Welcome to the ‘post-truth’ world

WOTY 2016

So, it’s official. Truth is dead, and facts are irrelevant. Well, at least that’s what the media would have you think. Oxford Dictionaries has selected ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year, inspired by campaigns in both the UK referendum on the European Union and the Presidential campaign of President-elect (I know, I know) Donald Trump.

The dictionary defines post-truth as:

relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

That’s not to say it’s a new concept. The word has been in use for at least the last decade, and could as easily be applied to Tony Blair’s assertions that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction as Trump’s claims that all Mexicans are rapists and criminals.

2016 was, of course, unique in the term moving from the periphery to the centre of political discourse.

The same could also be said for another word which made the word of the year shortlist, ‘alt-right’. Here’s the dictionary definition if you’re unclear:

(in the US) an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content

The alt-right, as we’ve seen in recent months, have adopted the post-truth candidate as their spokesman, and claimed his victory as their own.

What I wonder is, do these words actually describe any new phenomena? Or do they just normalise extremist views caused by the magnification of a 24-hour news culture and self-serving social media feeds?

I mean, before the emergence of the word post-truth, wouldn’t we have just said that Trump’s claims that ‘Obama founded ISIS’ and ‘George Bush did 9/11’ were lies?

Granted, perhaps accusing a politician as a liar is hardly newsworthy, but describing these claims as examples of post-truth discourse seems to provide some level of acceptance to the fact that politicians will knowingly lie. And lie in the hope that by the time the majority of people realise they’ve been misled it’ll be too late, and they’ll have already become so outraged by the claims that they’ve chanted ‘lock her up’ for months on end, and crossed their ballot on polling day.

What about the alt-right? The young white male demographic, lurking in forums and creating memes to be shared amongst like-minded people. They may be ultra-conservative, but so far, so new, right? Racism adapting to the 21st century, hidden away in forums without fear of retribution.

Sure, until you actually look at their views. Though they range, there’s a general flavour of aiming to preserve white civilization by promoting white supremacy, race hatred, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, and anti-feminism. Nice bunch of chaps, I know.

The thing is, didn’t we already have a way of defining extreme right-wing white supremacists? Aren’t these people just neo-Nazis who know how to create memes of Pepe the Frog? Isn’t using the term that these people have used to define themselves just aiding them in hiding the extremity of their views?

Pepe Trump

An alt-right Pepe/Trump meme. This one’s tame, have a Google if you’re interested.

Perhaps not. Perhaps we’re yet to fully understand the breadth of use that post-truth and alt-right can offer us. Maybe in the post-modern era of likes and shares ever more outrageous lies and extreme views will become normalised through continuous media consumption. Maybe they won’t, I’m not one to speculate. Not too much, anyway.

What I do know is it’s a sad indictment of the direction the world has gone in 2016 that the two words I’ve been talking about are not only two of the most influential words of the year, but two of the most instantly recognisable. It all seems a long way away from where we were 12 months ago, anyway.

WOTY 2015

Ambiguity, eh?

Early this summer, I received an email containing the invitation below:

INVITATION TO EVENT:

A DISCUSSION OF THE JOY OF SEX WITH DR FIONA BOULDER

Checkland E513, Wednesday 27 July, 17.00-19.00

I contacted the organisers suggesting they might have worded the title of the session slightly differently, but it was too late. The mail had already gone out to over 7000 Brighton University staff.

I have no idea how the evening went.

Ambiguity is the word linguists (and non-linguists) use to describe this kind of phenomenon. It’s all around us. Pretty much every utterance you hear will have more than one possible meaning, and often it’s the presence of an ambiguous word or an ambiguous structure that is responsible. Here are a few of my favourite ambiguous newspaper headlines. Can you get the different possible meanings?

  • Stolen painting found by tree.
  • Police found drunk in shop window.
  • The explosion was attributed to a build up of gas by one town official.

I had no intentions of blogging about ambiguity today (in fact, I had no intention of blogging about anything), but when I picked up my youngest daughter from school, she said something that interested me. She’s just started school. Literally, just three weeks ago. She has a good friend, Juliet, with whom she shares a birthday. They’ve bonded and have become inseparable. This is what Luna said:

  • Juliet and me don’t like the same things.

I was surprised. Luna and Juliet are so, so close. I would have presumed that they would spend a lot of time talking about all the things they have in common, rather than the things they don’t. She then continued:

  • We don’t like cabbage. We don’t like tomatoes. We don’t like broccoli…

Ambiguity, eh?

