Getting zapped at Zapp Comics
Several comic books I had been eagerly anticipating came out last Wednesday, and since my boyfriend was visiting, I thought it might be fun for us to go to the Freehold Raceway Mall. It’s not much farther away from me than other malls or my regular comic store, and it has one of its own, Zapp Comics, along with a number of other fun shops which you can’t find anywhere else nearby. However, upon arriving we noticed there was no comic store listed in the mall guide.
Still recalling an earlier internet search which said it was there, we searched on, walking all through the place trying to find it. Eventually I gave up and called GOOG-411, my not-so-old standby, and found out they moved to Manalapan since I had last been there a few months previous. “Bloody hell!” was my first reaction. But we still had time to get there, so I half-listened to their directions as we headed back to the car. (My boyfriend is very patient.) I put the address I had Google text to me into our GPS and off we went! But the directions… were leading us back…
To the mall! Because even Google didn’t know that the address had changed. Crap.
So we turned around and headed the way I half-remembered from my last phone call. (I have a terrible sense of direction.) I called them again and apologetically asked for more specific directions. After a few false turns (Dear township planner: why would you have two unconnected streets with the same name within a few miles of each other?), we finally made it at 7:40, just 20 minutes before they were set to close. Success!
Now, for those of you not familiar with the area, both the mall and the store are on Route 9, which is a particularly horrific place to drive. (Even for New Jersey.) Combined with our vague directions, the time crunch, and my guy’s new used car, which is all kinds of awesome but not something you want to get in an accident, it made for a very stressful ride. So it was an immense relief to actually find the place and get to park, and I was even happier once I got inside and found exactly what I was looking for.
Sadly, our luck ended there. The two people working there, a man and a woman who both spoke to us on the phone, were chatting away as we walked up. That was perfectly reasonable, since we were the only customers in the store and they were getting ready to close soon. But what bothered me was the way the man at the register was talking. Somebody they both know collects G.I. Joes, which the guy there kept saying was “gay.” And something told me he didn’t mean they had finally abolished “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Using a word commonly used to describe a minority as a synonym for “stupid,” particularly a group in the midst of a highly-publicized battle for basic civil rights like visiting a partner in the hospital or having a picture of them on one’s desk at work and not getting fired, is so obviously offensive to me that I don’t understand how anyone could require an explanation. Some people, however, missed the clue train and still don’t get it. (If you’re one of them, trying replacing “gay” with the minority of your choice, or a descriptor of something about yourself that’s perfectly natural, but about which people have tried to make you feel ashamed.) But I would have thought that even those people would know enough not to use it in front of an obvious gay couple.
I was surprised as well as annoyed, but I didn’t make a big deal of it because all I really wanted to do was get my comics and leave. I wish now that I had, because I honestly do wonder what he was thinking. Did he just not think we were gay, despite the fact that we were standing close to each other and holding hands half the time? Maybe he just didn’t look up. Maybe he’s a raging homophobe and wanted to insult us. Or it’s possible that he believes the pejorative form of “gay” is entirely unrelated to the word that describes us, and didn’t think anything of it.
If you’re of that latter school of thought, I’d like to offer you a ticket to the aforementioned train. They’re the same word. That’s why high school students use it to refer to boys they perceive as weak, and to mean things like “feminine,” “backwards,” or “stupid.” They’re all gay stereotypes. Forget the fact that either one of us could have “schooled” the cashier — it seemed to me he thought of himself as a masculine tough guy, not some sissy who collects action figures. To this I can only point out what kind of store we were in. Here’s how their web site describes them (emphasis mine):
In addition to buying & selling old & new comics, Zapp! Comics also carries an incredible selection of trade paperbacks, action figures, Godzilla merchandise, collectible card games and supplies. In fact, our inventory is so large that we simply couldn’t fit it all in our stores.
Their new arrivals include “Pokemon Spring Tins” and a “Thor Vs Loki Sideshow Diorama.” What an intensely masculine pursuit! I mean, just look at Thor’s revealing outfit! Very masculine. It’s entirely different from collecting G.I. Joe figures, right? … Right?
Let’s not kid ourselves. Stereotyping gays is offensive. (And bad for business — I’m never going back there.) And using the term “gay” as an insult is offensive to all of us; not only does it demean one minority, but it makes it okay to do the same to other groups too. People who think they’re “different words” — a defense I’ve heard both when I was younger and when I was older and working with kids and teenagers — just don’t know anything about language.
This sort of linguistic shift isn’t immutable. (See the casual decline of the word “gyp,” which is thought to be a shortening of “gypsy.”) But calling action figures and the like “gay” can’t die fast enough. If it doesn’t, comic fans may have to watch out for some angry heroes: