There’s a game I play with the fabulous editors who have edited my columns for QSaltLake starting way back with Brandon Burt. One my readers never see. I capitalize the g in Gay and the editors promptly demotes my big fat Gay G back to lower case, poor puny, lacking in self esteem, little g. Brandon and I had a very lengthy discussion on this issue. He quoted all the newspaper style handbooks, pointing out that the powers that be at the New York Times have decreed that forever more we as a people must be a little g. He was adamant that to be taken professionally we must adhere to national standards. I said fuck national standards and their horse. What have they ever done for us?
Now, I’m not completely stupid. It’s only because I chose not to read 1500 pages of 19th Century romance novels that I switched from an English minor to a political science minor. I’ve also taught grammar for 23 years and even scored in the top seven percent of all teachers in the United States taking the National Standard Praxis test so I could be one of George Bush’s highly qualified teachers; because, as we all know, experience means nothing these days.
For some reason (which can’t be bias or prejudice), the establishment of journalism has lowercased us, inferring that Gay is something we do and not who we are. According to every rule of grammar I have ever read, the distinction between common nouns and proper nouns are that the latter are capitalized. Well, editors of journalistic styles, I have news for you: I am anything but common.
Nouns name people, places and things. Every noun can further be classified as common or proper. A proper noun has two distinctive features: 1) it will name a specific (usually a one-of-a-kind) item, and 2) it will begin with a capital letter no matter where it occurs in a sentence.
Proper adjectives are adjectives derived from proper nouns. In English, proper adjectives must begin with a capital letter.
When I attended BYU, before Blacks could hold the Priesthood, I was forced by Standards to attend counseling because of a minor morals rap. I remembered the church social worker told me that, in order to overcome my “problems,” I must never believe that homosexuality is any more than a condition; a behavior that can be modified. He said to me that you can never change who you are, only what you do. This deluded man inflicted on me a source of inner conflict and turmoil for many years until by the grace of God I realized that I am a noun, not a verb. The heart of Gay Liberation’s message finally took root. Gay is who I am — not what I do. It’s my spirit. If paralyzed from the waist down, I would still be Gay because it’s in my mind and soul, not my genitals.
I would never be a lower case gay after that epiphany.
Being a historian, however, first and a grammarian second, I was bolstered in my crusade to capitalize Gay all over this land by an article printed in Nov. 14, 1969, when the flames of Gay Revolution were still burning hot. On that date the Los Angeles Free Press posted an article stating, “the Committee for Homosexual Freedom voted at a recent meeting to request all publications to hereafter capitalize the word Gay. Proponents of the measure argued that Gay is a proper noun and adjective which describes a people.” These Gay Liberationists argued that heterosexual writers and lexicographers were part of the psychological oppression of homosexuals by lower casing the word.
Can you give me an amen?!
We are not a “happy” people. We are Gay people; a political movement with a specific culture and history. Why is it we capitalize Republicans, Catholics and Mormons but we won’t capitalize ourselves? Internalized homophobia?
Yes! Some Gay people are part of the problem. Gay columnist Dan Savage replied in his Dec. 2, 1999 “Gay Ol’ Time” column to a kid who wrote to him using a capital G, “Some wisdom: First, don’t capitalize gay. It’s silly.” I say it’s demeaning, disrespectful and disparaging to the hundreds of thousands who have struggled for equality in the Great Gay Civil Rights movement not to capitalize the g.
Also, I might add, there’s a literary as well as political dishonesty in changing a writer’s words, even by something as simple as lower casing a capital letter without even so much as a [sic’. Would e.e. cummings’ poem “Gay” is the captivating cognomen” be the same if edited by the New York Times style handbook? I would suggest that a column is not subject to the same criterion as a news report, but hey, it’s not my paper.
It is my fervent desire that the Stonewall 2.0 generation shake off the shackles of heterosexual nomenclatures. Equality does not mean we have to all be the same.
“Way down in Egypt’s land; Tell old Pharaoh to let My people go!” Please, way down in homo-land; tell old QSaltLake to let my big G’s go.