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Shady gays: When sharp-tongued humour becomes a sign of deeper problems

Throwing shade can be funny, but we must keep an eye on our motivations, writes Mobeen Azar.

By Will Stroude

This article was first published in Attitude issue 297, Summer 2018

A phrase I often use is “Don’t be a shit.” Specifically, it’s a phrase I use within a WhatsApp group with three of my best friends who happen, like me, to be gay men.

“Don’t be a shit,” and the expression’s more deadpan cousin: “You shit bag,” make regular appearances in our chats.

It’s a faux rebuke but most often used as a kind of high-five for a comment that is inventive in its scorn, sharp in its delivery, or maybe just deliciously daring in pointing out someone’s shortcomings.

“Don’t be a shit” translates as: “You’re so hilarious,” or “You’re so nasty, I want to hug you!”

Gay culture is steeped in this kind of irreverence. Throwing shade and the ability to “read to filth” are gay cultural exports that permeate the modern world.

It can be hilarious. Bianca Del Rio’s stand-up show, Rolodex of Hate, is perhaps the most recently distilled testimony to this. But being a nasty bitch can also be a crutch and a symptom of a more deep-rooted problem.

I can’t feign righteousness here. I love making people laugh and part of that does involve joking about things that would not make it into an episode of The Good Life. There is nothing wrong with laughing at the darker side of life but the older I get, the more I question where the motivation to laugh at certain things comes from and, more importantly, how it might make other people feel.

Often, how we make others feel reflects how we feel about ourselves. And this is where sexuality becomes relevant. We are products of our environment. Many gay men (and people who “stick out” in general) grow up in a state of heightened self-defence.

We learn early on that a sharp tongue can deflect attention from our fears. It can give us power when we feel powerless. But this is a problem when it becomes a default that we don’t recognise and can’t turn off.

We all know someone who revels in sharing bad news about other people or whose main currency is talking about other people’s problems. Those guys are unhappy. It’s a universal truth. The “hilarious” queen who disses everyone in the club or the boy whose tweets are like barbed wire have so much baggage on display that everyone can see it.

It’s no fun constantly being a shit. It’s exhausting. But as we get older, we can unlearn instincts. We can understand where the motivation to bitch comes from, and we can be more discerning about the target.

Next time you think about “being a shit,” consider what you’re putting out there, how it will make others feel and how you are feeling. It’s important that we as gay men look after each other.

Rather than being a shit, try a touch of kindness instead. It’s really infectious — and needs spreading around.

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