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3 August 2016

How did the word “lifestyle” become a homophobic slur?

Heterosexuals, of course, don’t have “lifestyles”. They have TV and golf.

By Eleanor Margolis

I think I might have diabetes. I get this weird, sweet taste in my mouth all the time. I’m always tired. I do an inordinate amount of pissing. I’m probably pissing right now. But I haven’t had an actual blood test yet, because I’m too scared that I’m right.  

Lucky for me though, if I do turn out to be diabetic (and not merely the sort of self-diagnosing hypochondriac who’s too anxious to get a professional opinion) the NHS can and will provide me with lifestyle drug (slash hormone) insulin, so I can continue to lifestyle and not, you know, fall into a big fat coma.

Or maybe the Daily Mail which, this week, somehow managed to spin the NHS’s long-awaited decision to provide HIV-preventative drug PrEP into a negative, wouldn’t consider diabetes a lifestyle. After all, diabetes doesn’t disproportionately affect LGBT people. Racist Uncle Keith has diabetes.

“Promiscuity pill” PrEP, according to the most unabashedly homophobic Daily Mail front page in absolutely ages, is gobbling up funding for straighter (read, way more important) medications. But back to that word “lifestyle”. How did such an innocuous word become a homophobic dog whistle? My housemate called me a “lifestyle vlogger” for having a Diptyque candle in my room, so the pejorative connotations of this word clearly know no bounds.

But my first run-in with the word “lifestyle” as part of a homophobic slur was when I was at uni. A (then) housemate said that he sort of agreed with his dad that homosexuality is a “selfish lifestyle choice”. I don’t think I ever quizzed him on the “selfish” part, as I was too taken aback by the fact that I was at Sussex Uni (probably the gayest in the country) and had ended up living with a “sort of” homophobe. Anyway, it was the word “lifestyle” that really got to me. It’s strangely PC, without being PC at all; a prude’s code word for “bumming frantically atop mid-century furniture”. It’s as disdainfully clinical as the word “homosexual” – like something off a survey from the Eighties.

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It was Stephen Gately’s “lifestyle” that came under attack from Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir, soon after the gay former Boyzone member died in 2009. Moir, of course, didn’t stop at “lifestyle”. She used a stew of groan-inducing adjectives like “hedonistic” and “glittering” to clarify what sort of lifestyle is generally being referred to when Daily Mail columnists use that word. Heterosexuals, of course, don’t have “lifestyles”. They have TV and golf. Uncle Keith’s dangerous hetero lifestyle played no part in the late onset diabetes he posts about on Facebook in between racist memes.

“Lifestyle” as a pejorative, I feel, tends to refer specifically to gay men. Although I often wonder if my lesbian “lifestyle” is thought about by the same people who are so freaked out by the idea of two men having sex that they have elected one of the most tepid words in the English language to cloak it in respectability. And what is my lesbian lifestyle, per se? What’s the lesbian version of unprotected anal on an Eames lounge chair? Unprotected oral in a library? No sex at all, just crying and soup?

The sooner the word “lifestyle” finds its rightful home in absolutely nowhere other than blog posts about how Gwyneth Paltrow needs to get a grip, the better. Gay, after all, isn’t a lifestyle, it’s a life. It’s a life that – most importantly – needs to stop being scrutinised by people who don’t have the balls to say “balls”.