On Gay Jokes, and Friendship versus Presumption

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 DamianChris 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.

7 thoughts on “On Gay Jokes, and Friendship versus Presumption

  1. Since I am the one among my friends who struggles with SSA, I have taken it on myself to find the humor in it in their company. One friend, after I came out to him, asked me in a loving and concerned way if I struggled with attraction to him or another best friend. It was an honest response painted with humor when I said, “Nah, you’re not my type.” And we were both able to laugh.

    I also went with these friends and others to the beach in late summer (I live and minister in Europe), and while this same friend was disturbed by certain of the topless sunbathers, I was able to turn to him in a private moment and say, “See! Now you know why I don’t struggle with this at all!” Again, we were able to share a moment of intimacy shaped by humor, amid the inescapable truth that we all bear the marks of the Fall somewhere in our lives and hearts.

  2. Years ago, a guy who eventually became one of my closest friends (he was the best man in my wedding) used to always use the word “gay” as a sort of catch-all negative adjective. If he felt that a professor was being unfair with an assignment, or he didn’t get enough hours at work that week, or somebody cut him off in traffic, he’d exclaim “man, that’s gay!”

    I confronted him on it several times before he eventually stopped doing it. I don’t know, perhaps he does it when he’s not in my presence, but somehow I really doubt it. I think developing a strong friendship with someone who is gay has drastically transformed the way he thinks and speaks.

    That said, I’m free to make jokes with him about it myself, and I’ve generally only done that to provide comedic relief when I was struggling with something.

    Another interesting thing, that I think many people just wouldn’t understand, is that the person with whom I’m most likely to joke about this is my wife. And she in turn, makes the occasional well-placed, thoughtful joke about it herself.

    I just think that all of that is beautiful, and I’m really thankful for it.

  3. Mike, it doesn’t surprise me that you can joke with your wife about it. My husband is essentially bi, and one of the things that has helped me process that is humor. Jokes which would be totally inappropriate (and would likely surprise many of my friends) are suddenly just funny. It is because our marriage is a safe place and it helps make our marriage a safe place. I love how circular it is.

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