Why you need to stop saying “that’s so gay”

It’s not uncommon to hear the expression “that’s so gay” used as slang to describe something negative, annoying or unwanted.

If you use the term, you might be unaware that every time you call something gay in reference to something bad, you are linking homosexuality with negativity.

Think of it like this: How would you feel if someone was using your first name to describe something sh*tty that had happened? How would you feel if people latched onto the saying and suddenly all around the world, your name was being used to describe bad or annoying events?

Not great I bet. You might even start to feel ashamed of your name, or pretend to others that your name is something else.

Below we have created a little exercise to help hammer home the point – maybe next time you flippantly go to say ‘that’s so gay’, you’ll think of the impact your words might have upon members of the LGBT+ community.

1. *Drops phone in the loo*
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert the name of one of your parents*”

2. Having to get up early for work when it is still dark outside.
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert your BFF’s name*”

3. Getting dumped.
Say out loud: That’s so *insert name of your crush*”

4. Arguing with your best friend.
Say out loud: That’s so *insert your own name*”

5. Failing your driving test.
Say out loud: “That’s so *insert name of your first pet*”

Next steps: what to do if you think your child might be lesbian, gay or bisexual

It is important to remember that the exploration of sexuality is something that is a completely normal and natural part of growing up. With that being said, we do not underestimate how hard it can be for young people to come out to family and friends. It can also be new and unexplored territory for many family members – parents especially may be unsure of how to best support their lesbian, gay or bisexual child. With this in mind we have compiled a short list of things you can do if you are unsure of how to navigate the journey ahead.

Keep an open dialogue.
Firstly, we advise that parents build open and honest relationships with their children so that they know they can talk to you about any issues that might be on their mind, including their sexuality. Creating a home environment that is inclusive and allows for freedom of expression will enable your child to come out to you without fearing repercussions.

Simple actions you can take to ensure this, is by not being presumptive regarding their sexuality; instead of asking if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend, ask if they are seeing anyone. When discussing sexuality in front of your child, refrain from attaching negative connotations to any orientation. If you have any fears or concerns surrounding your child’s sexuality, remember that your child can experience the same love and fulfilment as those who engage in heteronormative relationships.

Love and accept them for who they are. 
This might seem obvious but it is extremely important in maintaining and boosting your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Do not try and change your child in any way, or encourage them to be anything other than they are. Love them for all that they are and accept their life choices. Remind them every single day that you love them and you are there for them – even if you feel like they aren’t listening, or you are embarrassing them – they will hear it and they will be comforted by it.

Normalise it.
If your child decides to speak to you about their sexuality, or sexual orientation generally, you can use this as an opportunity to make sure they know that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is perfectly normal and natural. If they know you are of this mindset, they will feel at ease confiding in you. They are also more likely to embrace themselves and their life choices, if they have not been made to feel that being LGB is unusual or weird in any way. Don’t treat them any differently either; just because they are L/G/B does not mean they need ‘special’ treatment – remember that their sexuality does not define them. It is an incredibly small part of who they are as a person.

Make them aware of the support on offer. 
As well as the support they will receive from you, make sure they are aware that they can also access support externally from organisations such as Ditch the Label. We have a wide range of guides and support materials available on our blog, a community platform where they can speak directly to a digital mentor as well as being able to discuss any issues with other young adults going through similar experiences. You might also want to think about educating yourself on all matters LGB – that way you will be able to provide advice if they need it.

We interviewed YouTuber Riyadh Khalaf about his experiences with bullying, his new TV series and what it was like coming out to his parents

DtL: Hi Riyadh! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Riyadh: Hey, I’m Riyadh. I’m an Irish guy who moved to London earlier this year to focus on my career and personal growth. I’m a YouTube content creator and Documentary filmmaker with BBC.

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying?
Riyadh: As a kid, I experienced a lot of bullying, both on and offline. The first experiences of this were on the school playground where I was called a whole list of cruel names and it made feel like an outcast.

The trolling online began when I decided to set up my YouTube channel at the age of 16. I was making videos for about nine months when I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments about my mannerisms, voice and appearance. I went to the police to make a statement but they just told me to stop making videos and the comments would stop. I went offline for seven years and then decided about 18 months ago to make a return to the site that I loved so much.