Being the First to Go to University

As an only child I’ve become somewhat of the guinea pig for my family in terms of education. Luckily I didn’t pick up many of the traits stereotyped to only children, so I’m not a bratty, selfish and bossy guinea pig – but a guinea pig none the less.

My parents didn’t have the same opportunities as I, and many young people do nowadays meaning that I’m doing a lot of ‘firsts’. The first to finish school, the first to go to university and beyond (I hope).

I didn’t have a lot of friends as a child and certainly had no one that had been years above me in school to give me advice. I was left to ponder what was ahead of me by listening to the vague experiences my parents recalled and watching TV (I wasn’t savvy with in the internet back then). School and the education system was pretty different back then too, so stories of the cane and teachers who threw board rubbers at you had plagued my nervous mind.

My first mistake came on the first day of school when I packed my school bag according to some questionable list I had found. This included a towel, soap and other things necessary for showering after PE. Of course the prospect of showering in front of strangers in a place I knew nothing about frightened the life out of me, but being the organised little person I was I diligently packed my toiletries.

I turned up with my bright red, overstuffed backpack that was far too big for my frame and was just well, awkward. I paired this these horrid black flared trousers and ‘sensible’ shoes (the typical year 7) only to be confronted girls with tiny handbags, even tinier skirts and the most foundation I’ve ever seen trowelled onto a face. Great. So there were orange stick insects walking about, but were we forced to shower together? Of course not! I looked stupid for even thinking it.

Years on and I’m pleased to say that my fashion choices have matured, as have my researching skills. What hasn’t changed is my apprehension about the unknown. The towel, soap and communal showers of my childhood are the scary assignments, drug dealers and lecture halls of my present. When applying for university I had all these preconceptions about what the experience might hold. Drugs, halls and late nights crying into books were all on the cards, I’d have to live with a bunch of strangers who and would be homesick all the time.

However, this wasn’t true for me. I live at home while I study, am sober and yes OK I occasionally cry into the odd book. But I couldn’t have been more wrong about the actual work. I had the feeling that somehow everyone else already would know more than me and that I didn’t belong, even though we had all gone through the same application process. I just didn’t have anyone to reassure me that university was something meant for me.

What I’ve learnt is that university is for me, and I’m not bad at this whole ‘student’ business. There is always support and help – all you need do is ask. I had this expectation that I would have three hour lectures taught by a haughty, detached elderly man and would be left on my own to do the rest. How wrong I was. My lecturers are engaged and are always willing to help me if I need it, the work is manageable and I even have actual fun. Can you believe that?

Going to university has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I’m safe in the knowledge that my parents are proud that I am seizing an opportunity that wasn’t available to them.

Finishing University and Becoming Me

Just under three years ago I got my A-Level results and found out that I hadn’t got into my first choice university. Obviously, at the time, I was extremely disappointed, and to some extent I felt like I’d let myself down. Three years have passed since then though, and I now know that something which I originally looked at as a failure was in fact one of the best things that has happened to me. I was lucky to have had a couple of bad days in exams, because if I hadn’t the past three years of my life, probably the best three years of my life, wouldn’t have taken the same course.

As a person I’ve grown immensely over the past few years (and not just because of the copious amounts of pizza I’ve devoured), I’ve become much more self-confident, independent and assured. I no longer have to check someone else thinks the way that I do, speaks the way that I do or wears the same clothes as I do; if something works for me then it works for me, why should I even give a second’s thought as to how other people might think about something that makes me… me? This seems obvious now, but it hasn’t always been so. At school I was quite a shy kid without much to say for myself, I didn’t really express myself because I didn’t want anyone to think I was weird or strange in any way. Now I’m offended if people don’t think I’m a bit strange.

At sixth form I became a bit more confident, I bought a green suit (which was cool I don’t care what anyone thinks) and I was much happier to make contributions to discussions, but I still wasn’t quite comfortable with myself. However, that changed quite quickly when I came to university. I came to Brighton with the intention not only to do well in my studies and improve my knowledge, but also with the intention to do well as a person and to improve, really, how I thought about myself.

While I was at sixth form I’d come to the realisation that one thing I could do was make (at least some) people laugh, and making people laugh is, from my experience, the best way to not only make friends and make other people happy, but also to make yourself happy.

