Bil Browning

CNN takes on "The F-word"

Filed By Bil Browning | February 02, 2007 6:47 AM | comments

Filed in: You Gotta See This
Tags: CNN, homophobic behavior, HRC, Joe Solmonese, Paula Zahn, television

Did you get a chance to see Paula Zahn's recent CNN special about using the word "faggot" a la Isaiah Washington? The piece features HRC President Joe Solmonese.

What's your opinion on using the "F-word?" Personally, I find that word to be the most vulgar and offensive of the gay slurs. "Queer" I don't really mind as much - we've co-opted that word by using it in titles like "Queer Studies," etc. "Faggot," though, will get my goat every time. Which word pisses you off the most?


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I think it's especially offensive when you consider the origins of the word. My understanding is that the word originally referred to a small bundle of wood and only came to be a slur against gay people because they were being burned at the stake with these bundles of wood for being gay. I guess it would be the equivalent of taunting black people with words like "lynch" or "noose".

Bruce Parker II | February 2, 2007 2:20 PM

Yea, I am not such a fan of the word faggot. However, as with most language the context in which it is used is really the deciding factor. You, Bil, calling me a fag would only make me punch you playfully. One of my students or a random guy on the street would really piss me off.

In regards to queer. I can't help but remind folks that lots of my generation and younger are claiming that label as our own to reflect our identities/attractions/behaviors thanks to the influence of queer theory and queer studies. Particularly as a part of the trans communities. The gay straight divide seems to imply that there are only two genders. Come to an INTRAA meeting and that divide goes away pretty fast.

I agree, I NEVER use the f word and correct people when I hear it used. I'm ok with lesbian and dyke. The only female geared word that bothers me is the c word which applies to all women not just gay ones. But even tho I'm also gay, I still never use the f word.

The only times in my life that I have heard that word someone either meant to do me violence or feigned violence. Thus the word has always had that connotation of violence to me.

Then there came the day when I read a great-grand uncle's diary of his trip back to his homeland in the Ardenne of Belgium. He was waxing poetic about the bucolic life there and suddenly I read, "and the faggots bundled up ready for the fire." Well, my first reaction came out of the violence which the word always imparted to me, then I had to remember the word's origins. Which parenthetically is exactly that allusion to humans worth of hellfire.

I'd rather the word pass from the language .... but it won't.

Allen J. Lopp | March 3, 2007 6:07 PM

In addition to the notion that this word originated from the twigs used to burn "sodomites" at the stake, there is an alternate theory that the word came from British use. In the upper-class British boarding school system, some upperclassmen would have an incoming youngster assigned to him. The older student became a mentor to the new student and would teach him the scholastic and social ropes of the place; in turn, the younger student was to be an assistant to the older one. The younger student was called the older student's "fag" --- and originally it did not have any homosexual connotation. The upperclassmen would sometimes give their "fag" a whole list of menial tasks, shining shoes being the classic one, and thus to be "fagged out" came to mean worked to your physical limits, becoming extremely tired and exhausted.

As far as modern use of the word is concerned, I think it has some acceptable, and even a few very strategic, proper uses. If a gay man jokingly refers to a gay male friend as a faggot, I think it is hardly any more offensive than calling the same friend a "sister" or "girl friend" --- although I come out in the 70's and generations younger than me may not be so laid back about such usage.

I think the word can be used strategically to indicate that gay and lesbian activists can be very in-your-face, as in this sentence: "The governor should sign this atrocious bill only if he wants several thousand angry faggots and dykes marching on Sacramento within the week." Used here, the f-word doesn't insult the gay men and women who are rising up in political action, it is underscoring that we will be enraged to the point that dealing with us will be politically challenging, that we will be beyond any restraint to "make nice." (Oh, if only the GLBT community would still generate that type of political steam from time to time!) Again, this usage might be generational, and some might say that the time for such expressions is past, but I would disagree.

However, any time this word is used in all seriousness to insult, denigrate and de-humanize gay men, we must object to it vociferiously. Perhaps to retain our right to protest its use in this manner, we might choose not to use the f-word in any context whatsoever.

Interesting to note that the exact same disagreement exists in the African-American culture: Some black rap artists use the n-word in their songs to stress the downtrodden plight of black men trapped in the ghetto, while other black figures insist that the n-word should disappear from our language entirely. The changing attitudes that comedian Richard Pryor had to using the n-word at different periods during his life is a case in point.

Marla R. Stevens | March 6, 2007 9:49 AM

The history is not that the wood was at the gay men's feet but that the gay men were thrown into the fire at the feet of the witches being burned -- gay men literally as the firewood not even accorded the simple dignity of being the focus of the event.

Usually I am in sync with Mr. Lopp about such epithets -- that it's not so much what is said as how it's said -- but the history of this word is so violent that it seems to have infused the word with an inescapably hate-driven tone for me that I just can't shake by power-co-opting it the way I can with "dyke". It always makes my skin crawl.