I didn’t pay much attention to the four teenaged boys standing in front of me at Wendy’s until one of them started talking about someone who had been wearing a Miley Cyrus t-shirt and how he’d walked up to that person and said, “That’s so gay.”

Is this so gay?

At that, I paid attention. At that, I presumed the person wearing the t-shirt was male. At that, I wanted to speak up and say something to the teenager, but I didn’t know what to say or how to say it in a way that would get across my message and not make the young man shut down. Instead, I eavesdropped.

“What’d he say?” one of his friends asked.

“Nothing,” the young man answered. “He just walked away.”

And the conversation was dropped.

But as we continued to wait in line, I continued to think about how I could say something – how to tell this young man that what he’d said was so very, very wrong. And I wondered what I would say if an ABC News crew for “What Would You Do?” jumped out of the kitchen and asked me why I hadn’t done anything.

I wanted too but was too chicken would be a horrible answer.

Perhaps equally horrible would be I didn’t want to embarrass the guy … or I didn’t want his wrath on me … or …

“Hey, dude, that’s wrong. Don’t say that.”

Nope, that wouldn’t work.

“You know that by saying ‘that’s so gay’ you’re telling others that you’re gay and terrified of that.”

Nope, that wouldn’t work.

I wondered about pulling him aside and talking to him privately, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that either. I thought about writing him a note on a napkin and dropping it on their table as I walked by. And I could hear his buddies asking, “Hey, what’s that?” And I could see him sharing the note with them and hearing them giggle and whisper about me.

What do I care that four teenaged boys giggle and whisper about me? Apparently, I care a lot.

Miley Cyrus sex t-shirt

Is this so gay?

I watched the young man as they sat at their table eating and I sat at mine. The teenager was thin and wore a baby blue Kansas sweatshirt. I thought about all my married-to-women male Secret Sex Lives sources who told me they fantasized about having sex with men – an Army vet, a school principal, a rancher, and more.

I wanted to tell the young man that questioning one’s sexuality and sexual identification is normal, that fantasizing about having sex with the same gender is normal too, and that experimenting with the same sex is also part of life for many people.

I wanted to ask him to help me carry something heavy to my car so that I could chat privately with him and say, “Son, when I hear someone use a phrase like ‘that’s so gay,’ what I hear – and others often hear – is that you are in a phase of questioning your own sexuality and that’s okay. And if you discover that you’re gay, that’s okay too.”

I thought about a student I’d had when I’d taught marketing at Austin Community College in the early ’90s. He was one of my best students. He was popular and nice looking. He ran a successful fishing business. And he went to church every Sunday. But on Saturday nights, he told me, he went out and beat up gay men. He’d said that proudly. And I’d said nothing in return. Nothing.

* * *

In 2013, just around the time I heard that young man say “that’s so gay,” a gay friend of mine phoned and told me that he’d gotten beat up by a redneck who didn’t like gays, the police had been called, and my friend had had to get six stitches sewn in his forehead. My friend’s AIDS counselor wants my friend to press charges. My friend can’t decide if he will. He’s dealing with too many other things. After all, when one is battling AIDS, battling a redneck seems trivial.

But I do wish I understood why the redneck hates gays so much.

And I wonder why my A student hates gays so much.

Is it because he goes to church and because of that thinks homosexuality is a sin?

If that’s true, why didn’t he beat up himself too because his church teaches that premarital sex is a sin, too. And I know he had sex with women.

In fact, I’m confounded by people who insist that homosexuals not be allowed to teach their children when those same people have no problem with fornicators, adulterers, tax cheats, and gossips teaching their children. All of those are sins according to the Bible. So if you want to throw out the homosexuals, in my opinion, you’d better throw out the unmarried teachers who are having sex, the married teachers who are having sex with partners who aren’t their spouses, the teachers who don’t report their cash income to the IRS, and the teachers who gossip about their students … and each other.

* * *

I think about all the gossip I’ve heard about me for the past 37 years as people have insisted that I’m gay and in denial. To the few who’ve told me that to my face – most just gossiped to others about it, but their words made their way back to me – I laughed and said, “Thank you. Some of the nicest, smartest, most talented women I know are lesbians.”

So I guess I wish had interrupted those teens’ conversation and said to that young man, “Wow. I hope your friend said thank you for the compliment.”

If anyone ever compared me to Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, Susan Sontag, Rita Mae Brown, Patricia Cornwell, or Fannie Flagg, I’d be honored. I’d even put on a Miley Cyrus t-shirt for that. Hell, let’s make it really gay. Give me an Armistead Maupin, Tennessee Williams, or Truman Capote t-shirt. Please, give me one. Seriously.

Truman Capote t-shirt.

* * *

If you are interested in reading about others who are struggling with their sexuality and sexual identification, please read my memoir, Secret Sex Lives: A Year on the Fringes of American SexualitySecret Sex Lives by Suzy Spencer

