understand why the adults in the town were so upset about their using this word. Second is this panel on “queer writers” I sat on at the Nebraska Summer Writers’ Conference earlier this month. We were two men and two women who I think were all pretty solidly homosexual, and yet we used the word “queer” more than anything else.
Queer was straight folks’ word for us, and gay was our own word for us. Right now I have this notion that our collective reappropriation of their (hateful) word for us has more power and durability than any word for us we could come up with ourselves—like how in the eighth grade I dubbed new-girl Debbie “Sasquatch” because she was tall and rumored (operative word) to be better than me at the clarinet, and how she then co-opted it as her nickname all through four years of color guard. Or maybe it’s that the in-group code of gay feels silly because no longer necessary. I’ve tweeted about how if I ever started a sentence with “As a homosexual” I’d feel like the sort of tragic hipster who waxes his moustache. It’s so old-fashioned!
Lately, gay‘s starting to feel a little gay. It’s probably for the best.
But now it occurs to me that gay is used not as a synonym for “stupid” or “lame” but for “weak”. Which is to say it works well as a way to expose a thing aiming for and trying to exhibit a presumed amount of power or significance that it clearly by any decent serious observation does not have and ought not to claim. And so is this its new(er/est) etymology, a way for straight people to co-opt our word for ourselves as a signifier of how weak it is to try to give ourselves our own name? You homosexuals/queers/faggots want to us to use the word “gay” now? Oh we’ll use “gay” all right….
This post/line of thinking has no end to it. It’s probably for the best.
One thought on “Gay”
Yes, something is shifting where I feel things can be called “gay” in a non-threatening, non-hateful way. It’s as if “gay” now encompasses whatever the mainstream refuses to understand/partake in, synonymous with mystery, spectacle, counter culture, a challenge to the status quo. And within that is the spectrum of gay freaky to mildly alternative.
So if dream catchers are gay, then Lady Gaga is really gay.
And brining your own bags to the grocery store becomes only a little gay, but if I’m doing it wearing this mesh tank top then it’s all kinds of gay.