Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why I will never use the word "gay" as synonymous with the lesser AGAIN.

Hey, world. Been a while. Guess it's time for a post eh? Good thing cuz this is a loooong one.

I got into a pretty deep conversation a few nights ago with a couple boys in their mid-20s. To be completely honest, the fact that handsome young bucks were engaging in conversation for me without finding reasons to immediately run away was a marvel in and of itself, let me tell you. Not to mention the fact that our conversation was about deep shit.

I was really grateful for the opportunity to have such a frank conversation with cool kids… growing up, I certainly wasn't one myself (a cool kid that is... A shocking I know), and it's really only been in the past few years that I've started to come to appreciate men in their mid-20s for what they have to offer. I'm working on a blog about that right now but, suffice it to say, I'm getting way better at having real interactions with people without judging them for who they are.

We talked about a bunch of stuff… feminism, equalism, gay rights… and the words we use to slander others. In particular, the one word that we touched on was "faggot".

I can remember using this word once, as an insult. I was maybe 11 or 12, and I was bullied pretty hard that day by, um, let's call him Tony LaTelda. Tony was a terror in his own right and would often call me horrible names; but this one particular day, he was particularly mean. He hurt me so deeply… I wanted to hurt him back. I was not one to swear, though, and I didn't really watch many movies or read many books with insulting words so I had no idea how to insult. So when he called me a "Fat big Kahuna Dog" for the umpteenth time, I tried a new word I'd heard some boys say, and I screamed… "SHUT UP, YOU FAGGOT!"

He got quiet. A bunch of people got quiet. I don't exactly remember the sequence of events after that, or now long it took, until a teacher came over and said, "we don't say that word, that's a bad word", and I remember I got in trouble for using a word which meaning I did not know.

Now, upon reflection, I took a couple things away from this.

1) I totally understand how hate perpetrates hate. In that moment, I was so stung and shocked, all I could do was seek out the most hateful word I could think of so my pain would be distributed evenly. This could be elaborated upon in a future blog, most likely.

2) But more importantly: in that moment, I wasn't calling this kid a gay man and expecting him to be offended by it. I have an uncle who had lived with his husband for what must be 15 years now, Gay was always OK growing up, and I never heard any antagonism in my school or from immediate family towards homosexuality. Truth be told, I actually had no idea what this F-bomb meant... I guess I had just heard someone say it once at school or something and the other person had been offended or hurt or something... So it sounded insulting. At that point in this situation, all I wanted to do was insult Tony, what better way than this seemingly hurtful word?

I had an argument once in 2009 with a friend who identifies as a gay man, and he was saying using the words "gay" and "fag" and "queer" as a bad thing - even though they're desensitized - are terribly offensive. After all, the story goes that a "faggot" is really just a bundle of wood... That was used to burn people alive if they were thought to have engaged in homosexual activity. (WHAT!?)

At the time, I argued vehemently for being able to use these words now that "they're desensitized". "After all," I declared in my full 24-year-old sheltered Hetero white girl glory,"I may not BE gay, but I am an Ally, so I don't mean any harm by it!" AND, c'mon guys, these words are pretty fun to pronounce... I mean, really, how often do we get to say words that start with the letter "q"?

God bless this man for being so patient with me, in hindsight. His argument was that we may call these words "desensitized"... but are they?? As Macklemore so aptly put it: "A word rooted in hate." Which it is! As with the word "retarded" (slow in thinking), "lame" (limping/slow), "gipped/jipped" (how a gypsy would cheat you back in the day). Perhaps we have lost our origins... But does the use of these words in a derogatory manner not glorify their origins in some way?

"Heck no!" Said I, "When I say these words, I am not saying 'PEOPLE WHO IDENTIFY AS GAY ARE BAD,' I am saying, 'this word has lost its original meaning and now it just means bad in a silly way. I don't mean it hurtfully!"

