Gender & Sexuality

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    • 00:08

      [Gender & Sexuality]

    • 00:11

      MARK MCCORMACK: I'm Dr. Mark McCormack.I'm a senior lecturer in sociology at Durham Universityand co-director of its Centre for Sex,Gender, and Sexualities. [Dr. Mark McCormack, Co Director,Centre for Sex, Gender, and Sexualities, Durham University]This study is looking at how homophobic language has changedand evolved over the years, how we'removing from a way of understanding language asinherently homophobic to one which I callhomosexually themed language, where how phrases like "that's

    • 00:32

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: so gay" are deployed might have different meaningsin different contexts and might even be used to bondgay and straight friends together.[That's So Gay-- The Changing Dynamics, Meanings, and Effectsof Homophobic Language]This case study explores how 35 openly gay male undergraduatesunderstood and used what I call homosexually themed language.That is, language that might oncehave been conceived as homophobicplays with notions of homosexuality and same-sex

    • 00:55

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: desire, but may or may not be considered homophobic.It's part of broader research I'vedone that investigates how homosexually themed languageexists in contemporary society and howyoung gay and straight men may experience itin particular ways.[The Study in Context]The broader context of this study

    • 01:15

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: is that there's been a very particular way of understandinghomophobic language in the sociological literature.There were two key factors.The first was that there had to be intent to harm or woundanother person.Homophobic language is homophobicif it's meant to denigrate a person or same-sex desire.The second was it that has an negative effect.Homophobic language is damaging and bad,

    • 01:38

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: because it has that negative, hurtful, psychological,emotional consequences on the people who hear it.However, I argue that the third componentof homophobic language is that it happensin homophobic environments.Of course, someone can say something homophobic and nastyin a very pro-gay space, in a gay bar, wherever.But it's unlikely to have the effectsthat the literature talked about-- so damaging, so

    • 01:60

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: deleterious-- unless it's in a homophobic environment.So recognizing the importance of the intent, the effectit has, but also the environment isvery important in understanding how homophobic language mayimpact on people.[Studying How Young Straight Men Use Homophobic Language]My early research on this issue hadlooked at how young straight men had used such language.

    • 02:22

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: And these were young straight menwho had rejected homophobia.They had gay friends.They supported equal marriage.They even critiqued their schools for being homophobic.And their critique was there wasn'ta curriculum on sexuality.There weren't openly gay staff.So these were guys who by most measures were not homophobic.And yet some of them would still say phrases

    • 02:42

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: like "that's so gay."They argued that it wasn't homophobic.They argued that they were using it justas an expression of frustration.I developed an argument that they were basically correct,that we needed to recognize the position they were coming from.But others argued that this was kind of a defensive reaction.They would say that, wouldn't they,because they recognize that homophobia

    • 03:04

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: is something that is negative, and theydon't want to be seen as it.So the question became, is this damaging?Is "that's so gay" problematic?And my study with these 35 openly gay young peoplesought to understand the precise natureof this kind of language.[Interviews with 35 Openly Gay Male Undergraduates]

    • 03:25

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: To address this issue about the validityof the young straight men's arguments, me and my colleaguesinterviewed 35 young gay men at universities across the UKabout their own experiences of hearing and usinghomosexually themed language.In-depth interviews were really important here,because they enabled us to get to their lived experiences

    • 03:46

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: through their own narratives.They told us over the course of about an hourtheir own personal experiences of beinggay, of hearing homophobic and homosexually themed language,and what it meant to them.So it was kind of this study is rooted in their narratives,and it's grounded in terms of the arguments we developare based in what they told us.The first thing they tell us is that homophobic language

    • 04:08

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: actually isn't central to their lives,whereas research from the 1980s and 1990sshowed that homophobic language was really damaging,such that gay people felt quote "defined by difference."These young guys hadn't experiencedthat much homophobia at all.Most of them hadn't had it directed at them, in fact.More broadly, they also spoke about "that's so gay" not

    • 04:29

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: being part of their lives.Some heard it regularly, but most had only heard itoccasionally in their lives.So the first key point was that this issuewasn't as pervasive an issue as the researchshowed in the past.[Participants Don't See 'That's So Gay' as Homophobic]The second key point related to homosexually themed languageand "that's so gay" is that my participants actually

    • 04:53

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: supported the arguments of the young straight men.In general, they didn't see it as homophobic.Several of them said it wasn't homophobic at all,but more broadly, they would actuallyspeak about it not being inherently homophobic.And so actually, they were buyinginto the definitions used earlier,that it would be homophobic if itwas intended to be homophobic.It would be homophobic if there was this negative effect,

    • 05:15

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: these kind of things.But if a friend was talking about itwho they knew, who they liked, they justdidn't see it as homophobic.And some of them thought it was fine because they evenused it themselves.[An Intent, Context, Effect Matrix]The final empirical point that I want to draw attention tois how they talked about the importance of intent,or context, or effect.