I was determined to make the most of the opportunity for somewhat of a new start at university, to go out of my comfort zone and enjoy what I was told would be the best three years of my life – what I hoped would be the best three years of my life. Armed with my ability to make (at least some) people laugh, I made friends with my flatmates and my coursemates. They could either have befriended me because of my ability to make (at least some of) them laugh, or out of the necessity to get along with people you have to spend nearly every day with. I’ve also had really good relationships with my lecturers and tutors, all of whom it’s been a pleasure to learn from and interrupt the lessons of with often failed attempts at making a joke. From these groups I know I’ll have friends for life and I’m sure that when we all have to say goodbye my hayfever will perk up and make it look like I’m crying.

Each of these groups of people have helped me enormously to develop into the person I am now and the person that I’m proud to be. They’ve laughed at (at least some of) my jokes, laughed at me for drunken mistakes and laughed at me for sober mistakes. So really they’ve just laughed at me… They’ve shared good times and bad times with me (there hasn’t been much bad) and they’ve always supported me regardless of whether they agree with me or not. They still read this damn blog for goodness sake, imagine having friends that would do that for you!

The likelihood is I’ll come out with a decent degree which of course I will be proud of, but something else I will take from my experience over the last three years is that being me is pretty fantastic. It’s fantastic because I have a group of friends at home and a group of friends at uni that are vastly different but are the same in that they make life enjoyable. It’s fantastic because I’m happy with who I am as a person and I don’t need the approval of people who don’t matter to me. It’s fantastic because I know that moving forward I have people around me who will laugh with me when I’m happy and pick me up when I’m sad, and I know they’ll do this for me, the person I am, which is luckily the person I want to be.

Just this week I went for a night out dressed as a woman, and strangely enough I think this sums up how I’ve grown as a person. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have even entertained the thought of going out dressed as a woman; what would people think? But now I don’t care, I only care what people close to me think, and they thought it was hilarious. That made whatever sense of embarrassment I felt worth it.

I guess what I wanted to say in this ramble is thank you to those people, those people who’ve helped me become a man who would dress as a woman to make them laugh. Thank you for making me happy. You’re all wonderful.

Are all languages equally effective?

Do different languages have varying degrees of ‘effectiveness’ in communicating? Can subtle communication be lost in translation from a more ‘complex’ language to a simpler one?

These are the questions I stumbled upon on the world wide web, by chance. I haven’t written a post on here in a while due to assignments and time lapsing, but just had to write something about this conversation that appeared on Reddit (of all places). Instead of just paraphrasing what I read, I’m going to quote it below:

In general, linguists agree that no language is more or less complex than another overall, and definitely agree that all natural human languages are effective at communicating. This is in part because there’s no agreed upon rubric for what constitutes “complexity,” and because there is a very strong pressure for ineffectivelanguage to be selected against.

Can subtle communication be lost in translation from one more ‘complex’ language to a simpler one?

A few thoughts:

(1) Information can be lost in translation, yes. More often than not, it’s ‘flavor.’ That is, social and pragmatic nuances, or how prosodic and phonological factors affect an utterance. Translated poetry, to give an obvious example, will either lose rhythmic feeling and rhyme, or be forced to fit a rhythm and rhyme at the expense of more direct or idiomatic translation.

(2) You would have to define complexity, before you could answer this. Every time I’ve seen a question like this, what the OP defines as complexity is just one way of communicating information, and the supposedly more complex language is less complex in other ways. For instance, communicating the syntactic role of a noun phrase can be achieved either through case marking, or through fixed word order. Which of these is more complex? Well, one’s got structural requirements at the phrase level, another has morphological requirements at the word level. Or here’s another example: think about Mandarin and English. Mandarin has fewer vowels than English. Is it therefore less complex? What about the fact that it has lexical tone that English lacks?

Do different languages have varying degrees of ‘effectiveness’ in communicating?

No. In general, you’ll find that the people who argue they do (1) have not ever seriously studied linguistics, (2) tend not to know how global languages became global languages — through colonization in the last few centuries, and (3) tend to want to support overly simplistic narratives that are based on ethnoracial or class prejudice. They’re also often really poorly thought-out. For instance, I’ve seen a lot of arguments in this thread that English is somehow superior for math and science, claiming that speakers of other languages have to switch to English, or borrow words from English to do math or science — while conveniently forgetting that English borrowed most of those words from Latin and Greek. And that the speakers of other languages they’re holding as examples were educated in English in former English colonies, so they were taught math and science terminology in English rather than their home languages.

