Guest Blogger

King of the Faggots

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 29, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, David Mixner, king of the faggots, name-calling

Editors' Note: Guest blogger David Mixner is a former strategist and adviser to several presidential campaigns, including those for McGovern, Clinton, and Gephardt. He currently works as an activist for AIDS, LGBT rights, and wildlife.

david-mixner.jpgNot even going to attempt to do the old 'Fa***ts" bit in this piece because I think the power of that word to hurt deserves our full attention. This holiday I was walking on West 47th Street just off Times Square when two guys came walking toward me. My guess is that they were in their late 20's but maybe a little older. They were well-dressed and seemed clean-cut and, frankly, harmless. As they approached me, they spat at me and said, "This is for you 'the King of the Faggots'." Whoa, I was totally taken back in time and I came to a halt at the force of the words.

After all these years, those words still had the ability to pierce me like a knife. Stunned is too mild of a word to describe my reaction. Not sure it was the hate that poured out of an unexpected source, the spit or that they felt that they could do so without any ramifications. Still have the image in my head of the look on their faces and realized they most likely would cheer if a knife had gone in my gut. These guys felt they had permission to express their disgust and hate openly. That permission not only comes from the heated debate over the struggle for our freedom. Clearly there are those organized hate groups that actually encourage these actions. But we also can look to religious leaders who remain silent, the Pope who is on a LGBT witch hunt and yes, even our President who constantly says marriage is between a man and a woman implying that any other definition is just not normal and maybe even disgusting.

But 'King of Faggots'?

Throughout the LGBT journey through hate and our tears it has often been our humor that enabled us to survive the horrors. In this case, my humor quickly kicked into high gear as I thought of how many of my LGBT brothers and sisters would not only be offended by me being called faggot but how enraged they would be that they called me "King of the Faggots." A huge grin appeared on my face as I thought how many would contest my elevation to such royalty. The grin enabled me to move on down the sidewalk but it only eased the pain on the outside because clearly it is still bothering me today.

The derogatory term had power. It hurt. It was degrading. The hate was scary. For a quick second, I felt dirty and very vulnerable.

Don't get me wrong, it did not weaken my resolve to be a free man. In fact it is serving as a fuel so we can end such blatant hate in America. So to all those, gay or straight, who think it is cute to use the word "faggot" or "fag' either in joking or even self proclaimed empowerment......stop it. There is nothing funny, empowering or good about the word faggot. Speak up when people gay and straight use it.

Believe me, I have learned my lesson. No more jokes even with my LGBT friends. The word is a hateful and awful and its causes real pain.

Take it from the 'King.'


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Thanks, David.

Mind doing the same thing withthe word "Tranny", please?

Of course the words "faggot" or "dyke" are hurtful when they're used as tools of oppression and signs of hatred by either straight people or self-hating gay people.

But as countless words have shown us (including the word "gay" itself, which used to mean you were a prostitute way back in the nineteenth century), definitions and connotations can change. Why can't we as a movement reject the internalized homophobia that makes us shy away from the word "faggot" even as an empowering self identification and embrace our difference? We need to own the word faggot, not let it own us. We've already done it with "fairy" and "queer" (queer moreso than fairy). Why does faggot have to be the last great linguistic taboo of the homosexual movement?

The lesbians are a step ahead of you on this one with the word "dyke," and I'd say that's an even more ugly word than "faggot." At least "faggot" has an even, two-part rhythm to it.

Maybe instead of complaining that the word is hurtful, you should examine why you find it hurtful and see if there's any possible way to keep it from being hurtful. For example, what does "faggot" connote? It's about on par with cocksucker, pillow-biter, ass-banger; it's a gritty, succinct way to say "a man who fucks/gets fucked by other men." And that's what sexually active gay men are, the single culturally condemned difference from which all our other differences have come. Why can't gay men and lesbians celebrate their sexuality? It's what got us where we are today.

If you don't want to be identified by your sexuality, then you should probably stop calling yourself "gay" and start calling yourself "sensitive."

"Maybe instead of complaining that the word is hurtful, you should examine why you find it hurtful and see if there's any possible way to keep it from being hurtful."

Wow, Meredith, that's so giving of you... a free psychotherapy session for David. He must be overwhelmed with gratitude at your generosity.

I'm not claiming to be a psychotherapist. I do understand that the word "faggot" is hurtful when it's used as an insult against gay men by straight men. But David is saying that no one, not even gay men, should be allowed to use it, a notion I disagree with. If David finds the word offensive because straight men use it as an insult, then why would he object to gay men using it as a term of affection or empowerment and putting a positive spin on a negative word? However, if he finds the word hurtful because, in his view, it implies inferiority or contempt in any situation, then I would think that's a valid viewpoint.

