On Being Called Gay

When I first started writing a blog about name calling, insults, and respect, the very first comment that I received was from a guy who called himself Richard from Colorado.

I'm afraid to come out of the closet.

I’m afraid to come out of the closet.

“Even if you don’t think that your words hurt,” Richard wrote, “they can. I’m gay and struggling with it. I don’t want people to know yet, but it still hurts inside when someone says that’s so gay because it puts me down.”

I replied,

“Hi Richard,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, there are certain statements that we hear that are really hard to bear. I’m wondering if you have found a response to such comments that you feel works for you. And when you use that response, what kinds of reactions do you get? I think those of us following the blog would be interested in this and your experience.”

gay 1I never heard back from Richard, and so I put the gay issue aside believing it wasn’t necessary to take it on directly because it is only a small minority who could relate to this. According to a 2015 Gallop poll, less than 4 percent of the adult population identify themselves as gay. It seemed to me that my blog posts should focus on issues with which the vast majority of people could identify. Moreover, the many suggestions that I do provide in my posts to deal with insults in a general way could easily be applied by someone who is called gay in a disrespectful manner.

But last week I received an email that made me think a little more about this.

 “Hello Dr. Rubin,

I recently enjoyed reading a few posts from your blog, and I have a question. I suspect other readers have had similar questions, so if you’ve addressed this in a post, please feel free to just send me a link, if so. Any response would be appreciated.

I was interested in your idea of ‘four levels of maturity’ in which the highest level of maturity is to listen thoughtfully to an insult or criticism, and to accept the criticism offered. I agree there are many situations in which this kind of response would indeed be best.

However, I was one of those young men who, especially when I was in school, was frequently verbally abused by other young men who would for instance call me a ‘fag.’

I don’t happen to be gay, but my daughter is, and she gets very upset when other kids taunt her with slurs she interprets as ‘homophobic.’ A ‘level four’ thoughtful acceptance of such a slur would obviously not be appropriate. What do you counsel young people to do in those situations?”

gay 4I responded with an email directly to the writer of this email, offering some suggestions. Then, after a little more thought, I decided that the issues raised earlier by Richard from Colorado and the writer of the email I recently received actually do impact a majority of people. Moreover, even if it didn’t, taking a little time to directly address a concern that a minority are dealing with is a decent thing to do. And so, in this light, I offer the following meditation on this topic.

Why This Topic is Relevant to a Majority of People

The first time I gave any thought to this topic was way back in the early 1960s. I was about twelve years old, watching TV with my mom. liberaceA pianist, Liberace, played a pretty impressive number, and then, as he was being interviewed by the show’s host, my mom turned to me and said, “He’s a faygala, but I like him anyway.”

Faygala is a Yiddish word that literally means “little bird,” but in the Brooklyn neighborhood that I grew up in it typically referred to a gay man. I didn’t know that at the time, so I asked my mom, “Liberace’s a faygala? What’s a faygala?”

“Oh, it means a guy that likes other guys like most guys like women. They prefer to sleep with a man and have sex with a man, rather than with a woman.”

Liberace 2The fact that my mom still liked Liberace despite his being gay was not all that unusual. With his unique blend of piano prowess and over-the-top showmanship, Liberace was one of the most loved performers of the 20th century. For several years he had his own TV show, with an estimated 35 million mostly female viewers. He sold millions of records and was one of the highest paid performers in Las Vegas.

With this fresh, saucy news that there were guys called faygalas who like to have sex with other guys, the next morning in the school yard I revealed all that I had learned from my mom. One of the older guys, after listening to me, informed us that the type of guy I was talking about might be called a faygala in Yiddish, but the usual words for this, as far as he was concerned, was either a “faggot” or a “fag.”

I was surprised by this because I, and many of the guys in my neighborhood, were very familiar with these two words. We often used them ourselves when we wanted to throw an insult at someone, and others, likewise, had used them against us. At the time, my friends and I had just thought they were general insults that meant something similar to “stupid jerk!”

I’m a little embarrassed to say that even after I learned that the words faggot and fag were put downs to gay people, I continued to use them as general insults for a good few more years until one particular incident.

gay 5I happened to be talking to a friend of mine that we’ll call for today Nick. As we discussed some stuff, at one point he told me that a guy who was a mutual friend of ours was insulted by someone. As soon as I heard about it, I immediately called the insulter “a dirty faggot.”

Jeff,” said Nick, “I don’t like you using that word.”

I was puzzled by this, and after a moment thinking about this, I wondered if Nick was a guy that had sexual interests in guys. I doubted it because we had gone on some dates together and it seemed to me that he was mighty attractive to the young lady he was with. But I said, “Nick, you like guys in a sexual way?”