I would link to peer reviewed papers, but this is so fundamental to the study of linguistics that I’m not even sure where to start, honestly. The claims that a given language is more complex than another, or better suited to abstract thought, or what have you have all gone the way of other racist pseudo-science,= like phrenology…which is to say, long gone from academia, but alive and well on reddit. ¯\(ツ)

Whilst completely unreferenced, this makes for a fascinating debate. Following this, I found an utterly fantastic section called /r/badlinguistics, which you can find here. I’ll pick out some of my highlights at the moment:

  • “Japanese is the most unorganised language I’ve ever seen” – this is despite the language having a character set for native words, foreign words and chinese characters. The original commenter goes on to state “being hard to learn is the same as being disorganised”, which is like saying a ready meal is hard to cook because of its poor packaging. Once you scramble through the mess, you’re ready to master the food, or in this case, the language.
  • One person committed not one, but four linguistic sins: ‘Racism doesn’t deserve its own word, it is just hate’ and ‘words are only used literally (besides figures of speech’.
  • ‘Someone stated that in the world of botany, there is no such thing as vegetables. As it is a culinary, no plants are classified as vegetables, therefore they don’t exist.’ Convincing? Not too a vegetarian, who questioned their very existence.
  • Finally, someone stated ‘Quebecois French’ to be ‘broken and frankly just ugly to listen to’. Someone rightfully corrected them, Québécois, and sated the grammar is the same as French, but the accent is different in the same way British and American English is pronounced with different accents.

If you’re ever feeling down whilst working on an assignment, just being happy there are people in this world with worse linguistic knowledge than yourself.

A Sign?

A couple of weekends ago I spotted a sign back in Essex with a bemusing ambiguity, created by the lack of punctuation. A bit of context: the sign in question was in a park, on a road near a children’s play area. The sign read over two lines like so:

Children Playing

Drive Slowly

I may just be a hopeless grammarian/romantic, but this made me think (and chuckle). Everyone I was with just did not get what I was thinking. The thought that the hilarious – and worrying – idea of children who are playing drive cars slowly did not cross the sign-writers minds worried me ever so slightly. Is this a sign grammar, or punctuation, is receding in our process of writing? To see whether this stretched further, I decided to have a Google. I should not have had a Google…

Grammar Signs

I should quickly point out the above image is a sign error I found whilst searching, and not a (blindly obvious) subliminal message to people of the world. The guy above could be attempting irony; he also could be advertising himself, and his name is actually Brian. I’d like to think the latter is more likely.

Grammar Sines

This image was in one of Tim’s lectures (for those that are not at Brighton University, he is one of our lecturers/entertainers). It wasn’t really, but would anyone walk out of a lecture if this were on the board when you went in? I know people who would, but I’d like to think I’d stick around to see if a) they correct it or b) I eventually correct it.

Gramma Sinse

Apart from sounding like a coalition between two political parties, this could be the final nail in the coffin for those highly regarded people who produce signs or road markings, like in the above.

To me, this all makes my face more lugubrious-looking than usual. I am not particularly fond of sticking to every strict grammar rule out there, I’d say I have a more modern and adaptive approach than that. But (see that? A ‘modern’ start to a sentence), orthographically speaking, I am a stickler for errors and would like to see others be so too. I wouldn’t go as far as starting a petition to sign-writers, but would go as far as saying hopefully someone shares this post and is seen by someone who does that.

It would be quite a lovely idea to have a word for sign-writers, also.

So, that’s it for my first post on here – expect the rest to dwindle in tackling important, world-reaching issues like this. I feel like a festival curator when I say this, but there will be a post from another student sometime soon. I’m courting for others to do so too, so feel free to speak to me if you have an idea!

All the above photos belong to Bit Rebels.

Language, Thought and Politics

As I’ve been told, pretty patronisingly at times, I’ve become ‘quite political’. Really, this utterance should exit mouths with a tone of encouragement, but every time I hear it it seems that the words spill out accompanied with a side-serving of belittlement, as though, because I think about things, I should be put away in a zoo-like environment so people, when they need cheering up, can drop by and have a look and a laugh.

While I’m away on my trivial and entertaining trips to thinky-thinky land I often wonder why the world is in such a horrible, desperate mess, and, more importantly, why we don’t seem to care in the slightest. The reason is that the information presented to us, and the language it is presented in, places strict limits on what we can actually think about. If we ever manage to think outside of this narrow range we’re labelled as a ‘radical’ or a ‘loon’ (I’m being a loony radical in writing something like this).

Some of you will be thinking “what are you on about Liam, I can think what I want”, which may be true, but, if your mind is being controlled, would you know?

