Sara Whitman

The F-word

Filed By Sara Whitman | December 04, 2007 4:58 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Details Magazine, faggot, language, power

Details’ magazine just came out today with their annual Power 50, a list of not only powerful individuals but also powerful trends in the United States.

I found it interesting that in the top ten, number 9 to be precise, was the F-word. Not my favorite f-word that is always coming out of my mouth at the most inappropriate times, but the word Faggot.

I hate the word faggot. I also hate lezzy. But I really hate the word faggot. In June, I sat and watch a privileged, straight, middle-aged white man I know call a gay man a ‘faggot.’ Straight guy thought it was funny.

He also thought, because he was his ‘friend’ he could call him a faggot. The truth is, it was as ugly as calling a Black man a nigger. Except when I registered my horror, I was told to sit down and be quiet. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful.

Just playing.

The same man, I know, uses the word nigger, only in private moments. He’s careful to choose his company with that word because there is global horror around it. Faggot? Never occurred to him to keep that one in.

There are only few words that I have told my kids are absolutely forbidden in this house. Saying a swear word costs you a dollar, goes in a jar that gets donated to a social change organization (never charity). I have a mouth like a sailor, what do I expect? But if you say “nigger?” or “faggot” or “lezzy” in my house? Not only are you going to sit and listen to a very very long lecture about how those words help celebrate and institutionalize hateful bigotry, you are gong to listen to me explain how it felt to have “lezzy” scrawled in marker on my college dorm room door. How humiliating and frightening it was.

A friend of Jeanine’s who lives in Texas reported that once when a man was trying to spit something angry at her called her a “faggot girl.”

Clearly he didn’t know the word “lezzy.”

Details’ is right on in their list. Between Larry Craig’s antics, and the long list of right wing nightmare politicians who also engaged in “Do me in the bathroom and I’ll Do you on the Senate floor,” screwing men for pleasure and then screwing them politically with anti-gay votes, the word faggot got a lot of action this year.

The age-old taunt continues to haunt us, and not as a sign of power but as a weakness that brings powerful men to their knees.

So to speak.

The full list tackles more than the Time magazine “Man of Year” – zzzzz- stuff. It includes some painful reminders

#2- The Surge (average age: 27): What do you call 20,000 soldiers sent off to fight a war that’s long since been lost? George W. Bush calls it The Surge, conveying power, momentum, and impermanence.

And some ridiculous irony, like #7

Good Fathers: Kevin Federline and Larry Birkhead (ages: 29 and 34): Meet America’s new parental role models. We all expected Federline and Birkhead to crash and burn as fathers. Instead, by being more visible presences in their children’s lives than many Hollywood A-listers, they emerged as unlikely candidates for Dad of the Year.

The F-word has had a comeback. I’m not sure it’s anything to celebrate.

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Yes, I'm equally appalled by the word. I become so tense every time my lesbian friends comments with her girlfriend and other friends how this "guy walks like such a fag."

Yes, some may say it is an endearing term; but if we ourselves use the word with abandon, who are we to scold heterosexuals for their use of the word? It doesn't matter that we use it in a different context; we do not have the sole power to define the proper use of potentially offensive words.

I completely agree, Lucrese. We need to lead with actions instead of words.

I have to admit, I've shocked myself a couple of times when I've gotten really, really angry at someone who's male and I've called him a "faggot" (either talking to myself or to Jerame - not directly to the person). I know how spectacularly horrible that word is and if I've used it in a derogatory manner... I know I'm not the only gay man that still used faggot as a put down either - it happens all the time here in Indiana.

I've banned it from my own personal vocabulary (and our daughter's). I may not be perfect, but someone has to start.

The same can be said when people toss out Tranny and Shemale out as hate words yet. I know many Transgurls who galdly refer to themselfs as such.Alot depends on who is saying it and how its used.

Oh, ditto here, Bil. Actually, this comes from experience, where I used to mock my younger brother for highly effeminate tastes and behavior (all in Spanish, although I never used a direct slur). It was not because I disliked effeminate behavior, per se, but because I dreaded that my brother could be gay, too. I know how self-loathing this may come as, but at that time I desperately wanted for him to not have to go through the horrible experiences I went through. I wanted him to be able to attend the graduation dance with someone. I wanted for my mom to keep her disdainful condescension to just myself. He was my brother, and I wished with all my heart that he wouldn't have to suffer the eventual psychological scarring many of us Hispanic gay men use to go through.

However, I came across this mother's post which changed my approach entirely. She said that no matter what, the world would always be a hostile and hard place, and that she would like to be that one sanctuary where her son could seek peace whenever he needed. I immediately adopted this approach.

I know the strength of conditioning, of how hard it is to refrain from saying "Ay, que marica" when referring to something overtly effeminate. Nevertheless, by constantly monitoring ourselves, we are defeating the intent of these heterosexist societies.

As I've said before ...

... whether it's a gay man using the f-word, or a black man using the n-word, or a white straight man using either ... in my trivial, humble opinion ...

... context is everything.

End of recorded message. Please turn the tape over now, and continue on Side B.

I was just at the mall the other day and I saw a sign "Faggots - 1 euro le 3".

It was referring to dried decorative sticks (I know, what a lovely decoration).

In that context, it was really hard for me to take offense.

"Lezzie" just sounds dirty and insinuates something sinister with all the z's stretching out like a snake's hiss...

Most lesbians I know hate "dyke" the most. (I've never understood why it's used for a lesbian, personally. At least "lezzie" obviously comes from "lesbian.") I haven't heard "lezzie" in years.

I actually think that reclaiming language is important and powerful... a la Black folk using the n-word. Or, remember when Queer and Dyke were only bad words? Now, they're often expressions of pride.

To me, it comes down to this: if you turn a slur into a positive, you take away the sting. You really take away the spears of those using the word in an attempt to demean and oppress, because when they say it, you can then turn around and say proudly, "damn right I am". Essentially, you just refuse to be demeaned or oppressed by someone else's use of language.

Done that (the "damn right" or something similar) a few times with "dyke" and it really seems to confuse the guys - and yes, it's always been guys that threw that one at me - who were expecting their use of that word to have a much different impact on my psyche.

I also think the reason there tends to be a big generational gap on this is that those who have lived a long time with a slur only being a slur have a hard time removing the sting and truly reclaiming the word as a positive. For much of Gen X and certainly for Gen Y, there's not that long history and therefore it's much easier to do.

And as for use of these words in general, I think AJ said it best: context is everything. I find the use of Queer in "Queer Eye" entirely unoffensive, but of course would object to a construction worker hurling that word at me on the street.