“I began receiving daily death threats and multiple abusive comments”

 

Since my return, I have seen an unbelievable wave of love and support that overshadows any trolling I get. The reason I came back to YouTube is because with age and wisdom through my teenage years I grew a tough skin and the ability to not care anymore. The most important thing to me is my happiness and if I am not creating content then I am not happy. I began to flip the negative comments into a positive by using them for funny ‘Reading Mean Comments’ videos which my viewers love. I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it, I troll the troll or make frivolous remarks about the comment which in turn takes the power and sting away from the hateful words. I do it for fun but also to empower others to see that these words can be dangerous and incredibly hurtful but if you have the right believe in yourself and self-loving attitude, then you can tackle them.

“I take the cruel and uncalled for hate and make fun of it”

 

In school, I just battled through my bullying on my own. I had little or no support from friends or teachers when it was at its worst. I didn’t realise just how anxious, sad and lost I was at the time because those feelings just became my new normal. I found happiness and a safe space in my own home with my parents who became my best friends.

DtL: What advice would you give to those that are being bullied?
Riyadh: Speak up if you’re being harassed or bullied. Ask the person why they are doing it, tell them the effect it is having on you and if they still don’t stop then seek help from a person in power – A teacher, parent, someone who you trust. Suffering in silence and just ‘putting up’ with it as I did is never a good thing. It will eventually make you afraid of the world and worried about every person you speak to.

What you need to realise is that there are millions of people in this country and all over the world who are silently supporting you and on your side. You are never alone. It’s just about reaching out and finding one of those people who can help you take some steps to stopping the bullying.

Sometimes all it takes is a dose of reality for those that bully to understand the impact of their actions and therefore stop. Some cannot be spoken to and that’s just a reality of life but once again, this is not a battle you have to fight alone or should feel embarrassed asking for help in. Teachers and elders are there to assist you but they can’t help unless they know what is going on.

DtL: Do you have a coming out story? If so can you share it with us?
Riyadh: My coming out story began with me coming out to myself and being comfortable with my sexuality.

It took me about four years to build up the courage to begin telling friends and family. My mother was great about it and supported me. She was mainly upset that I had been holding it in for so long.

I came out to my dad nine months after my mother and initially he was fine but the following days he broke down and was incredibly upset. He is Iraqi and although not a practicing Muslim he had a lot of worries about what other people would think. He was having a lot of difficulties coming to terms with it. My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine.

“My dad recently admitted that he was considering suicide the night after I came out. It was heartbreaking to hear as you can imagine”

 

In the months following this household drama my father began to relax and take time to learn what being gay means. We worked hard as a family to repair the broken relationships and learn to love again. My dad came with me to Pride and I can vividly remember seeing him have an ‘ah ha!’ moment. He saw how beautiful, open and loving our community was and he felt proud that his son was part of it. He embraced me and told me he loved me. Since then both my parents have been to multiple Pride events, have marched in marriage equality rallies and have appeared in multiple TV documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community. I am incredibly lucky to have them!

DtL: What are the best and worst things about being a YouTube sensation?
Riyadh: Hahaha I would use the term sensation lightly!

I love being my own boss and having 100% creative freedom in all that I do. I don’t have to run any ideas or concepts past anyone – I can just make it! I get the joy of travelling the world for work and making friends in every new location I land. I really couldn’t ask for a better job.

On the downside, it can have an impact on your mental health and anxiety as you worry about the performance of your channel and videos wondering if it is dying and if you need to change things constantly. This is why I make sure to step away from the computer and phone a lot and give myself some digital breathing space.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?
Riyadh: “Riyadh, it’s all going to be ok in the end” or “Work hard, love hard, surround yourself with great people and never let anyone tell you something is impossible”.

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Riyadh: My proudest moment was getting the chance to publicly campaign for equal marriage in Ireland. I was one of the faces of young Ireland and the ‘Yes’ vote. I worked for months campaigning on national and international media including BBC, CNN and MSNBC then standing with thousands of Irish LGBT’s at Dublin Castle as the result was read out. It was the most amazing experience of my life.

Riyadh on sexuality: “You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human”

 

DtL: What does the future hold for Riyadh?
Riyadh: I’m working on a BBC Three documentary series about LGBTQ culture and issues in the UK including homelessness, racism, body image, femme shaming, porn and more. It’s a dream come true to be making documentaries with BBC and something I’ve wanted to do for countless years.