I'm not claiming there's anything wrong with David psychologically. I just think he should examine his own reasons for objecting to the word "faggot" other than just that it hurt him to be called a faggot once. I'm just politely trying to have dialogue from an opposing viewpoint; I'm not being sarcastic or contemptuous towards him.

Well, I don't know if my other reply is ever going to post, but just in case:

I'm not trying to be contemptuous or sarcastic. I'm just trying to have dialogue with someone of an opposing viewpoint. I really want David to examine why he finds the word "faggot" hurtful. Depending on his reasoning, his total ban on anyone, gay or straight, using the word "faggot" for any reason may or may not be justified.

If he finds the word "faggot" hurtful because straight people use it as an insult against gay people, then I disagree that it's inappropriate for gay people to use it in a positive way. Why should we let straight people dictate what we do and do not say?
However, if he makes a convincing argument that the word "faggot" is hurtful in any context because it necessarily implies inferiority and contempt (even if it's meant to be self-empowering), then I might give credit to his argument that no one should use the word.

Wow, Meredith... so lesbians got together and decided they don't like "dyke", and think it's uglier than "faggot". And they've elected you to inform the world of this decision. That would be two firsts.

Maybe you know of some lesbians who don't like the term dyke. I know entire groups of lesbians who hate the word lesbian; who embrace the word dyke not only as their prefered label, but view it as their identity.

And I know of no lesbians who want anyone else speaking for them, much less as a monolith.

My comment was unclear on the "dyke" front. I meant to point out that a lot of lesbians use the term "dyke" to self-identify and view it as a positive word. The comment about it being an ugly word is my own opinion.

I'm not claiming to speak for lesbians (though I am speaking for myself as a lesbian), but I am pointing out that a lot of lesbians use the term "dyke" in the way David is saying no one should use the word "faggot". Or at least that's what I meant to point out. I kind of left that clarification out in my sea of text.

Meredith, there is so much research out there showing that hate speech causes serious harm, regardless of how it’s meant or who the intended target is. A couple of large-sample studies have shown that heterosexuals who are often exposed to antigay hate speech experience the same consequences as gay people: problems like depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and suicidality. Even the percentages were about the same.

GLSEN has estimated that such speech is responsible for about 30,000 suicides a year. When words are killing us, I don’t think we can reasonably suggest we’ve reclaimed them. Let’s say I’m in a harassive environment, but I manage to make those words stop harming me personally (I don’t know of any sound evidence that such a thing can be done). In my opinion, I still don’t have the right to contribute to other people’s deaths.

So do you believe that you cannot self-identify as a "faggot," even if the word doesn't harm you personally, because even hearing the word used might cause someone to kill themselves? I find that a little extreme.

Words can and are used as weapons, and hate speech is a serious problem. What happened to David was an incident of hate speech and it clearly did him demonstrable harm. But I don't think people are completely incapable of taking once hurtful words and turning their meaning around. And while I agree that we haven't reclaimed those words, if we don't at least make an effort we never will. In my mind, that's letting bigoted straight people control us with their terminology.

Why would I think people can’t self-identify as a “faggot”? I didn't make any such statement above. But unless and until the word is somehow reclaimed, most of those people probably view themselves with hatred. It's not so much as offense as a tragedy. If they vocalize their self-hatred, then yes, there is good evidence that they’re contributing to the extraordinarily high suicide rate of LGBT youth.

I don’t think it’s extreme to refuse to help sacrifice tens of thousands of LGBT lives every year in the faint hope that, someday, hate speech may be reclaimed. Bigoted straight people control us because they can legally fire us in most states, because we cannot serve openly in the military, because the Supreme Court has yet to make clear our full and free citizenship, and the list goes on. We can only succeed in overcoming such bigotry by fighting it, not accepting it. I think that applies to all bigotry, including hateful slurs.

I self-identify as a dyke, and I don't view myself with hatred. Does my vocally identifying as a dyke and showcasing my pride in my sexuality contribute to LGBT youth suicide, in your opinion?

Wait, so they recognized you? Or are you just really queeny in real life?

That's the thing, Alex. He doesn't "read" as gay; and as far as I know, he wouldn't be recognized outside of the gay world. So I don't know why he would be targeted. I'm wondering if these people are gay politicos who oppose David rather than opponents who oppose gay people. How else would they know he's the King?

Either that or they were referring to something else? I doubt gay politicos who didn't like David Mixner would spit at him. I'm guessing there's more to this story that we'll never know.

This is an...odd story and doesn't really have the ring of truth to it. It reads like a self-aggrandising tale.

And to the best of my knowledge, Mixner is a free man. I do wish teh gayz would stop appropriating civil rights discourse to this appalling degree. Mixner, call me when you're not allowed to vote, not paid for your labour, or not allowed to own property. Or, for that matter, when you actually become someone's property.

