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The Solution to “Gay” Insults: Freedom of Speech

by Izzy Kalman June 18, 2009 Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying

There was a recent high profile story in the news about an 11-year old boy who committed suicide, apparently because he could no longer tolerate being called “gay.” Sadly, this story is not unusual. The highest suicide rate of all groups is said to be among gays. What was unusual in the recent incident is the young age of the person who committed the act.

The most common insult among kids today is “gay.” It is used not only to mean “someone who is attracted to people of his/her own gender,” but as a synonym for “stupid” or “bad.” Kids get mad when they are called gay and they sometimes get into fights.

I have great compassion for gays. Not only do they have to deal with the derision and even hatred of a large proportion of the general public, they also need to deal with their own angst about being different.

What is one to do when called gay? The anti-bully movement is trying to solve the problem by passing laws making it illegal to insult anyone. Many anti-bully activists insist that anti-bully laws should specifically mention insults against gays and those of non-heterosexual orientions. If it becomes a crime to insult people, then, it is hoped, no one will be attacked with the “gay” insult, and the associated violence will disappear.

One of the problems with making it illegal to call someone “gay” is that it violates the First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. However, few people today understand and value Freedom of Speech. Most people seem to believe that it is worth getting rid of Freedom of Speech in order to protect people’s feelings.

The truth is that society has come a long way in recent decades toward reducing hatred and discrimination against gays. However, it will be a while–if ever–before anti-gay sentiment disappears completely. So what is one to do when called gay? If it is happening to you, and you need to wait till prejudice disappears from the face of the earth, your problem may never end. Using laws to punish people for using “gay” as an insult is not likely to solve the problem, either. If people get punished for insulting gays, do you think they are going to think, “Now I respect gays so much because they got me punished”? Of course not! They are going to hate gays even more, and think they are big crybabies who need the help of the government.

Fortunately, as I routinely demonstrate through role-playing at my seminars, the solution to this problem that has hurt so many people is remarkably simple. We can deal with gay insults all by ourselves, and at the same time help reduce prejudice in society. As I will be showing, Freedom of Speech is not the cause of the problem but the solution! And it is mandated by the Golden Rule, which is the ultimate solution to interpersonal problems. Few people are aware of it, but the Golden Rule really comes to teach us that we need to treat people like friends even when they treat us like enemies.

Of course, the following dialogues are imaginary, and the age and sophistication of the kids involved will determine the content of the dialogues in real life. So please don’t get caught up with the specific words; it is the attitudes that matter. And the gender of the people is also not relevant. But since I am a male, it is easier for me to write the scripts as though I am a male. (And when i identify the insulter as “You,” I don’t mean you, the reader, of course. It’s just easy to write the scenes this way, as a dialogue between “Me” and “You.”)

Scenario Number One: I am not gay, but you call me gay.

You: You are soooo gay! Me: No, I’m not! You: Yes, you are! Everyone knows you’re gay! Me: How can they know something that’s not true? You: Didn’t you ever look in the mirror? You’re flaming gay! Me: No, I’m not! Stop calling me gay! You: Why should I stop? I’m going to keep on calling you gay until you admit it’s true! Me: But it’s not true! Shut your mouth already or I’ll shut it for you! You: A little fairy like you! Hah! How are you going to shut my mouth? Me: I will! You call me gay one more time and I’ll have no choice! You: Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay! Go ahead! Try and stop me!

This, of course, will lead to nowhere but a fight. Now I’ll respond differently. I will give you Freedom of Speech and treat you like a friend.

You: You are soooo gay! Me: How come you think I’m gay? You: Just look in the mirror and you’ll see. Me: I do look in the mirror. What about me do you think makes me look gay? You: The way you dress. Those pants are so tight. Only gays would wear pants like that. Me: They are 50’s style. Marlon Brando and James Dean used to wear pants like that. You: Well, they must have been gay. Me: I don’t think so. I think they were really hot with the women. You: They were? Me: Yeah! You should watch some of their movies. They’re real classics. You: Only gays like old movies. Me: Oh, you’d be surprised. You should watch, On The Waterfront and Rebel Without a Cause. You’d love them. You: Well, maybe I’ll watch them sometime. Me: You won’t regret it! You: Thanks.

