The Problem with Pause, No Homo, and other Related Sayings

Gus Johnson: “So you like Zach Randolph?”

Spike Lee: “I like the trade. I like Zach. I like Fred. I like Dick.”

Gus Johnson (interrupts): “Pause

“All my [dudes] that say pause after they say some [f-ed] up [shhh]”-Jay-Z, “Can I Live II”

In the early fall of 1997, I attended my ninth grade retreat, a two day overnight trip to unify the incoming freshman class. The days were filled with trust falls and various team building activities. My favorite was the suspended tire, in which we had to get the entire team through a tire that hung in the middle of two wooden platforms. As one of the bigger kids, I helped lift all of my teammates, struggling with the last one, who was close to my weight. As the last person, I had to jump through the tire, desperately reaching for the many helping, pulling hands on the other side. I received a particularly loud cheer when my feet touched the platform because it meant we were successful. During meal times, we were encouraged to sit with new people, which was not difficult for me because I only knew five other students before the trip’s start. At our only dinner, I was introduced to hummus and some of my future classmates’ disgust of whole milk. Our lone night consisted of meeting our class dean and having time to further chat with soon to be friends.

As the night came to a close, the class was separated by gender and each group went to separate cabins. Though this was not my first time sleeping away from home, I acted that way. I kept the cabin up, laughing, by constantly saying “pause” after anyone said anything remotely, vaguely sexually “inappropriate” or to be more crass, anything that sounded “gay.” My classmates joined in, purposely saying “questionable” phrases so that I could quickly say, “pause.” We all erupted in laughter. At least, I thought we all did. Our chorused cackling was interrupted a couple of times by a teacher, who would later become my mentor. The first time, I think he just heard that our room in the cabin was loud and told us to quiet down. The second time he entered the large room, I am positive that he heard what was causing our roaring laugh. While his exact words escape me, he used the word “inappropriate” to describe our seemingly comedic outbreak. As he chastised the cabin, he looked directly at me  because he could undoubtedly hear my loud, distinctive voice, leading the way. My leadership skills weren’t always used properly.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, a teacher and fellow classmates, present in the cabin, are gay. While I have never asked them about this memory, I cannot imagine the kind of social pressure I must have put on them or how uncomfortable I made the atmosphere with my constant “joking,” which was really a posturing of my heterosexuality to my new classmates and, more importantly, a discrediting, belittling of homosexuality. My “joking” established the norm for the room; the others that followed and actively participated were doing the same, some contrary to their sexual orientation.

The prevalence of “pause,” “no homo,” “that’s so gay,” amongst others bothers me because of the underlying statements about masculinity and sexuality. Often the sayer of the phrase is (re)affirming to the group his heterosexuality by distancing himself from the slightest interpretation of homosexual innuendo. I constantly stop and question my friends when they use those phrases. I wish I could say that I do it every single time that I hear it, but I cannot say that I do. More importantly, I’ve stopped using those phrases (admittedly, there are times when I slip up, though those times are rare). I am comfortable in my sexuality and if I say something that sounds, according to Jay-Z, “f-ed up” oh well. I do not need to highlight my sexual orientation by contrasting it with anyone else’s preference.

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