Diabetes is so gay.

gay bottles of insulin

To you, they might be totally different things, but hear me out. The term “that’s so gay” used to describe something stupid and the way that some people use #diabetes on Twitter or Instagram hit the same nerve with me, and I would go as far as saying that these two problems also have very similar solutions.

People saying “that’s so gay” has pretty much become synonymous with “that’s so stupid.” We live in a world (according to GLSEN) where 75% of high school students say that they have heard “that’s so gay” or “faggot” used as an insult while at school. I would guess that an additional 25% didn’t understand the question.

I can speak with authority on this after working with young people for the last decade that “good” kids with no intention of insulting their gay peers are using the term “that’s so gay” because it has become part of this generation’s daily dialect. It’s a term that’s accepted in schools. The sports field. On social media. And it’s hurtful.

Regardless of the intent of the speaker, calling something you dislike “gay” connects a group of people to something you don’t like. It’s a microaggression – a sneaky way that we passively communicate hostility toward a group of people.

Microaggression is a decent way of explaining what I feel that many people are doing when they use “#diabetes” on social media to tag photos of unhealthy food. A quick search on Instagram for the hashtag and you see that it’s equal parts people sharing their lives with diabetes and people sharing photos of unhealthy or over-indulgent food choices.

people posting fattening sugary food to instagram using #diabetes

The intention of someone adding “#diabetes” to a picture of cupcakes, for example, is to really poke fun at themselves. It’s as if they are saying, “look at the bad choices I’m about to make!” People that use this hashtag as a joke, like people using the term “gay” in the pejorative, rarely know the harm that they are doing. Like a racist joke, even if the intent of the joke-teller isn’t to cause harm, that doesn’t mean that harm wasn’t done.

The harm done by people poking fun at diabetes isn’t done to me. I understand what causes diabetes (as much as science has figured out anyway). I know that the candy bar that you take a photo of and add a hipster filter to is causing insulin-resistance as little as your bad sense of humor will.

The harm comes when someone hears for years that diabetes is a consequence of shitty choices and then he/she is diagnosed with diabetes. These jokes are the root cause of the shame-burden that newly diagnosed people with diabetes carry around…a burden that makes managing a complicated condition only more complicated.

rainbow vials of insulin from pancreassassin for diabetes art day

Photo Credit: Pancreassassin

What’s the solution? When I was working with young people and I heard one of them call something (not someONE) “gay” I let it go.  Part of me thought that the problem was just too big to tackle, while another part of me didn’t want to come off as the “word police.” Over time I started correcting word-choice when I heard a kid call something “gay” and it usually made a kid stop using the word (around me anyway).

My feelings toward the usage of #diabetes are very similar.  For the longest time I’ve thought that the problem is way to big for me to ever make a dent in, and I don’t want to be the diabetes-joke police on Instagram…but I can’t sit around and watch it any longer. Now when I come across them, I’m going to start tagging people that use #diabetes as a joke in photos of my bloody fingers, blood glucometer, insulin needles, etc.  And I’m going to say “This is what #diabetes really looks like.”

Join me.

24 thoughts on “Diabetes is so gay.

  1. my pinterest title for my recipes is titled “Diabeetus”. I’m goign to change it right now. Sometimes you need someone to internet smack you on the head to realize these things. thanks for the smack, Mike.

  2. I am a gay man who also lives with Type 1 diabetes. I get frustrated when people don’t understand that Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which I could do nothing to avoid and can nothing to reverse. I am often judged by people who erroneously believe that I brought this condition on myself. I am opposed to policing people’s words or being overly sensitive but this is the one issue which I always make a point of educating people about when they make ignorant statements (in my charming Southern way of course, bless their hearts).

    • This is refreshing to hear. I am also a type 1 diabetic, and identify as gay. You are one of the very few people that could understand how people react when I try to explain how I am afflicted with an autoimmune disease, the first conclusion they come to is that I somehow “caught” diabetes from an HIV infection (though not afflicted with HIV, the stigma of an HIV diagnosis is a whole different can of worms). I can also feel for anyone in the LGBT community that can’t binge drink with friends, or that has to carry along insulin and a glucose meter on a date. It’s socially rough, and scares away many uninformed people in an already small dating pool. Best of wishes from the north!

  3. I really enjoyed this post because it articulates why something that “shouldn’t” bother me does, in a very clear way. As an English prof I’m constantly trying to remind my students of the power of words to shape the way we feel about others and how we see the world, and I think this is a great example of small things that ripple outward in more serious ways. Thanks for making this particular connection.

  4. Love this! I hate the colloquial use of “gay” as an insult because so many AMAZING people I know are gay and it makes ZERO sense to me. Like wise with diabetes.

    I am with you!

  5. I understand this so much. The #diabetes thing bothers me way more than it should, and I’ve tried to educate a few people who use #diabetes as a joke. The standard response is to tell me to get over it, lighten up, take a joke. But it’s not a joke. It’s my life. I’ve been thinking for a while now that we need to take back the hashtag #diabetes by using it for posts about, you know, actual diabetes. Thanks for this article.

  6. Thank you for writing this. I would go further and say that it’s not funny for anyone with any type of diabetes (too often, a t1 will complain and then add that they aren’t the kind but that t2s are, which isn’t true either). We each need to fight this in as many ways as we can. Difficult, because it means taking on, not just the idiot around the corner, but the ADA and the IDF. Don’t get me wrong. Access to healthy food is important to everyone, especially if you don’t have the greatest pancreas, but in the context of MMDM, blaming someone for their diabetes because they were able to find food is cruel. Perhaps we should take a page from the LGBT playbook, and instead of Stepping out for Awareness, we should march and educate people about what diabetes really is.

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  9. Great post!! For some reason I just got deleted to a diabetes-related facebook group for posting this; I can only guess they looked at the title of the post without actually reading the article. Perfectly stated. Thank you.

  10. Reblogged this on by Julie Blue and commented:
    Earlier today I was deleted from a diabetes facebook group for sharing a link to this blog post. I can only guess the admin was offended by the post title and didn’t bother reading it. It’s a great post and is exactly how I feel when I hear those annoying “diabeetus” jokes.

  11. Thanks for this! Wonderfully said and so important. Anytime we start using words that describe a group of people in a negative way, we are causing harm. Glad I found your blog!

  12. Hello, I think your blog might be having browser
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