Why the term ‘gay lifestyle’ offends and is hurtful

The phrase “gay lifestyle” gets thrown around a lot.

Its often-negative usage in the lexicon of the religious right has been so pervasive that media monitoring organisation GLAAD has stepped in, calling the term offensive as it is used to suggest that the orientation of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBTs) “is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured””.

A recent survey conducted as part of the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) concluded that Singapore society generally does not accept gay lifestyles and same-sex marriage. The bulk of disapproval came from older and less-educated Singaporeans.

62 per cent of Singaporeans with no formal education rejected the idea of gay lifestyles, while only 26 per cent and 29 per cent of polytechnic and university graduates could not accept a “gay lifestyle”.

More importantly, the neither-here-nor-there “gay lifestyle” phrase seems to suggest two things: that the barometer is really about LGBT acceptance — not a way of life that is as varied among LGBTs as a straight person — and that the term itself needs to stop being used improperly.

Not just one lifestyle

The “LGBT lifestyle” seems to indicate that there is only one particular lifestyle that gays lead. DUH.

Saying it sounds obvious but every person — yes even gays — is different, based on their world view and set of morals and beliefs. Each leads a different lifestyle — it could be based on sexuality or the type of durians one eats. Some gays double up as drag queens but others would prefer to geek out over calculus.

Gays go through daily struggles just like a straight person would in their day-to-day life: they squeeze in the train while on their way to work or school, worry about acing exams or putting food on the table and have the right to love the person of their choice.

The only thing a gay faces differently is the prejudice and judgment he or she consistently receives from conservatives and the religious right.

So when senior research fellow Leong Chan Hoong, one of the survey’s researchers from the Institute of Policy Studies, told gay website Fridae that the “gay lifestyles” term was used to allow respondents to use “a lens they are normally used to”, one must wonder if such actions are as discriminatory as they come.

Treasuring the value of life and love

The term “gay lifestyle” does nothing more than institute an “us against them” mentality. The best part? The term is thrown around so loosely that those who are unaware of its hostile tone and history will co-opt it too.

Semantics is no child’s play. Stoking the flames of conflict by associating oneself with the history behind such hate speech is no way to progress as a mature society.

This is not a matter of who’s lifestyle is more “correct”. This is a matter of seeing the misguided fundamentalism that is at play and realising the actual issue stems from the freedom to love.

This freedom does not interfere with anyone else’s. If being gay does corrupt the minds of others, surely straight people can turn gay since ex-gay therapy allows for the opposite to happen? Immutable or not, being gay is an existence and not a method of spreading perversion, unlike what the religious right argues.

If that LGBT person is your son or daughter, how could they be blamed for leading a lifestyle that is almost similar to yours? They ate the same food, lived in the same house and attained knowledge on life and love from you.

Let us learn not to divide ourselves as a society.

If the total is the sum of its parts, surely we as a society can begin removing barriers preventing us from truly understanding one another. That begins with getting rid of terms like “gay lifestyle”.

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