Seriously? Seriously?!?

You "doubt" his story but then complain of a lack of common decency in other comment threads?

David is obviously a gay man when you see him. He's also infirm and an easy target. In my "I have a problem with faggots" post, several people also accused me of making it all up for attention.

I'll just point out that you and AndrewW can agree on something - and that alone should give you pause, Yasmin.

The story doesn't sound plausible.

This holiday I was walking on West 47th Street just off Times Square when two guys came walking toward me. My guess is that they were in their late 20's but maybe a little older. They were well-dressed and seemed clean-cut and, frankly, harmless. As they approached me, they spat at me and said, "This is for you 'the King of the Faggots'." Whoa, I was totally taken back in time and I came to a halt at the force of the words."

Sorry, it just doesn't sound 1) like it even could have happened, or 2) that it did happen. If other people want to believe it, good for them.

Well, first: I never complained about a lack of "common decency" in comment threads. I'm the last one to ask for such a thing. Anyone can see what I was really talking about if they go to the comment you're referencing:
http://www.bilerico.com/2010/11/an_experiment_can_we_do_it.php

I'll stand by my comment. No one is required to be nice to everyone around here - and I've made it clear that no one needs to be nice to me either. Like Alex above, I think there's a lot more here than meets the eye. And it does not seem plausible, and I do think the story is self-aggrandising. The post you wrote is entirely different from this one.

And while I frequently disagree with Andrew, there are points on which some of us, including me, agree with him even if not for the same reasons. For instance, you are as critical of GetEqual as Andrew. You may not come at it from the same angle but you both share a critical vantage point.

I think it is a mistake to put too much importance on a word and dismissing the hate with which it is delivered. I wonder if the two men had called Mr. Mixner "King of the Sissies!" as they spat at him, whether Mr. Mixner's experience would have been all that different. And there are plenty of other words that get the same point across, so we need to get busy banning those words from the English language, too.

Every such word has the potential to be applied with irony -- and that is the problem with banishing any word as unspeakable. If we mechanically censor the n-word, then we are also censoring John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they write a song such as "Woman Is The Nigger of the World" and we censor civil rights activist Dick Gregory when he argues that the n-word is an essential part of Black History that black children need to be informed about.

It is the open hate and attack from two strangers that is shocking about Mr. Mixner's story -- the exact flow of the dialogue is hardly the point.

Or ... speaking of stinging labels ... maybe the passing men were simply two gay Republicans.

I think Meredith is on the right track, but she did not pursue her logic far enough. Obviously David should also re-examine being spat at in order to understand how that helps him celebrate his sexuality. Too bad the guys didn't break his nose and give him reason for, like, some real deep introspection and self-affirmation.

ps - not trying to spoil a good story, but it's possible that David misheard (or maybe 'misremembered'?) the common epithet "you f**king faggot."

I find your implication that I'm condoning hate attacks of any form, verbal or physical, incredibly insulting. I'm not justifying bigotry. I'm merely asking if anyone thinks it's possible to redefine words or to give them different contexts and connotations, considering it's been done with other words, since David said in his article that it was never ok for anyone, anywhere to use the word "faggot"--a claim I find a little extreme.

It would be nice if David himself gave some kind of response, but since he's a guest blogger he probably won't be back for a while.

Yeah, faggot and dyke are two words that make me cringe. I'm sorry it happened, but good for you for being able to smile at "King of Faggots." Bigots are ridiculous, aren't they?

I hope no one is disgusting enough to ever call you that again. If it does happen, make sure the person knows you aren't just a faggot--you're the King of Faggots.

This is all beside the point, I guess, because discussing various labels, etc., is a good thing, but I just find it too hard to buy Mixner's story. I just don't think he's that recognizable on the street, especially in busy NYC.

I don't believe Mixner's story. It's just a way to get attention (which he loves) and anoint himself "King."

It seems very contrived and self-serving.

Okay Andrew... David totally made this up and you, not he, are 'king of the faggots.' Are you happy?

He's suffering from Munchhausen's by Faggotry.

"He's suffering from Munchhausen's by Faggotry."

Heheheh! Good one!

Why exactly would David lie about an incident like that? There's no way for him to gain by it, and he can get attention any time he wants without making stuff up. Besides, if you've done as much as David has for this community in his lifetime, you'd be entitled to a little attention.

It would be nice if someone had some evidence before accusing someone of being a liar.

Attention. That's why. Relevancy.

Plus, to be fair, there is apparently no evidence that it actually happened. All I said was it doesn't sound plausible - meaning, Mixner aside, it doesn't seem like it would even happen.

Dyke comes from bulldyke. A bull is male and dyke is an old slang for vulva. Put together, you have a man with a vagina. Or more accurately a masculine person with a vagina. Dyke identity is specifically a masculine identified homosexual female.