Much better, isn’t it. And it was so easy. I just treated you like a friend and told myself you have the right to say whatever you want.

Scenario Number Two: I am gay and have “come out,” and you hate gays with a passion. Let’s say we are in high school, because by that age we are likely to be aware of our true sexual orientation. You: You know, you are going to burn in hell! Me: No, I’m not! You: Yes, you will! The Bible says all gays are going to burn in hell! Me: The Bible is nonsense! It was written by homophobic men! You: No, it wasn’t! God wrote the Bible and it says you are going to suffer eternal damnation! Me: No, I won’t! You’re the one who’s going to burn in hell because God hates bigots! You: God loves me! He hates you! That’s why he sent AIDS to kill you off! Me: How dare you talk to me like that? You are violating my civil rights! You: Oh, yeah? What are you going to do? Call the police? Me: Maybe I should! You: Yeah, go ahead, you gay sissy! Guess what? The police hate gays, too! They’re not going to help you! Me: Yes, they will! It’s the law! You: Hah, hah! No law can help you! Gays are beyond help! Me: Shut your mouth already!

Again, this goes nowhere except endless hostility.

This time I’ll give you Freedom of Speech and treat you like a friend.

You: You know, you are going to burn in hell! Me: Why do you say that? You: Because you are gay! Me: And you think gays are going to hell? You: Yes! The Bible says so! Me: Well, I sure hope it’s not true. You: It is! Me: How do you know? You: I told you already. The Bible says so. And that’s what my priest says, too! Me: Yes, a lot of priests say that. You know, there were a lot of stories in the news about priests molesting young boys. Does that mean they are gay, too? You: I guess so. Me: Will they go to hell, too? You: Sure. Me: Boy, I’m sure glad there will be some priests to confess to in hell! You: Stop kidding around. I mean it. You are going to go to hell if you stay gay. Me: Why do you think it is so terrible to be gay? You: Because the Bible says “Adam and Eve,” not, “Adam and Steve.” Me: If God didn’t want there to be gays, why did he make me gay? You: He didn’t make you gay. You chose to be gay! Me: You think I chose to be gay? You: Of course. Everyone knows it’s a choice. Me: Are you straight? You: Of course! Me: Do you remember choosing to be straight? You: I didn’t have to choose. I was born straight. Me: That’s right. You didn’t choose to be straight. You never had to ask yourself, “Should I be straight, or should I be gay? I think I’ll be straight!” Well, you know what, I never chose, either. If it were a choice, do you think I would have chosen to be gay? You: Well, you obviously did! Me: Believe me, if it were a choice, I would have chosen to be straight. You know how tough it is to be gay? You: No. Me: Oh, it’s a bummer! People hate you just for what you are. They treat you like a freak and tell you you’re going to hell. When I first realized I was gay, I thought, “Oh, no. What am I going to do? People are going to hate me. How am I going to live a normal life? And how am I going to tell my parents?” Believe me, if it were a choice, I would have picked straight. You: Well, it’s not too late! You can still choose to become straight. Me: Believe me, I tried. I went out with girls. I figured, if I go out with enough girls, I’d learn to be attracted to them. But it didn’t work. I mean, I love their company. We have so much in common. But I was never attracted to them. You: Maybe you didn’t go out with the right girl. Me: Dude, it’s nice that you care so much about me, but believe me, I went out with the “right” girls. But it didn’t help. I just had to become cool with the fact that I’m gay, and then I became happier. You: I think you should still try anyway. In my church, they run this program that turns gay people straight. Me: I went to a program like that for a whole year. All it did was make me feel guilty. It didn’t make me straight. You: Well, maybe the program in my church is better. You should try it. Me: Thanks again for wanting to help me. I really appreciate it. But I’m gay, and I’m okay with it now. You: Well, if that’s what makes you happy… Me: Yes, it does. Thanks for the concern. You: You’re welcome.

Obviously much better this time. If we go to school together, are in the same classes, and I always treat you this way, you may even become my friend even though you hate gays. And you may even end up thinking, “Well, maybe gays aren’t that bad after all.” So why do I need the government’s help with this? I can turn you into a less prejudiced person all by myself if I give you Freedom of Speech and treat you like a friend.

