There's no shortage of homophobic insults out there. Though some are more blatantly bigoted, like "faggot," and others - "fairy" - are more feeble, the pejorative meaning of many of these phrases is pretty straight-forward. Still others, however, are more subtle and therefore troublesome, such as "cocksucker."
Now, I try not to call people names. On the sporadic occasions that I do, however, I prefer "cocksucker." It has such a nice, forceful effect to it. It's evocative. Sadly for me, it's also homophobic.
But not always....
First, a brief etymological lesson: the term "cock" as slang for penis dates back to at least 1610, a shortened version of its linguistic forebearer, pillicock, and the addition of "sucker" can be traced to the 1890s. Later, in the 1920s, the fully formed "cocksucker" was characterized as a "contemptible person," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which also offers this reduction for cocksucker: an "aggressively obnoxious man."
Cocksucker is for all intents and purposes, then, reserved for men, because sucking another man's penis, the source of his hypothetical masculine power, implies, especially in the 1920s, weakness, deplorability, and deficiency. Cocksucker, in meaning and common use, becomes just as homophobic as other anti-gay phrases.
In fact, "cocksucker" was at one point widely accepted slang for a gay man, as seen in the following anecdote, as retold by Truman Capote and countless others...
A drunken Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead, and secretly bisexual actor Montgomery Clift, a renowned beauty (see image), were at a dinner party when Parker remarked of Clift, "He's so beautiful... Sensitive. So finely made. The most beautiful man I've ever seen. What a pity he's a cocksucker."
Catching her potential gaffe, Parker turned to Bankhead and said, "Have I said something wrong? I mean, he is a cocksucker, isn't he Tallulah?" Bankhead famously replied, "Well, darling, I really wouldn't know. He's never sucked my cock."
Cocksucker now appears to be as straight-forward as the other homophobic invective, and this queer case of oral affronts seems closed. But trust there are a there are a few more twists and turns of the tongue that must be considered.
First, as with other common aspersions, gay men have reclaimed "cocksucker," often using it "cocksucker" with pride - I trust I don't have to provide an example or reason, but here's one anyway: "Man, you know I'm a fabulous cocksucker!" Or then there's the laudatory praise, "I love dating that guy. He's a terrific cocksucker." (And surely it comes up in some people's sex play, but that's a different subject all together.)
The second complication is far more sticky: the rare instances in which the expression cocksucker get lobbed at women, specifically a lesbian?
If applied to a straight woman, "cocksucker" is rendered quite impotent. That population is meant, in the heterosexist sense, to perform fellatio. But lesbians are a different story.
As a woman, the lesbian is also expected to perform such actions, but probably does not, would not or should not, in theory, and "cocksucker" attacks that woman's innate lesbianism.
What appears as a simple and blunt term, "cocksucker," has a far more complex and muddled than most people care to realize. Like all aspersions, including "bitch," which I've also dissected, "cocksucker" must be wielded wisely, or not at all.
As for me, I personally have no choice to but to exorcise my favorite vilification from my vocabulary, except perhaps in some of the aforementioned unique scenarios. And I'll leave you to chew on that....
Image of Montgomery Clift in 'Red River' via Kitty Packard.