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The True Definition of 'Gay'

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I've been thinking about what I'd like my first solo post to be on Gay Voices, as The Huffington Post has offered me an incredible opportunity to share my thoughts with you. First, I thought I'd tell my coming-out story, then I thought I'd talk about being a gay comedian, and then I thought I'd talk about my obsession with The Golden Girls. Somehow, though, none of those felt right as my first post (apologies to Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia.) So, instead, I decided to start by simply taking a look at the word "gay." This word seems to bring up so many emotions in people that maybe we aren't defining it exactly the same way. Here, according to Dictionary.com, is the definition of the word "gay" as an adjective:

gay [gey] adjective, -er, -est, noun, adverb
adjective
  1. homosexual.
  2. of, indicating, or supporting homosexual interests or issues: a gay organization.
  3. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.
  4. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments.
  5. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: a gay social season.

We all know the first two definitions are "gay" for sure. If you're a gay person, you're a homosexual, easy enough. But it's numbers 3 through 5 that I'd really like to focus on here. Those seem pretty great, don't they? They're all about things that we humans universally love: listening to music, being festive, enjoying the company of friends, and just generally doing things we find pleasurable. Sign me up!

So why is it, then, that almost everything we read about "gay" in the news is always bad? There's always a church sex scandal to be found, a closeted politician to be outed, or a teen bullying story that leads to a suicide. None of those sound very gay to me, at least by the definitions above.

Let's take a step back. How did a word that now solely describes one's sexuality at one time mean so much more? How did "gay," meaning a guy who likes guys, or a girl who likes girls, also mean all those great adjectives above? When did we stop using the word that way? And why?

I'd bet that back in the day there were a bunch of guys (who were definition number 1) at a bar having a grand old time together. They were having drinks, singing some songs, laughing together and celebrating life. I'd even bet they were the life of the party. And I'd also bet that across from them was another bunch of guys, and they weren't any of the definitions above. They were all sitting there, probably complaining about their wives and their jobs, all the time jealous of these happy guys. They could only wish they could be as gay as those other fellas.

And no, I'm not talking about definition number 1 there. (Though I'm sure one or two of them were at least a little curious.)

But somehow along the route, what once meant "happy" and "joyful" and "lively" became "shameful" and "closeted" and "something not to speak of." Even to this day this is the connection most people think of when they think of "gay." Good news though: things are finally changing right before our eyes.

Thanks to the millions of people who live openly and proudly, there is no question that America is on the right track when it comes to LGBT issues. Marriage equality is trickling in state by state. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is now history. Public figures continue to make their way out of the closet, from Neil Patrick Harris to MSNBC's Thomas Roberts to former NBA player John Amaechi.

We all know about the It Gets Better campaign to end bullying of LGBT youth. It has done incredible and important work, without question. But it still may take a long time for "it" to get better, so I'd rather focus on you. You are the one who makes the choices that control your fate. You are the one who will decide whether to live an authentic life or a life stuck in the closet, where there is only room for one. It is a choice that every single gay person has to make. And through that choice you can decide if you are gay simply because you are homosexual, or because you chose to encompass all those other definitions.

There's no doubt that I was always the first two definitions of "gay," but there is also no doubt that after I came out, my life suddenly became full with definitions 3 through 5. Just like it did for Blanche's gay brother Clayton when he came out in an episode of The Golden Girls. (I knew I could bring that around somehow...)