"So gay"

When it comes to social faux pas, asking a straight man if he's gay ranks up there next to congratulating an "overweight" woman on her pregnancy.

I managed this a few weeks back, asking a young guy if he was such and when he said "no", I did the whole "Damn, I'm sorry, I'm so embarrassed," routine.

The more tortuous my apology became, the more it dawned on me how far I - but also society - has to go before we accept gays and lesbians as "normal" - let alone giving them the basic human right of marriage.

I'm not a homophobe - hell, I've pashed the odd bloke in my looser moments - and if someone asked me if I was gay, I'd be flattered because I'd take it as meaning I was looking pretty good that night.

But me assuming another man would be offended by the implication of homosexuality - and there are plenty of blokes who are - shows me how negatively charged the denotation still is, which is sad but also wrong.

This was brought home to me listening to a powerful podcast of LA comedian Todd Glass coming out as gay, aged 47.

Glass had a circle of friends who knew he was homosexual, but it was not public knowledge until January this year and even then he struggled to say the words "I'm gay" on air.

It was not out of shame, but more a complex stew of emotions he has about the word and phrases such as "that's so gay", still a universal put down among a huge slice of the population.

"When people use the word 'gay' as an adjective ... I can tell you what it does to a 12 year old ... it crushes their soul," said Glass, who decided to come out because he could not listen to any more stories about gay kids killing themselves without thinking his own anxieties were part of the problem.

"If you've used that word [gay] without any harm ... you didn't do anything wrong, but once someone makes you privy to what it does, if you still wanna use it; that's the problem," said Glass.

Many would disagree with him and argue that gays taking offence to the use of the word in this way are being "sensitive", perhaps even insisting it's politically correct censorship to not say it.

In fact, it's just plain decency and it's a distinction many families are having to explain to kids nowadays because "so gay" has become a seemingly acceptable part of the vocabulary for many adults and children.

The implication of the phrase is simple - when something is "gay", it's lame, bad, weird or undesirable. Anybody who argues the toss on this simply doesn't like being corrected. It's wrong to say it, it shouldn't even be up for debate, yet so many people want to hang on to "so gay" as a slice of lazy slang.

Said Glass on the podcast: "If you use that word and you're not homophobic, it's not a big deal [to stop saying it]. It helps, it's a good thing to do."

"If you are homophobic, you better be positive you're right. Because it is going to blow that all these kids are killing themselves, and ... that in 20 years ... you get to write a book about how wrong you were. They're dead.

"So why don't you have a soul-searching moment now? Go into your house, shut the door, and make sure you're positive that you're not making kids feel like crap for no good goddamn reason."

Can I get an amen?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.