One of the main ways our thought is restricted, as has been mentioned by multiple people (who aren’t allowed to say such things on the television) is through the language of fear:
“Did you know that wealth inequality is a huge problem in the world and people are needlessly homeless or in poverty or starving to death”
“Did you know ISIS are going to drop EBOLA BOMBS EVERYWHERE and KILL US ALL!?”
“Oh goodness, don’t worry about the poor or homeless or starving people!!!! stop ISIS giving me ebola!!!!!!”
Maybe that is an extreme example (I prefer to call it a satire) but this is a very common thought process in such areas as the Daily Mail comments section (other racist, sexist, homophobic tabloids are available) but also in other parts of the internet and in the mainstream media. So, it’s basically everywhere. People are being scared by the constant stream of terrifying stories presented by the media and politicians, and fear can be a very overpowering emotion, and being scared of ISIS’s ebola bombs is a fairly rational reaction; ebola bombs are scary. This all results in lots of people being scared stiff of ebola bombs and dying, which in turn means that the real problems in the world, the problems that mean ISIS and ebola are actually a threat to a lot of people, are pushed almost completely out of the public consciousness.

This fear, and the resulting restriction of thought, is very handy for those few people (who are in charge of the media that scares us) who benefit from the massive wealth inequality that the above conversation so very rightly brought to our attention; it means we’re not pissed off at them for keeping everything for themselves with no regard for other humans. We’re too busy panicking. As soon as the threat of ebola bombs from ISIS are presented as a possibility and we’re all scared into thinking only about that, they let out a sigh of relief (some money probably comes out with that sigh, they’ve run out of places to put it), the status-quo that they so adore, that keeps their pockets so heftily lined, is safe. Thank god for ISIS!

Fear, though, is not the only thought controlling technique used by those in power/those with money (from now on, when I say ‘those with power’ or ‘those with money’ I mean the same thing, those people are the same people). Have you ever thought that every political party is almost exactly the same thing? Good. They are. Now, why might this be?

Political parties, full of people who’d quite like some power, rely on donations to get their campaigning to a level that brings them to the public attention. They need quite a lot of money, which is quite handy, because there’s a few people in this country who have all the money (literally all of it) and they’d quite like things to stay the way they are. If only there was a way for them to encourage the political parties to keep things the same… The donations? Oh, I see.

Politics and people’s thoughts therefore operate in a very small sphere: the sphere of main stream politics, or capitalism. In an ideal world we’d have political parties and media outlets offering an alternative to capitalism and the massive inequality and misery it brings, but that would cost money, and as we’ve seen, a few people have all of that, and they are sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g capitalism, so any media outlets that would allow people to think beyond the very restricting shackles of capitalism are unable to find funding.

Seeing as we’ve been dragged through the dirt of capitalist rhetoric and propaganda for so long, no one even believes there’s an alternative, we have to plough on, ruining the lives of the majority of people on earth, creating endless wars and ensuring that a tragically enormous number of people live in poverty because people find it extremely difficult to think that this isn’t actually right.

Because of the control of the wealthy, when you go to vote you have a very limited choice, with the green party probably the nicest of a bad lot, and they get hardly any attention from the media (funny that innit). By scaring us into submission and subservience and giving us the same political party three times (or four times if you count the UKIP), the people with power (the people with money) ensure that we can only think in the realms that they let us, want us, to think in, we honestly and truly believe that Labour offer us something different to the Conservatives: “you can have this red capitalism or this blue capitalism, go on, pick one, PICK ONE”.

If we could start again now, with the technology we have, if we had a choice of how to run the world because no one has all the money and we’d erased all traces of the massive wealth the richest few people had, do you think we’d collectively, democratically choose to distribute wealth and resources the way we do now? Of course not, it’s horribly unjust, but it’s really hard for us to imagine a world that isn’t as shit as the one we’re in now because we’re constantly bombarded with assertions that this, the current way, is the best way the world could be, and poverty and starvation and all kinds of inequality are just an unfortunate result of a ‘fair’ system. Maybe one day we’ll get back to those basic human instincts of empathy and compassion and we can move forward in a better world.

Until then though, thank god we’ve not been ebola-bombed.

 

 

 

All Things Inked

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post about juggling music journalism alongside attending university, and how that impacted upon my life. (If your mind needs refreshing, have a read here.)

However, I decided that I’d also talk about another love of mine, which is heavily influenced by my music taste: tattoos. Tattoos are becoming a more mainstream fashion choice nowadays. It’s rather difficult to not spot any tattoos when walking down the street. Listening to heavier music, I found that about 99% of bands had tattoos and visible ones at that too, such as on their hands and arms, or their throat. The other 1% most probably had tattoos that just weren’t visible.