Beyond this I hope to continue growing my channel, begin working more in entertainment TV and eventually, one day have my own talk show! I have hope! 🙂

DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?
Riyadh: Look into yourself and take away all of the societal, media and family ‘norms’ and expectations. When you have removed all of those external pressures, what do you feel? Who are you drawn to? What is your heart saying?

You are not sick, you are not shameful, you are just human. Go online and find others like you. Speak to like-minded people and begin to truly love yourself and your identity. Then and only then should you consider telling the people around you in my opinion. Your future is bright but it is brighter when you are free!

Tyler Clementi

In 2010, Tyler’s death became a global news story, highlighting the impact & consequences of bullying

Tyler was smart, funny and talented, with a big heart and a determined spirit, but internally he was struggling with depression and suicidal tendencies. He ultimately took his own life at just 18 years old. It has been surreal to piece together these two very different people: the Tyler I knew and loved, and the one I never knew at all.

I have struggled to process how anyone could want to hurt Tyler. He was hard not to love. He never had problems with people that bullied in high school, so when I learned that he had been violated and abused by his college peers, I was in total shock. Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do.

In September 2010, my brother was starting his freshman year at Rutgers University in the US. He had come out to me (actually, we came out to each other) earlier in the summer. I was very supportive and encouraged him to reach out to me no matter what the situation. Tyler came out to our parents only two days before leaving for college. They were shocked, but they advised him to be careful and guarded in his new environment. A new living situation with strangers can be risky, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are at a higher risk of being targeted than their straight peers.

“Tyler was the good kid that never got in trouble. And when he finally was in trouble, he didn’t know what to do”

 

My brother had been closeted in high school and he was excited to finally be out, to be himself for the first time. He was expecting to find a world that embraced him, but instead he soon realised that the start of his college experience had become a nightmare scenario that was far worse than he could have anticipated.

Tyler asked his roommate for and was granted permission to have privacy in their shared dorm room so that he could be alone with a date. What he didn’t know was that when Tyler’s roommate left, he went across the hall to another student’s dorm room and turned on her computer and remotely accessed his webcam, which he had left deliberately pointed at Tyler’s bed. The roommate invited a group of students to have a “viewing party” in the room and sent tweets to students at Rutgers as well as high school friends, detailing exactly what was going on. Tyler’s privacy was violated in a vulnerable moment.

My brother soon realised what had happened. He read his roommate’s Twitter account, which was filled with nasty, homophobic comments about Tyler and the encounter, which clearly was intended to be private. Tyler spiralled into crisis mode, and could not see any way out. I was there, and would have dropped everything to go to him and help him. But he didn’t reach out to me. The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone. That much cruelty and intolerance was too much for one gentle, shy young man to bear.

Over the last several years, my family has had to grapple with the questions of why this happened, and how we could have prevented it. No matter how much we want to, we can’t travel through time to bring Tyler back. But we have channeled our love for Tyler to serving other youth who feel isolated and targeted by bullies by creating the Tyler Clementi Foundation. We have chosen to use our personal tragedy as a teaching tool for others, so that more lives like Tyler’s are not senselessly lost. This fall, our foundation launched a research-based initiative that we believe will help other families avoid the sort of tragedy and pain that befell ours: the #Day1 Campaign.

“The shame and stigma of what Tyler experienced pushed him toward a permanent choice that cannot be undone”

 

The two biggest questions we have wrestled with are: “Why would someone want to hurt or humiliate Tyler?” And, “How can we make sure that other youth who are being bullied reach out for help before they take a self-harming action?” #Day1 addresses both of these issues. While it may seem obvious that we should always treat others with respect and dignity, the reality is that middle, high school, and college level students are not hearing this message from their teachers or administrators at school.

The #Day1 campaign explicitly spells out for young people exactly how they are expected to behave towards their peers. It states that mistreatment and abusive, cruel behaviour that will not be tolerated against any student for any reason. After students have heard the #Day1 pledge, they know exactly what is expected of them as part of the school community, and there is no room for misunderstanding. If Tyler or his peers had heard this statement at the beginning of their freshman year, it may have drastically impacted the way he was treated.

