When I was growing up in North Carolina, the girls nick-named one of our parish priests "Father What-a-waste," because he was so attractive yet unattainable. He was attractive. He might not have been so unattainable. I'm sure there were a few nick names for me, none of them quite so becoming. So, as an adult, when a friend told me that a couple of female friends made a remark about one of my pictures by saying "What a waste," I was flattered. But, then I thought "I'm sure my husband doesn't think so."
It made me think about all of the phrases I have heard that came across as compliments, but upon further inspection were actually insults, also known as backhanded compliments. I do believe that most were inadvertent. We've come a long way from the days when all of the things we heard were derogatory and there is still a way to go, so let's banish these oft repeated asteisms.
1. I'd never know you were gay, you act so straight.
Oh, do you mean I don't act like Cam from Modern Family? Thank you. There is no prescribed way to act gay (and gay is more than just a sex act). Imagine if I said "You act so gay." Doesn't sound so nice, does it? Unfortunately, even gay men use this in their dating profiles as "Straight-acting." I suppose that means your clothes don't match, you let your ear hair grow and you're out of shape, right? No?
2. You're gay but you're like the most normal parents.
This one is used to imply that we are good parents, which I think we are, but just because we're gay, it does not make the two mutually exclusive and it should not be a surprise. We may actually be better parents because we've learned how to navigate subtle and not so subtle bigotry and discrimination. We teach our children to be open and accepting.
3. You turned out great, but I wouldn't want my child to be gay, because life would be so difficult for him.
Guess what? Either your child is or is not gay, without any of your wishes. I would not want to be straight, God knows I tried and life was miserable. The absolute best thing you can do is simply accept who your child is. Being gay is not a burden. I think it's a blessing.
4. Why are all the cute ones gay?
I know a lot of cute straight guys. Wait, if they're cute, they must be gay, so much for that 3-5 percent ratio that gets tossed around. George Clooney? Hideous. Hugh Jackman? A monstrosity. This saying also implies that cuteness is of limited quantity and gets wasted on us gay guys. It's not wasted and we're not all cute.
5. You're too sexy to be gay.
Really? Let's flip this one around: "You're too gay to be sexy." Basically, you could do this for any one of the phrases and the insult becomes more apparent. Maybe that's the best way to determine whether you should say it or not.
6. Will you come to my party? I need some gays to dance with my girlfriends.
I don't want to dance with your girlfriends. I want to dance with my guy friends, or my husband and FYI, my husband dances like Elaine. It's a full body dry heave.
7. I'm a huge fan of the gays.
Oh, Tori Spelling, what can I say? You're a wreck and we love you too, but anytime you refer to a group of people like that, it sounds a little condescending. Substitute "the gays" with any other demographic, "I'm a huge fan of the Jews,", "I'm a huge fan of the blacks." It just does not sound right.
I'm flattered, really, that you think we're cute, can dance, we're great parents and you're a big fan, but it does not have to hinge on the fact that we're gay. If you think someone is cute or sexy just say it, chances are we think you are cute and sexy too and we'll tell you (even though you're straight). True compliments are never a waste.
William Dameron's personal blog is The Authentic Life.