Straight people may throw the term dyke around when talking about all lesbians or even straight butch women, but that's because they're ignorant. Dykes reclaimed the word because it's actually an accurate description of their gender presentation and sexual orientation.

Faggot comes from the bundle of sticks one would burn a heretic (possibly a witch) at the stake with. Later it just meant a contemptuous woman (like a witch in the "bitch" sense). To call a man a faggot is to say they're like a bitchy woman. Which might be misogynistic any way you look at it, but some gay men may very well be fine interpreting it as being effeminate with an attitude.

Tranny is short for transvestite. Which when applied to all trans people is inaccurate. Whether or not transgender people can say crossdressers can't call themselves trannies, I don't know. But it would be offensive to call a trans woman a tranny for the same reason it is to call her a transvestite, crossdresser or drag queen.

http://www.etymonline.com

My understanding of the origin of "faggot", GR, is that gay men should be thrown on the fire (that burns heretics) like a bundle of sticks or faggots.

That's an urban legend, Rory. Faggot wasn't used to refer to a gay man until 1914, some 400 years after the practice of burning heretics. Educated historians usually don't come up with derogatory slangs with obscure historical meaning. The people that started calling gay men faggots probably only knew of it as a slang for "contemptuous woman."

I've also heard a theory that stems from the terminology of "fag" as a slang term for cigarette. Back in the day (I think it was 20s time frame or something), it was more common for men (as in "real," masculine men) to hold their cigarettes clenched between their thumb and fingers. Meanwhile, women were supposed to hold their cigarettes between their middle and forefingers, like we see commonly today. So, "effeminate" men who held their cigarettes the womanly way were picked out because of the way they held their fags.

It's more of a British-centric slang theory and probably apocryphal bullshit, but it's fun to think about.

Meredith, being called a 'faggot' or some other deliberately derogatory term, hurts not just because of the word, but because of the hatred being personally directed at you by the people calling you that term. It's not just in the term, it's the venom behind it. And followed up by a punch in the face, being spat on, etc... of course it fucking hurts. I went through two grades of school (and then two more only slightly better) with this as practically my everyday experience, I don't think a day went by without being called epithets like 'faggot', being shoved into lockers, thrown stuff at in class, ostracised and generally given a hard time.

Someone could call you a 'cupcake' or some other innocuous term with enough force to ensure you knew you were being insulted and hated. Especially when punctuated by actual violence. So how exactly does reclaiming the term help? People make up new ones all the time anyway. So don't be so dismissive - I doubt you would be if you'd have experienced similar.

And Andrew, why would you question the veracity of this story? Why the hell would anyone make it up? It happened to me often enough. I've been accosted in the street and spat on and called random weird stuff by total strangers. Who can explain the fucked-up things haters with more aggression than sense, say? Let alone somehow be accountable for it!

You need to direct your questions to the storyteller. I said it didn't sound plausible - with or without Mixner in the story. It just doesn't.

I think you missed the first part of my very first comment:

"Of course the words "faggot" or "dyke" are hurtful when they're used as tools of oppression and signs of hatred by either straight people or self-hating gay people."

I totally understand that words used with a hateful, hurtful intent behind them hurt. I've been called a dyke by straight homophobes before and not enjoyed it one bit. But that hasn't stopped from self-identifying as a dyke.

Words can hurt when said with hate behind them. But what if they're said with affection or validation behind them? Who is David Mixner or you or anyone else to tell me what words I can and cannot use to self-identify?

As long as everyone else is coming up with etymologies for "faggot" the one I've understood has to do with the all-male British Public School System. In the book "Tom Brown's Schooldays" from 1857. (extremely popular in its day both in the US and in England), fag, and fagging is frequently referred to when younger male students were forced to work for senior classmen. Part of their duties were to maintain their fires by carrying "fagots" (sticks) for the fire. As with many other all male environment, smaller young boys having to slave for older young men quickly took on sexual connotations and the system of "fagging" for older students was laden with sexual relationships. The servant student would be referred to by "fag Lawrence" or whatever their last name was. Anyone else heard this explanation of the term? (btw, it's a truly incredible book and well worth reading). It's really the first novel to explicitly deal with the subject of bullying.

The problem with these theories about the term faggot being from the UK is that it isn't a common slang term for gay people there. But so what? What difference does it make what the origins of the word are? Unlike most languages english is constantly evolving and words often end up meaning something that has nothing to do whatsoever with what they originally meant and when it's a slang word like this is it can mean something in one place and something else entirely somewhere else.

Wendy... never said it was a contest for 'who's right'... just another perspective on the history of the word. Tom Brown's School Days was one of the most popular novels in 19th Century America as well as in England, so there's no reason for it to rely on English usage. And, as you said, words develop into slang differently in different countries (although the Internet and mass media seem to be changing that).