In regards to my second question, I believe the biggest obstacle for young people reaching out for help is the shame and stigma they feel when they experience bullying and harassment. It is my hope and belief that by having teachers and school administrators read the #Day1 pledge to students, it will send the message, “You are not alone. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let us help you. We are here to help, and we want to help.” When a student hears their school’s principal read the #Day1 pledge during an assembly, or their history teacher read the pledge in the classroom, it sends them the message that they are not the only person that this is happening to. It lets them know that their school has an environment of support and acceptance for those who are different, and they are empowered to speak out if their dignity is being violated in any way.

Written by James Clementi (Tyler’s brother)

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation at http://tylerclementi.org

 

Bisexual man, YouTuber, RJ,

Writer, Actor, Comedian, and online personality R.J. Aguiar on what it is like to be a bisexual man

I didn’t meet my first out bisexual person until I was a freshman in college. Let that sink in for a second.

I went 18 years on this planet without meeting the first openly bi person. Notice how I said “openly”. Chances are that I met plenty of bi people all throughout my childhood, just from a statistical standpoint. But it wasn’t until I was a legal adult that I finally met someone who actually identified as such. And as someone who would later come out as bisexual himself, this was a pretty huge moment for me. Imagine going through your entire childhood without meeting someone who shares your same identity. Imagine what it would feel like to spend so many of your formative years without experiencing that kind of validation. Imagine trying to accept such an integral part of who you are without anyone else telling you that it’s okay…that you’re not confused…that you’re not indecisive…you’re not just trying to seek attention…you’re not just going through a phase…that everything you’re feeling and experiencing is valid and not shameful.

It’s hard enough trying to make sense of your identity when you don’t really have words to describe what’s going on. It’s even worse when your only exposure to your own identity is purely through negativity and shame. I had heard the word “Bi’ a handful of times throughout middle and high school. Usually in the context of sentences like “so ­and­ so says she’s might be bi, she’s such a slut” or “she says she’s a little bi, but she’s only doing it for attention”. It’s worth mentioning that these conversations only ever centred around girls. Any attempt at men identifying as such was immediately dismissed as a gay boy’s attempt at being in denial. Add to this the fact that I grew up in the Catholic Church, which added so much oxygen to the “shame and confusion” fire. Luckily for me, my church didn’t preach much of the “fire and brimstone” teaching of same-sex attraction that many others spew. Instead, it perpetuated what I like to call “soft homophobia”, which ended up being especially tricky for me to navigate. Soft homophobia goes a little something like this: “You can’t necessarily help it if you have gay thoughts, but you can help whether or not you act on them. And if you do act on them, that’s shameful and wrong. You can always choose what impulses to act on.”

“Imagine going through your entire childhood without meeting someone who shares your same identity”

 

And that was the problem. In my case, they kind of had a point. I was kind of being pulled in two different directions, with my same-sex attraction pulling me in one direction and my opposite-­sex attraction pulling me in another. Of course, my church wasn’t the only voice telling me that I had to pick one. In fact, pretty much everyone and everything was telling me that I had to pick one or the other. Believe me, I tried to. Despite the crushes I developed on girls and boys growing up, I only allowed myself to pursue girls. I tried and tried in vain to ignore any same­-sex attraction, hoping that, one day, it would just magically disappear the way so many people told me that it would. But years and years passed and that day never came. It seemed like I was always going to be pulled in two directions at once.

This is why it was so pivotal when I finally met someone who had made it a point to not “pick a side”. I had been told time and time again that it could only be one or the other, that people could be gay or they could be straight but never “both”. And yet here was someone who refused to play by those rules, and the universe hadn’t imploded. She was the first person who opened my eyes to the fact that bisexuality doesn’t mean that someone is half gay and half straight. The person you date isn’t going to change the fact that you’re always potentially attracted to more than one gender. And just because you are attracted to multiple genders doesn’t mean you won’t still be able to settle down and fall in love. It just means that the pool of potential applicants is a bit larger. These revelations were nothing short of earth-shattering to me. Part of me had always wanted that much to be true all along, but literally no one up until that point had told me that it was okay. The more we talked, the more her lessons on bisexuality resonated with me and the more my questioning and turmoil gave way to acceptance. It didn’t take long after that before I was finally able to say to myself “I’m bi, and that’s okay.”