Scenario Number Three: I suspect that I am gay, and I look gay. However, I’m not ready to “come out.” The idea that I may be gay disturbs me and I don’t want to admit that I am unsure about my sexual orientation. You: You are soooo gay! Me: No, I’m not! You: Yes, you are! It is so obvious! Me: No it’s not! And I’m not gay! You: Man, you really have blinders. Haven’t you looked in the mirror? It is so obvious that you are gay! Me: I am not gay! Stop saying that I look gay! You: But it’s so obvious that you are! You know, you are going to be the last person in the world to know that you are gay! Me: No I won’t! Because I’m not! You: Oh, my God! You are so clueless! Everyone knows you are gay. Me: No, I’m not!

This, of course, gets me nowhere. Now I’ll do it the better way.

You: You are soooo gay! Me: Why do you say that? You: Because you look gay. It’s so obvious. Look in the mirror. Me: You know what? You are not the first person who told me they think I’m gay. You: Duh! If it has feathers, isn’t it a bird? Me: I know I’m not the most macho guy in the world. You: You can say that again! Me: So you actually think I’m gay? You: Yes. Aren’t you? Me: No. But I know that some people think I am. You: Yes, they do! Me: Yes, they do.

It pretty much fizzles out here, and you will leave me alone. You will stop trying to torment me by calling me gay because it doesn’t bother me. And you will respect me more because I am showing you respect, and I am not making a fool out of myself.

Scenario Number Four: I’m not gay, but you are going to tell me you heard a rumor that I am.

You: You know, Johnny said that you’re gay! He said he saw you kissing another guy! Me: No I didn’t! You: Johnny doesn’t lie. You’re gay! Me: No, I’m not! You: Don’t try to deny it! You were kissing a guy, and that means you are gay! Me: I’m not gay! And I don’t kiss guys! You (in a sing-song voice): Hah, hah! Izzy i-is ga-ay, Izzy i-is ga-ay! Me: Shut your mouth! I am not gay! You (singing): Yes, you-ou a-are! You a-are ga-ay! Izzy is a faggot! Ha, ha ha ha ha! Me: Shut your mouth!!!

Of course I’m a big loser here and you are going to keep on tormenting me. Now we’ll do it again.

You: You know, Johnny said that you’re gay! He said he saw you kissing another guy! Me: Do you believe him? You: Yes! Me: If you want to believe him, I can’t stop you. You: No, you can’t. Me: That’s right. I can’t.

And that’s usually where it ends.

When you come to tell me this rumor, you want to see me defending myself. But it’s a trap. I automatically lose by defending myself because it is the weaker position. Since all living creatures are programmed to try to win, you are going to keep on attacking me with this rumor to get me to defend myself.

So the second time, instead of defending myself from the rumor, I turned the tables on you. I made you defend yourself by asking you, “Do you believe it?” Now you have to decide if you want to acknowledge believing a rumor about me. If you say you believe it, I say, “You can believe it if you want,” and I come out being the winner. And if you say you don’t believe it, I also win. So don’t defend yourself from rumors. Just ask the person, “Do you believe it?” and you come out being the winner.

Scenario Number Five: I’m not gay, and you come to tell me that other people are spreading a rumor that I am. You: You know, everyone is saying that you’re gay! Me: I can’t believe it! Who’s saying it? You: Everybody! The whole school is saying that you’re gay! Me: That’s terrible! You have to tell them it’s not true! You: How do I know it isn’t? If everyone’s saying it, it must be true! Me: It’s not true! I swear it! I am not gay! You have to tell them to stop! You: I can’t make them stop. There are too many of them. Anyway, how do I know it’s not true? Me: I swear I am not gay! You have to help me stop them from saying it! How can I come to school if everyone thinks I’m gay?

This is obviously not working. Now we’ll do it again, and I’ll use Freedom of Speech.

You: You know, everyone is saying that you’re gay! Me: Really? That’s what they’re saying? You: Yes. That’s the word going around the whole school! Me: Well, if they want to say it, I can’t stop them. You: But how can you let them get away with it? You can’t let everyone call you gay! Me: I can’t stop them. People have a right to say whatever they want. You: You mean it doesn’t bother you that everyone’s saying you’re gay? Me: I’d rather they didn’t, but if they want to do it, I can’t stop them. You: Dude, you’re weird! But you’re cool! Me: Thanks.

