Pick One

That’s so college student with a scraggly beard!

I’m standing in the university library perusing the online film catalog. At the next monitor, two young guys search through vampire movies. The taller one reads off titles, his buddy responds, “Gay, gay, totally gay.”

Gay? Really? Did the heterosexist motion picture industry suddenly undergo queer enlightenment and start producing openly gay vampire films? I haven’t heard of any since Susan Sarandon bedded Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.

No, these students are dissing the films — as in gay equals god-awful. My gay blood starts to boil.

I recognize a teachable moment, but must I? I wish I could just show these two guys the PSA from the ThinkB4YouSpeak.com campaign where the brilliant comic Wanda Sykes confronts some “That’s so gay” spewing teenagers in a café.

“Don’t say that something is ‘gay’ when you mean something’s stupid. It’s insulting.” Wanda says in her inimitable style. “It’s like if I thought this pepper shaker was stupid and I said, ‘Man! This pepper shaker is so sixteen-year-old-boy-with-a-cheesy-mustache.’ Just sayin’.”

The boys in the ad, including the one with the cheesy mustache, sit there stunned, slack-jawed and speechless. Wanda ends the piece with, “When you say ‘That’s so gay’ do you realize what you say? Knock it off!”

I’m no Wanda Sykes, but I have to speak up. If someone hadn’t done the same for me years ago, how would I have learned to say ‘Catch a TIGER by the toe,’ instead of the racist way I’d learned the Eeny, meenie, miney, moe rhyme as a kid? I never meant to offend, but as soon as someone pointed out what I was saying, I stopped. These students could — and should — drop their hateful vocabulary, too.

I jumped in. “Did you just say ‘gay’ to mean something you don’t like?”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” says the ersatz film critic.

“It’s just a generic disparagement,” explains his taller, sparsely bearded friend.

“It’s insulting.” I counter.

“Sorry,” the buddy says.

“Well, knock it off.” I do my best Wanda channeling.

But these guys aren’t following a PSA script, and they aren’t acting stunned, slack-jawed, or speechless. The tall one puffs himself up. “You’re being hostile. My friend wasn’t hostile.”

No, he was just blithely profaning my identity, perpetuating years of derision, discrimination and attacks.

I can’t drop it. “Calling something ‘gay’ because you don’t like it would be like me saying ‘That’s so college student with a scraggly beard.” Somehow I don’t come off quite as brilliantly educational as Wanda Sykes.

The scraggly bearded student takes umbrage. “Now you’re being mean. What my friend said wasn’t personal.”

Oh, so it’s personal when it’s your facial hair, but when it’s my life, my safety, my lack of equal rights — that’s not personal?

The students leave without selecting a movie.

Who knows? Maybe they went to check the thesaurus for alternate, non-homophobic words for critiquing  vampire films — banal, prosaic, insipid, tedious, vapid. They have plenty of options.

But how to choose one? Hmmm. Eeny, meenie, miney, moe.

Award-winning writer Sally Sheklow’s pursuit of happiness has been chronicled in Eugene Weekly since 1999.