On hearing that Amy Ashenden’s ‘The Gay Word’ would focus on the teenage demographic in her documentary, I, being a British teenager myself, was particularly excited to find out about different perspectives on using ‘the gay word’ in a negative way. On Saturday 17th October, I headed to The Glorious Art House to discover whether its negative use was actually harmful to our society. With the top floor of Exeter’s charming Glorious Art House dedicated to screening the documentary, it provided an environment for discussion between friends and strangers of all ages and backgrounds before the showing. Before it began, everyone’s high levels of excitement were evident; it’s safe to say none of us were disappointed.
‘The Gay Word’ is a documentary created, very impressively, almost single-handedly by University of Southampton graduate Amy Ashenden. As Amy told us in the Q and A session after the showing, she decided to create the documentary in her final year at university as she knew it would be her last chance for a while and she wanted to research a topic of personal interest to her. Her passion about the controversial subject matter comes across constantly throughout the film as Amy travels across the south-east of England and trawls the internet to find information and people relevant to her research. Although the camera work and format did have a certain throwback effect to PHSE lessons when I was 14, the high quality of the content never faltered and given that Amy is hoping for her documentary to be shown in schools in future, this is hardly a criticism.
The contrast between personal, recounted experiences and professional research into the negative use of the word “gay” created a three dimensional depth to the film. The interviews with individuals, particularly the poignant discussion with a homosexual secondary school teacher whose brother died from a homophobic attack and who has to deal with teenagers using the word “gay” negatively on a regular basis, gave the documentary a poignancy that cause an unexpected emotional response. On the other hand, the interviews with academic professionals looking at the development of the word “gay” from an objective point of view gave the documentary an intellectual aspect which was really quite fascinating, especially to an English student like myself. Despite Amy’s personal views, she remains almost completely unbiased throughout her interviews, with the exception of some palpable tension during an interview with one particularly frustrating professor, who simply would not give her a straight answer to any of her questions (no pun intended).
I strongly believe that if ‘The Gay Word’ is able to be shown in schools and at Pride festivals, as Amy hopes, it will spark an emotional and intellectual conversation that has not yet been so directly addressed. Consequently, I would highly recommend watching it as soon as you are given the chance.