Oct 14, 2012

[Technicolor Musings] What Does Discreet Really Mean?

Photo by Mikeboriqua via Flickr
There's a big reason why the rainbow is recognized as one of the most iconic symbols of the queer community - it does stand for diversity and how different colors come together to make something beautful. And thus when you say "gay", it can mean a near infinite number of things depending on the context of the word and the people involved.

And yet there are some aspects of our community that just annoy me to no end given how, well, hypocrtical a lot of the statements are or how terms of misappropriated to mean this or that. And I know it can't be helped - language is functional and as long as people understand the context then you should be okay, right? But one word always comes up that really, really frustrates me given the implications of what is "conventional" usage.

And that's the word DISCREET.

Allow me to explain...

Spend any amount of time in any gay social networking site and you'll eventually encounter profiles that claim to be about "discreet" individuals looking for similar fellows. And the word can mean any number of things depending on your understanding of things.

If we start with the dictionary definition of things, we get this:

  1.  judicious in one's conduct or speech, especially with regard to respecting privacy or maintaining silence about something of a delicate nature; prudent; circumspect.
  2. showing prudence and circumspection; decorous.
  3. modestly unobtrusive; unostentatious: a discreet.
Okay, that probably doesn't help us all that much. This is the "traditional" usage of the term and I don't think a person is being prudent or decorous by flashing their chest pic across the web. 

And thus we turn to Urban Dictionary for other definitions:

First, for the straight people in the room - Adjective describing a sexual encounter, with the intent of keeping said encounter a secret. Often used by married men when soliciting sexual activities from women other than their wives. Thus we definitely get a distinctly negative sense to the word since it refers to hiding something. 

Then we come to this meatier description for queers:  A word gay/bi men use to describe themselves in a cool way that they are closet cases and have no intention of coming out soon. This allows them to maintain perceived heterosexual privilege while engaging in their true sexual desires. Okay, now THIS seems a lot more familiar. And yes, I appreciate the inherent snarkiness in the way they defined the term.

But it gets even better with this one - Discreet is a term used by gay men in online profiles, usually along with the phrase "can't host." These words can often be used interchangeably, but using them together is a definite sign of an insecure douche. This brings us directly to the context of hooking up, and as specific as to where the two of you will, um, play Twister all night, so to speak.

And it presents these scenarios as well:
Discreet and "can't host" usually mean one of the following: 
a). My boyfriend doesn't know I am cheating on him. 
b). My girlfriend/wife doesn't know I like to have sex with men. 
c). I'm embarrassed of who I am, and I don't want my neighbors to find out I'm gay.


Now my main annoyance with how people use discreet here is that more often than not they are talking about how masculine or feminine a guy acts, which doesn't necessarily translate to what may be the "truest" sense of the word. A guy who acts butch but isn't in the closet isn't discreet. And using a profile photo with your face clearly in it (albeit small compared to your supposedly impressive physique that is also in the image) is NOT being discreet. In fact, you've just outed yourself to everyone who uses the social network. Good job, boy.

And sorry, if your wrists are limper than a rag doll or you love to sing Mariah Carey songs while waiting in the elevator, you're still not being very discreet. Discreet predominantly refers to still being in the closet! And or some reason guys seem to have decided that using "discreet" somehow sounds better than using the term "bisexual" - which is yet another word whose meaning has been misappropriated to mean the wrong thing in the community.

So educate yourself people! If you're in the closet and you act totally, totally butch, then maybe you truly are discreet. But if your mother helps you pick out new hand bags when the fashion season changes, you're probably not as butch as you think you are.

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  1. For me, discreet means being one of the boys and enjoying their friendship without them having a slight idea that you're gay. Even if you tell them that you're gay, they see it as a joke. For me that's being discreet :)

  2. That's not being discreet. That's called "not being a stereotype" or just plain "in the closet".

  3. As much as we'd rather be direct, you know how a lot of folks in the community play around with some pretty weird labels.

  4. Whatever works for you my friend, hehe