Suzy Spencer is a New York Times best-selling author and journalist.
  1. Suzy Reply
    A Facebook fan emailed her thoughts about the above blog post. She sent her comments privately because ... well, I'll let her explain it herself. But I did ask her if I could post her thoughts, and she said yes, as long as her identity is kept secret. So below you'll find a fan's thoughts on A Miley Cyrus T-shirt: "That's So Gay." RE: Miley Cyrus. Let me begin by saying I'm doing this on private message, not because I'm afraid of what people think about me.....but because I DO like to keep control over whether or not they do ACTUALLY AND ACCURATELY understamd. I trust you to get what I'm saying completely or to ask questions if you don't. The expression, "Don't cast your pearls before swine", means that you don't have to share everything you think or know with everyone. Having said that, I substitute taught in middle schools and high schools for several years up until about two years ago. The expression, "you're (or he or she is) so gay" was regularly used. I'm saying that they would talk amongst themselves in the classroom while supposedly doing their work. One day, I'd had enough. I said, "Please stop saying that....you don't know that that person is gay." He said, "Oh yes, he is!" I said, "Really....as far as I know there is only ONE way you could KNOW that!" The class got hysterical,,,,the kid looked confused,,,,but finally got it and turned scarlet. End of discussion.....and totally inappropriate as a Sub. I never said this again,,,,but I bet the kid thinks twice before saying that anywhere again. Because everything I have read told me that this generation is more accepting of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle....I was shocked to hear so many kids use that expression in a clearly negative fashion. While I think it is unhealthy, I'm convinced that is used as a bullying technique to enhance their own status with the group. They say the same things about someone who is overweight, dresses differently, is smart, etc. None of these are good, but I see it as one large problem in terms of how teens relate to one another and the world. During a time when they are trying to figure out who they are, they have somehow gotten the idea that it is okay to say to others,,,,"well, I don't know who I am, but I know I'm not YOU!" Also, they delight in being "snarky". I got mad and showed it one day in class when one black student (it was a predominantly black school) called another the "n" word. Notice I use a euphemism and refuse to use the word. When I reminded him that people died so that he or anyone else didn't have to be called by that word, he replied that as a black person he could call someone else by that name and it didn't mean anything. My reply? "So then you're saying that you used it in a positive sense?" At that point he backed down. I told him that he might feel free to use it elsewhere, but not in my presence if he wanted to stay in my classroom! Anyway, as always, you are open and honest about what you think. I appreciate that.... Blessings!
  2. Arkansas Dave Reply
    let me tell you people something! If you would of asked me what I said I would of said right in your face!! Who the hell are you or anyone to tell me to not say!!?? I often say that phrase and no one has ever said anything to me like not to say it or anything like that. if someone ever does I will tell them to STFU and its none of their business what I say, homo or not!! It's like no one has anything else better to worry about. Are you kidding me? So what about if the kids were talking about a fat person? Would you of said anything about that? NO you wouldn't have. It's getting way out of hand how gay people want to be praised for "coming out" and how others say that person is so brave. SO WHAT!! ;YOUR GAY, BIG F'N DEAL!!! Ya know this country is getting way too gay about this. What about say, 10 years ago when it wasn't an issue? I never heard of people getting upset or seeing commercials about saying "that's gay". I'm so sick of you damn people jumping on every damn band wagon about "Politically correct" crap and these trendy ribbons and causes!! Why can't people just worry about themselves and their own life and goings-on. Life would be so different. Another example which I'm sure your behind is say if I called someone a nigger, that would be considered a "hate crime" or how ever that is phrased. Some states consider that some kind of law being broken or something like that. And especially if your in a fight and do that then it's def a hate crime. But what about if I'm called a cracker by a colored person?? Does the same rule apply? NO it does not!! Why? Because the white population has a label of being racist whether they are or not. So in closing NO ONE will tell me what not to say!!! This whole topic is so gay!! And I'm sure you believe 2nd hand smoke kills non-smokers too??
    • Suzy Reply
      Arkansas Dave, did we grow up together and you've just changed your name? If so, you know that my sister is obese and I have stood up to people who call overweight people derogatory names. Despite growing up in Deep East Texas and having worked as a summer missionary in the Cass Park area of Detroit in the early '70s where I was often the white minority, I've never heard a black person actually use the word "cracker," so I don't know how I'd react to that. Considering that I have a non-smoking friend battling Stage IV lung cancer and who has been told she'll be dead in a year, yes, I believe secondhand smoke contributes to lung cancer. She is my second non-smoking friend to be diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Thank God, she is still alive. My first friend is dead. Both grew up in the homes of chain smokers. According to "Faces of Lung Cancer," 29% of the world's lung cancer is not related to smoking, which can be interpreted pro or con secondhand smoke. Women are the hardest hit, which may be why I'm such a non-smoking advocate ... as well as the fact that my father was a smoker, was told that he must quit smoking and didn't, and died when I was five ... which is in my book "Secret Sex Lives," which you might enjoy. Back to lung cancer, it's the #1 cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the U.S., according to Lynne Eldridge, M.D. and Faces of Lung Cancer. In fact, 450 Americans die daily, 19 per hour, 1 every 3 minutes and 1.4 million die worldwide every year, thanks to lung cancer.
  3. Angela Reply
    Yowser! to the Arkansas Dave comment. Did someone hit a nerve with you dude? As in shining a light on your not so closeted hate and fears? The use of language and terms that have insulting or dismissive meanings is offensive primarily because it is delivered by someone who is coming from a position of privilege granted by skin color or heteronormative bigendered standards. Or in plain English an apparently heterosexual white male is considered the norm in mainstream American culture and any statement by someone indicating that someone else is not all of those things is definitely considered a put down, an insult, a slur and probably an oh thank God I am NOT gay, queer, transgendered, non Caucasian, non male, fill in the blank. Why is that you might ask? Because most people do not want to be considered inferior, or less than or different or rejected merely for not being a heterosexual white male. Suzy I applaud the fact that you are bothered by this. How these situations should be handled in the future? I use pointed humor when I can or sometimes I simply ask the person why they said what they did. And truthfully sometimes I don't ask or attempt to raise consciousness via humor and I walk away hiding behind my own apparently heteronormative white middle class mother facade. Of course many of those facade elements are not true in regards to me but I will, on my less courageous moments, shield myself from reprisal behind the privilege granted to me by appearing to be "normal". I still have to work on being more vocal and brave about who I really am and for advocating for those of my family of the heart who are not able to be hide behind the shield of privilege.

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