I now see how this argument sucks, and I apologize to you, my friend from that convo 5 years ago, and anybody who has had to put up with these words in their lives. Let me share my reflections why:

1) it is still being used by people in its original intention of "GAY PEOPLE ARE BAD". As long as this happens, how on earth can we say this word has lost its meaning?!? It's not like we're using the word synonymously with "awesome" or "gorgeous" or "supaflyyyy". It's still used in a negative, deragatory manner?

2) Ok, and fine, assuming if - and a BIG "if" at that - the (let's assume) heterosexual person using this word does not even remotely associate this word with "GAY = BAD", (this jackass has lived under a rock, apparently), what about the homosexual (or otherwise) who has to hear this word in conversation? What about that person who WAS called these names in a hateful manner as a child, and had to bear the brunt of others' ignorance and malice?

Me, I was called "fat" a LOT as a child. There's more to be said about that; but for now, suffice it to say, I hear the word in ANY context, and I flinch. Sensory memory.

What if the word "fat" was actually a word we used in the same way?

I can only imagine... every time I would have to hear that I'm certain I would cringe. Just hearing that word in my head reminds me how I was led to believe I was bad for something I had no control over - and no idea of how to change. So, If that were the case? I would be on a CRUSADE to tell people to never use the word "fat" as a derogatory term again.

I don't self-identify as gay. I love me a good set of male washboard abs and I think vanilla male-female sex is the best. I don't even pretend to know what it's like to be criticized for the gender I'm attracted to… for generations, at that.

So who am I to say what offends those who do/have had all those things, and what doesn't?!?!? Shame on me for thinking I had a right to toss these words rooted in oppression, social ostracizing, and inhumane torture. And shame on all those Heteros who feel they can just drop some words and not feel responsible if they cause pain.

So when these super cute boys were arguing for unapologetically using this word in conversation as it has "lost its original meaning", I almost agreed with them. After all, we all learned that math equation in high school right? 1 uncool kid + 1 cool kids' table = 100% conforming.

But I took a sec to think, before delivering a (less eloquent and highly abbreviated) version of the above thoughts. I listened to their point of view, and shared what I thought. I'm not certain I convinced them, but I'm positive I made them think. Isn't that it's about!

Moral of the story: from now on, if you ever hear me say the word "gay" or "retarded", slap me across the face and call me a fat slut please.

Happy pride, everyone. Big hugs.



Catherine Bowers said...

hey Nutmeg,

I was quite concerned that I might have offended someone dear to me by using the word gay, but I found this nugget from the GLAAD Media Handbook.

Offensive: "homosexual" (n. or adj.)
Preferred: "gay" (adj.); "gay man" or "lesbian" (n.); "gay person/people"
Please use "gay" or "lesbian" to describe people attracted to members of the same sex. Because of the clinical history of the word "homosexual," it is aggressively used by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay people are somehow diseased or psychologically/emotionally disordered – notions discredited by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association in the 1970s. Please avoid using "homosexual" except in direct quotes. Please also avoid using "homosexual" as a style variation simply to avoid repeated use of the word "gay." The Associ­ated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post restrict use of the term "homosexual" (see AP, New York Times & Washington Post Style).

Paul Fenz said...

To use the term "faggot" in satire is one thing. But to use the term to denote something lesser, weaker, or lower in any way is a perpetuation of the negative connotation. You addressed that in point one. I just saw a South Park (for being obnoxious and needing attention) and they made a point of telling the bikers most gay people aren't faggots but I dangerously digress:I realize my admiration for South Park leaves me in dangerous satire territory and love your post and agree 100 percent. Bundle of Sticks being gathered for firewood is correct, the using of said sticks to burn gay people at the stake however, is unsubstantiated and was an urban myth spread by Douglas Harper. The cure for all is STOP HATING GAY PEOPLE.

Paul Fenz said...

To be clear: In the South Park episode mentioned above the kids called the Harley bikers faggots just to be clear, for being loud and wanting attention with their extremely loud bikes.

Megan Phillips said...

Oooh, these comments are great. Thanks for sharing, guys.