    • 05:36

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: They spoke about these as distinct variablesas many people do, but actually theywere all inherently linked.So I actually talk about an intent, context, effect matrixin that when they talked about intent,they were meaning the intent could be determinedby the effect it had, by the context by their friends,and that the effect would be again determined

    • 05:56

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: by how they said it, the context in which it was said,et cetera, et cetera.And so it's really rather a matrixthat is based upon these young people havinga shared set of norms.They don't see it as homophobic whenit's their friends saying it, because theyknow their friends aren't homophobic.And they even enjoy kind of bantering sometimes with it,

    • 06:17

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: because they know the norm that they're in.This has interesting consequencesfor when it's used in public versus whenit's used in private.But whether "that's so gay" is inherently homophobic,my participants said, no, it's not.[Applications of the Study]There are several important applicationswith this research.The first is recognizing the diversity

    • 06:38

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: of meanings associated with phrases like "that's so gay."For some, it's homophobic, but for others it's not.And this is particularly importantwhen surveys that measure homophobic bullying in school,for example, take "that's so gay" as a measureof homophobic bullying.Quite simply, there is evidence that it isn'tthe case in many situations.People might hear "that's so gay" as homophobic,but other people might not.

    • 06:60

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: And we need to move beyond kind of simplistic understanding.Secondly, we need to think about the politics of such language.Is saying "that's so gay" a positive thing?It might be for some if it bonds people together.It might be something that helps expungethe stigma from the word.For others, it might be very damaging.How do we think about how "that's so gay" is used,and what is the politics behind it?

    • 07:21

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: I think what's most important is that we use itas a learning opportunity.Participants in my earlier researchspoke very positively about same-sex sexualityin gay people, but didn't know much of the history.If we can use "that's so gay" as a learning opportunityto think about history of homophobia,for example, or empathy, or thinking about howother people might perceive things differently as

    • 07:43

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: to how we intend them, it can be a really useful tool.So I think understanding the diversity of meaningswith "that's so gay" leads us to a range of interesting issues.The second application is to actually thinkabout generational differences.Just as some people hear it one particular way,actually, there's evidence that people over 30,

    • 08:03

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: older people in general, hear it morehomophobically than younger people.That's because, just as when I was in school,I heard "that's so gay" alongside peoplebeing homophobic in other ways.I used to hear it as homophobic, but young people nevergrew up in that way, hearing it in that form.So we actually see "that's so gay" isa window into seeing generational differences morebroadly.The third application is to think about what

    • 08:25

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: this means for schools."That's so gay" is still used in schools.We know that, and so how can we deal with this?The answer isn't to say, that's homophobic, don't do it.The answer is to use it as a learning opportunity,to hear firstly the voices of the people that are using it.Is it meant homophobically?But then also to use it as a learning opportunity,to think about how other people might hear it

    • 08:46

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: or to think about empathy.Do you want to be seen as homophobic?Do you want other people to be upsetthat they think you're being homophobic even if you're not?So there's a range of applicationsthat are very important when thinking about the changingnature of phrases like "that's so gay."[Conclusion]In conclusion, this study examined how "that's so gay"

    • 09:07

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: and other forms of what I call homosexually themed languageare changing.We need to move beyond a framework of languagebeing homophobic or not and recognizethat there are diverse forms of language, meaning, and effect.By interviewing 35 openly gay youthand by conceptualizing an intent, context, effect matrix,

    • 09:27

      MARK MCCORMACK [continued]: we actually see the meanings of phrases like "that's so gay"are incredibly complex, are diverse, and havequite important considerations for howwe think about sexuality and gender in schools more broadly.

Gender & Sexuality

View Segments Segment :


Dr. Mark McCormack discusses his research into the phrase "that's so gay" and how it is perceived. Using input from young gay men and gay allies, he determines that the phrase can be understood as homophobic or an expression of frustration, depending on the context in which it is used. He lists several applications for this research.

SAGE Video Cases
Gender & Sexuality

Dr. Mark McCormack discusses his research into the phrase "that's so gay" and how it is perceived. Using input from young gay men and gay allies, he determines that the phrase can be understood as homophobic or an expression of frustration, depending on the context in which it is used. He lists several applications for this research.

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