I suppose that, in some unconscious way, I ended up liking tattoos because the bands I liked had them. I know – cue everyone saying, “If someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you?” because it’s rather similar, in a sense. I ended up desperately wanting a tattoo, especially when my best friend got her first one; she’s a year older than me, so I had to wait like a sulky teenager until I was 18 to get mine.

My first (and so far, only) tattoo is of a rose and is on the inside of my right leg, just above my ankle. It was done by Antony Flemming, a very talented artist who specialises in Japanese and neo-traditional tattoos, which is my favourite style. After that tattoo though, I promised my Mum I wouldn’t get any done until I was 21 and, surprisingly, I’ve kept to my word. I have, however, had a sketch from my friend, Kathy, who’s doing my next tattoo, and what she sent me is perfect. It makes me excited to have another piece of art on my body!

It also amuses me that different cultures take to tattoos in different ways. Example: me and my best friend (I referred to her earlier) went to Rome this July. Naturally, it was scorching so we wore shorts or skirts for most of the week. At the time, she had about seven tattoos on her legs, so they were visible to the public eye. And boy, did she receive some dirty looks! Everywhere we went, people would openly stare at her legs and then shake their heads before walking away.

It intrigued me. Here, no one really bats an eyelid if you do or don’t have a tattoo, but in Italy, people seemed absolutely disgusted that we’d gotten our legs tattooed. It surprised me at the time but it also makes sense – whilst we were there, it seemed “normal” for men to be heavily tattooed, but the majority of young women would only have one or two, and even then it was usually something like a rose or a butterfly.

I find it strange how some people are so violently against tattoos, but I can understand some people’s concerns. But for me, I love tattoos – it’s like having your own art gallery at your disposal. There isn’t any opening or closing times, and you can touch the artwork too. I have plans for many more, but rest assured, they’ll be all on my legs, with maybe one on my ribs too. Here’s to the next one!

 

The Power of Language: “Are you gay?” – George Green

“Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily
We become so numb to what we’re saying – Macklemore ‘Same Love’
If some people actually listened to the lyrics of popular mainstream music, then they would truly understand the somewhat obvious messages intended by the artist. Macklemore’s clear attempt to promote equality between the heterosexual and LGBT communities however, has definitely fallen on ‘deaf ears’ through my recent experiences of returning to my hometown. People really do become numb to what they say.
“Are you gay?”
A seemingly harmless question to some, where they think it is OK to ask someone such a personal question. No regard for the person whatsoever; but I’m not writing to moan. I’m simply writing to inform people to think before they speak.
The question does much more than what meets the eye. Some may say now ‘well, how am I offending you by asking you that question?’ or wait wait wait, a better one would be, ‘I haven’t got a problem with gay people or anything’ – a line which typically follows the question asked.  I personally got this one whilst attempting to enjoy a drink in a local bar, by a couple of ignoramuses.
Language is a powerful product produced by human beings, I’m sure we all agree (especially if you’re a linguist). We can use it to persuade, influence, scare, threaten, motivate…the list goes on. The functions of language are endless. However, this particular question has posed great problems for me in the past and I’m sure many other people ‘coming to terms’ with their sexuality.
The question for me is more of a challenge. I mean, you wouldn’t ask someone if they were straight, would you? You know, for confirmation or anything. When people used to ask me, I would immediately deny any association with me being gay or bisexual. In fact, it really damaged me in the end. The question had the power to cause a lot of physiological problems. When someone asked me if I was gay, I knew I was, but I said ‘no’ because I thought, ‘well if you’re asking whether I’m gay or not, it must mean that there’s something wrong with me, if I was’. Like I said previously, when has anyone ever said to someone ‘are you straight?’
How can such a question cause so much anguish? This really links back to what we’ve all studied throughout our degrees (or currently studying). What does this question actually mean? On the surface, it may seem to require a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. However, the question does much more than that depending on the situational factors of the addressee. Is this more evidence that meaning is subjective or possibly…contextual? I think so…
I think there are two perspectives we could look at this discussion from, and also, gleam light into two fields of study; a linguistic one and societal one. From a linguistic perspective, where does the meaning of that question come from? And what does it mean for the individual? From a societal perspective, is there really equality when someone says ‘I’m not against gays or anything but, are you gay?’
For the latter, I’m going to say…no.
I’m going to leave you now to ponder over the question. But, don’t think too much into it. I mean, that would be a bit gay, wouldn’t it?
#ThinkBeforeYouSpeak