“That’s not it,” he replied. “It’s just that there’s a guy I work with who is interested in guys that way, and he spoke to me about how he feels when he hears someone using words like faggot. You’re Jewish, Jeff. If the guys in the neighborhood started using an insulting word for Jewish people as an insult for everyone they got angry with, how would you feel about that?”

gay 6“Hmmm,” I said. And then, after giving this some thought, I replied, “I see what you mean. I’ll try to stop using those types of words. It’s an old habit, so if you catch me slipping up some time, feel free to call me on it.”

Now let’s flash forward about twenty years. I happened to be having dinner with my family and one of my two sons suddenly used the phrase, “That’s so gay,” to indicate that he didn’t like something I had done. And so I launched into the type of conversation my friend Nick had with me so many years ago.

So, from what I have written, I hope you can see that even if most of us are not gay, this issue of people being called gay as a way to insult others probably enters into most of our lives. We may have a friend or family member that is gay. We might be using the terms that refer to gay people in very insulting ways. We may overhear others using these types of words as put downs, and then we are faced with whether or not to speak up and defend fellow human beings.

What do I Counsel Young People to do in These Types of Situations?

 Obviously any suggestions I make here can’t be perfect for every conceivable situation. But let me try to present something that some might find helpful.
gay 7If you hear someone using terms for gay people in an insulting manner, consider having a similar conversation that Nick had with me. Perhaps it might motivate you to do so if you keep in mind that someday you might find out that your own child might turn out to be gay, and if you had remained silent all those years before you became aware of this, how would you end up feeling?
If someone does call you gay and you are, this is indeed a tricky situation. If you admit that you are, you risk losing friends, and it could lead to some more mean hearted attacks either verbally, or physically. You will have to consider carefully whether you want to take on this type of challenging situation.
For those of you who decide to come out and openly reveal that you are gay, I suggest trying out the following types of replies, well rehearsed beforehand, that you might use when someone tries to insult you by calling you gay.
Fred: “You gay guys are disgusting.”
Hank: Looking squarely into Fred’s eyes, “You don’t like anyone who is gay, Fred?”
Fred: “No. They’re disgusting pigs.”
Hank: “Well, Fred, I met some gay guys who weren’t too cool, but I met some that were pretty decent guys.”
Fred: “They’re all disgusting pigs!”
Hank: “I’m sorry you feel that way, Fred.”
Throughout this conversation, Hank would remain friendly and self assured.
Before giving this a try, I suggest giving the following some pretty careful thought–Just because someone is throwing an insult at you doesn’t mean you have to choose to feel insulted. You could, instead, feel sorry that person hasn’t learned yet that there are a great number of gay folks who have something enormous to offer this fascinating world of ours.
Well, although there is so much more to be said about this topic, that’s all the time I have for today. Here’s hoping you join us again right here at From Insults To Respect.
gay 2
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.


  1. Thanks for your efforts. I was finally able to understand that I had downloaded the Dealing…I printed two copies thinking of a particular boy. I don’t know that he is gay; he’s very sensitive. Of course, I’ll give it to an adult who deals with the boy. Thanks again

  2. Hello, My name is Richard langford from the mountains of Colorado. In the eyes of the creator being gay is not an error (sin) but, the act of sharing in their type of love making is. I counsel all types of people all over the world and bring to the table a perspective that few are able. As you will see from my card below I”M a Melchizedek High Priest I do not expect you to understand the type off priest I”m , however, I wish to say the following: When one enters into the akashic records, one enters into the mind of God, there one can find the writings and conditions he put forth before the creation of the world. In reference to gays it states. “Their spirits came to the Forefather prior to being placed into a human body. They desired to be special and highly gifted in an area of their liking, example “Elkton John” but, in return they agreed to forgo sex among others of their kind. These truths have been lost in the passing of time. The laws of the Forefather do not change. When a gay passes and they have violated the law, the same thing happens to them that happens to a straight person who was a liar,thief or adulterous. They are not permitted to enter the third heaven. I see from this format I will not be able to leave a copy of my card. However, one can be seen if you wish on my profile page Richard Langford on Facebook. I end with this; the creator loves all of his creation including gays however, the law is the law and the spirit and character of the final Judge does not nor will it ever change.

    • Hi Richard Wallace Langford,
      On this blog, all are welcome to share there views. I’m not familiar with your religion, but it sounds very interesting. With regards to agreeing to forgo having the type of sex that feels natural to someone is, in my opinion, a whole lot easier to do then to carry out that agreement. The sexual drive can be mighty powerful.

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