In an age where the English language is being desecrated by instant messaging and texting, where Carpe Diem is replaced with #YOLO, and LOL is basically used as punctuation, you’d think that the use of sappy pet names is something I would have gotten over back in the 90s. But you’d be wrong. After reflecting upon the way gay men communicate, I’ve come up with the top five names that gay men call each other that simultaneously roll my eyes and boil my blood.
Pronounced ‘mister’, but almost always abbreviated to Mr due to its incessant use in text messaging, this word has plagued me from the day I turned 18, and not from Australia Post. I’ve always found the name so dismissive. Most of the time, you’re probably using it because a) You can’t remember my actual name, or b) You never bothered to find it out in the first place. “Hey Mr” is not an adequate introduction, online or offline, and I’ve skipped over many Grindr conversations that employed that opening line. And even if you do remember my name…well, that’s even worse! It’s cheesy, it’s corny, it’s unoriginal, and it does absolutely nothing for me.
Like Mr, I’ve found that this name is usually used for chatting up or complimenting a guy you’ve just met. Used on its own or as a descriptive adjective (e.g. spunky bum), ‘spunk’ is an extremely out of date word, not one that I would consider complimentary at all. Just hearing the word evokes the image of a gaggle of middle-aged British women sitting around ogling David Beckham like a hunky piece of meat. Saying it directly to a guy is probably going to have a similar, objectifying effect. Not only that, but all three Urban Dictionary entries for the word spunk identify it as common slang for semen. Which begs the question, what is he really saying when he calls you ‘spunky bum’?
At this point you’re probably thinking I’m some kind of linguistically crazed feminist that just hates being objectified. But fear not, my distaste for pet names has further reach! The word ‘babe’ isn’t that offensive in a social setting, but in a relationship it is easily interpreted as a term of endearment. It takes an outsider to recognise the word ‘babe’ as the sappy and overused pet name that is really is. Sure, use it with your partner when they’re upset and need some comforting, as though they really are a defenceless babe, wrapped up in your loving embrace. But when you use it constantly, it makes you sound like the whining infant that the name originally implies. It’s also terribly emasculating – a point that goes for a lot of pet names, like ‘sweet heart’, ‘cutie’, or even ‘honey’, as made wildly popular by Karen Walker of Will & Grace (and guys, unless you’re a reprimanding fag hag, that’s not cool). ‘Babe’ is just the dead, beaten horse of that list. No one wants to be around a couple that throws gag-worthy pet names back and forth between them as much as Ashley Olsen drops “like, you know?” in an interview.
My first qualm with gay men using this term is the political incorrectness. I don’t care how long you’ve been together, if you’re using it already, it’s not going to seem as special when that ‘inevitable’ marriage equality comes to pass, is it? You’ll never see a straight woman calling her male de facto partner ‘hubby’, because they’re not married. But my true distaste for this word is much more petty. It strikes me as a pathological need to constantly remind the rest of the world that you’re in a relationship, which is super annoying, quite frankly, and borders upon desperate insecurity. I say this mostly because people use these types of relationship-orientated pet names when their partner isn’t even around, e.g. “I’m going shopping with the boyfriend today”, or “OMG my hubby made me the best dinner last night.” Congratulations, you’re in a long-term relationship. I’m sure he has a real name, so please use it before I upheave my own dinner onto you.
Okay, so maybe ‘dude’ isn’t exactly a pet name, but for me that is essentially why it is so problematic. It plays into the infuriating discourse of ‘straight acting’ where guys will do practically anything, including alter the way they speak, to affirm their masculinity. Now don’t get me wrong – ‘dude’ is a perfectly acceptable word in most social contexts, as are other typical masculinity affirming words such as ‘mate’, ‘man’ or ‘buddy’. In fact, I’ve found them to be useful tools in ‘friend zoning’, where you don’t want to come across as sexually suggestive in any way. But if you’re flirting with me, trying to get my interest or make me feel special, there’s no better way to shoot yourself in the foot than by treating me just like one of the boys. We’re all dudes here, and we’re dudes who do it with dudes, but if you want to do it with this dude, I swear to God, do not call me ‘dude’ again or I will sashay away and leave you fidgeting with the waistband of your jock strap, dude.
Maybe I’ve gotten carried away in my ranting, but at the end of the day, what it all comes down to is that I have a name, so I would like you to use it. Contrary to witty comebacks in pop culture, you’re not going to wear it out!