Scenario Number Six: I’m gay and I’ve “come out.” You come to tell me that you heard I’m gay. You: You know, I heard you’re gay! Me: Yes, I am, and I’m proud of it! You: Wow, you’re a faggot! Me: Don’t call me a faggot! The word is gay! You: I can’t believe it! You really are a faggot! You’re a freak! Me: The word is gay! And I’m not a freak! You: Yes, you are! All gays are freaks! Me: We are not freaks! There is nothing wrong with being gay! You: Yes there is! Everyone knows that gays are freaks! Me: No, we’re not! Shut your mouth!

Again, I’m a big loser. You are going to keep on tormenting me, and you are not going to have respect either for me or for gay people in general. This time I’ll handle it better.

You: You know, I heard you’re gay! Me: Oh! You just found out? You: Yes! You mean you actually are gay? Me: Yes. I thought everyone knew. You: Well, I didn’t. Me: So now you know, too. [The situation could end here. I may also want to use the opportunity for a “teaching moment,” so I’ll ask you:] How do you feel about gays? You: I think they’re freaks. Me: A lot of people do. Why do you think we are freaks? You: It’s gross! Guys “doing it” with guys! You are supposed to “do it” with girls. Me: Well, it works that way for most people, but not if you’re gay. You: It really grosses me out thinking about two guys “doing it” with each other. Me: Well, that’s exactly the way I feel when I think of a guy and a girl “doing it” together. You: You do? Me: Yep! You: Boy, you’re weird! Me: To straight people, gays seem weird. You: They sure do. Me: And to us, straight people seem weird. You: Boy, it’s a strange world! Me: It sure is!

So you see, by treating you like a friend and giving you Freedom of Speech, you will end up having more respect and understanding for both my group and myself, and you may end up becoming my friend. And you will certainly stop trying to torment me for being gay because your efforts to torment me won’t work.

Scenario Number Seven: Young kids calling each other gay.

This is the final scenario I’ll be presenting here. Young kids today also use gay as an insult. They may not know their own true sexual orientation yet, and they may not even know the sexual meaning of the word “gay.”

You: You are sooo gay! Me: No, I’m not! You: Yes, you are! Me: Stop calling me gay! I am not gay! You: Yes you are: Me: No, I’m not! Stop calling me gay! You: Gay gay gay gay gay! Me: Stop it! You: Gay gay gay gay gay! Me: Stop!!!

I’m a big loser this way. We’ll do it again and I’ll treat you like a friend.

You: You are sooo gay! Me: What does that mean? You: You are stupid. Me: Why do you think I’m stupid? You: Well, you didn’t even know what “gay” means. Me: You’re right. I hear the word so much but I wasn’t really sure. Is that all it means—stupid? You: Yes. It means “stupid.” Me: Thanks for letting me know. You: You’re welcome.

And it’s over!

So you see, we don’t need laws or other people’s protection to stop people from calling us gay. In fact, these laws against insulting people’s groups teach us that we should get upset when people insult our groups. And when we get upset, the problem gets worse.

All we need is to learn the practice of the Golden Rule, which really means that we should treat people like friends even when they treat us like enemies. And Freedom of Speech is mandated by the Golden Rule.

Note: Please don’t complain to me, “But we need these laws! Attacks against gays aren’t only verbal! There are physical attacks, and we are victims of discrimination, too!”

Yes, of course there are physical attacks and real discrimination against gays. But these acts are already crimes, and rightfully so, and they have nothing to do with Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech only guarantees people’s right to say words that can hurt our feelings, but it does not give them the right to hurt our bodies or possessions, to deny members of our groups equal opportunity, to treat us differently under the law, to threaten us, or to incite violence against us. Furthermore, most physical attacks begin with words, so if we know how to successfully handle verbal attacks against our group, there will probably be no escalation to physical attacks.

It is not more laws that we need, but more education. We need to teach the meaning and practice of Freedom of Speech and the Golden Rule.

By the way, a few years ago I wrote a series of articles showing how to use my “Bullies to Buddies” rules to solve the problem of prejudice, using anti-Semitism as the example. I have recently edited these into a manual called The Golden Rule Solution to Racism. If you think it is worthwhile, please feel free to send the link to others, too.

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