Jokes are one of the first signs of friendship. You have to really know someone to know when the inappropriate may be appropriate, where your nonchalant exclamation of flagrant partial truths will be understood. Jokes about race may be racism or jesting. This is why it’s usually bad form to make jokes about race in public. Only your friends will know the difference.
The same can be said of gay jokes. In general, I’m not a fan of them. But I’ve also come to appreciate them in some ways. I recently made a joke about how I embodied a gay stereotype with some friends, and in many ways, the joke seemed like the opening of a door, the crossing through a threshold. For me to make this joke appropriately, I needed three things: I needed my friends to know me; I needed to be comfortable with myself; and I needed them to be comfortable with me. If any of these are missing, the joke will be misplaced and just awkward. For me to make the joke and for them to understand it as a joke, as a partial truth, is for a friendship to be realized.
But in general, I’m not a fan of gay jokes. I’ve been around many good and well-intentioned men and women who have said, “that’s so gay” or, “what, are you gay?” in a joking manner, either when a man expresses appreciation for another man or when he fails to express an interest in a particular woman. When made in public or in a large group of acquaintances, these jokes always make me uncomfortable. Partly because I don’t know if the joker realizes he’s making a joke about me, and partly because I don’t know if he’s unintentionally making a joke about someone else in the group.
The thing about being gay is that many gay men and women go decades before telling anyone about their sexual orientation. And for many men and women who are open about being gay, they’re still struggling to be comfortable with that part of themselves. So the ability to make appropriate gay jokes presumes that you know your company very well. I’ve found that gay jokes (even those made by gay people) are made more often in ignorance than in intimacy.
Chris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.