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/O69A1114.jpg”]

 

I’d love to say that this marked the end of my journey towards being an out and proud bi man, but I’d be lying. As many an LGBT+ person will tell you, self-­acceptance is often just the first hurdle. Even if I was starting to accept myself, that didn’t mean that everyone else would feel the same way. There was (and still is) Biphobia everywhere. Worse yet, it wasn’t just coming from straight people. As counterintuitive and idiotic as it may sound, I encountered many a gay and lesbian person in LGBT spaces that would openly dismiss and express animosity towards bi/pan/otherwise fluid people. Opening up about my identity would mean putting up with stupidity and ridicule from both sides, which was something I wasn’t ready to handle. “Besides,” I argued to myself, “unless I’m dating someone, it’s not really any of their business in the first place. Why open up about this to everyone I meet just so they can question and doubt every relationship I have from then on?”

“I tried and tried in vain to ignore any same­-sex attraction, hoping that, one day, it would just magically disappear”

 

Luckily, shortly thereafter, I started dating someone who was incredibly chill about the fact that I was bi. The thing was…he was a guy. So the time came to make a choice: either come clean to people or let them draw their own conclusions. I only chose the first option for a very select few close family and friends, and the second one for pretty much anyone else. As a result, a lot of people kept mislabeling me as gay. Every time they did, I had to convince myself that it was easier letting it go than correcting them and possibly having to deal with the ensuing pushback. That method worked for a few years, until one day, I got an anonymous message on Tumblr that put me over the edge. I decided to take to YouTube and shut down everyone who tried to shove me in a box where I didn’t belong.

Little did I know that the response my little rant would be absolutely massive. And it was through the massive response I got to that video (and to all the other ones I’ve made about bisexuality since then) that I discovered just how important it is to live your truth. I’m not going to sit here and say that Closeted Me was wrong and that I never experience any Biphobia or hate, because that would be a lie. But what I didn’t realise previously is that coming out would give me access to an entire community that I didn’t even know about before. I’m not just talking about organisations like BiNetUSA, the LA Bi Task Force, AmBi, the BiCast, and other great Bi organisations – I’m also just talking about the thousands of people who have flooded to the videos and my channel to say “hey, I’m bi too!” Speaking from experience, being closeted can be a very isolating experience. So finding your community can be an incredible relief, even if it is mostly online. It’s that feeling I got when I met my first bi person but multiplied by a hundred. Better yet, I get to be that person to literally thousands of others, the one who says “who you are and what you’re experiencing is valid”.

“So if you’re bi, pan, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, or any other label under the Bi+ umbrella, fret not. You’re not alone”

 

The funny thing is, I’m still learning a lot about bisexuality. You’d think that the concept would be as simple as “being attracted to more than one gender”, and it sort of is. But there’s also all sorts of history and heritages and facts and figures. For instance, did you know that the organiser of the first Gay Pride parade was a bi woman? Or that Bi+ people experience higher instances of sexual assault and intimate partner violence than their gay and straight counterparts? I won’t bore you with a course; if you’re really interested, there are plenty of resources out there written by far more qualified people. Point is, I’m finding out all of this new information about my own identity, which is something I never even thought would be possible all those years ago. Oh, and I’m also headed to the White House in late September to participate in a Bisexual Round Table. How’s that for a happy ending?

So if you’re bi, pan, omnisexual, polysexual, fluid, or any other label under the Bi+ umbrella, fret not. You’re not alone. Same goes if you’re gay or lesbian or trans or ace. You don’t have to come out if you think it might put you at risk. But know that, if and when you choose to, there will be others out there who share your same identity. If you don’t really know how you want to identify, that’s fine. There’s no law that says you have to pick a label at any time. If you come across one that feels like it fits, great! If not, who cares? And if you choose one label and then later find another one that fits better, then that’s fine too! But no matter how you identify, realise that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to live their life in a way that makes sense to you. Chances are that, at some point in your life, you’re going to come across someone who does something or has an identity that makes no sense to you. That’s okay. There’s no requirement that says their life and their choices have to make sense to you. You can cause real damage by ridiculing and/or dismissing them, and for what? It’s their life and their existence compared to your brief interaction with them. It costs you nothing to simply accept them, and yet it can mean the world to that person. And if you need any proof as to how meaningful it can be, let me serve as your example.

Written by RJ Aguiar

Follow RJ on YouTube