Once again there is a media frenzy surrounding the use of a minority buzz word as the result of Alec Baldwin’s most recent public lunacy, though it has been discussed in reference to a number of other uses lately including Eminem’s most recent album. Fag. Faggot. It’s the second string hate word to the almight “N-word,” and the same arguments are happening around its usage. I can’t articulate the “rules” better than Noah Michelson did for the Huffington Post, so read that here first.
The arguments are essentially the same as those used in the great “N-word” debate and can be oversimplified as “you can’t use it and we can.” Period. This argument also trotted out the same argumentative responses as the N-word discussion, though the fervor of the arguments shows how many people do not consider the slur to be the same degree of offensive. For the fun of it, let’s explore the arguments against Mr. Michelson’s well-articulated thoughts.
1) “The word has other meanings! A bundle of sticks. Cigarettes in Britain. A meatball in Britain. Something to do with a bassoon!”
Yes, congratulations. You’ve managed to toss a semantic argument to say “but I can say it if I’m talking about these things!” Yes, yes you can. Good job on being one of those people who puts together “faggots to start a fire” and really feels the need to express that with an extremely archaic word or order a lovely Italian dinner of “spaghetti and faggots.” The cigarette distinction is no doubt continuously clear to the British public, so this argument is for the sake of argument and misses the point of the discussion. Well done on derailing the discussion by intentionally missing the point. You’re an idiot.
2) “I’m a single, heterosexual white male and it’s like I don’t have any say in this discussion!”
Well done, that’s right – you don’t. As a member of the empowered majority for most of modern history, you don’t get a say in these discussions. Sucks to be you. Really, it must be so hard – except for all of the challenges that woman and minorities face on a daily basis that you cannot actually comprehend no matter how understanding and open-minded you may be. Accept that, take a deep breath and stop turning discussions about how minorities feel they are treated as communities into an opportunity for you to play the victim. It doesn’t work and absolutely no one has sympathy for you when you try to make the argument that you are now the one being oppressed. You’re not. Shut up.
3) “You don’t get to tell people what they can and cannot say!”
Brilliant. Of course you’re correct – and missing the point at the same time. The point of saying “do not use this word” is to help you, the member of the un-oppressed majority in the given situation, in this case heterosexuals, understand what the collective reaction is going to be to your use of that word so that you can avoid appearing to be using it in the way it is most commonly used. This discussion is to help you out! Don’t say it, because no matter your personal definition, personal relationship to the LGBT community or intention it is really, really, REALLY likely that you will be perceived as a homophobe. That’s the reality. So you can certainly say it, but it’s going to piss a hell of a lot of people off. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
4) “FREEDOM OF SPEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!”
You’re a dumbass. How many times does the reminder have to be offered that freedom of speech does not come with a freedom from response? Yes, as above, you get to say whatever you want. And, once again, since it apparently bears repeating – the rest of us get to react to it! We get to tell you that we don’t like your speech, and we get to freely speak back as much and as long as we want! So if you don’t want to hear us tell you we hate your perceived hate-speech – then don’t speak out loud!
5) “It’s unfair and discriminatory to say some people can use a word and some people can’t. It’s either okay for everyone or for no one!”
You’re still a dumbass. The point is that bundles of sticks, bassoons and meatballs aside, it is a word that is almost exclusively used to denigrate an entire group of people or an individual from that group. In the grand history of victims attempting to turn the tide on their bullies or attackers, taking ownership of a derogatory term is one of many ways to diffuse an attack. “That’s right, I’m a bitch.” “Hell yeah, I’m a fag.” Turning the thing that is tossed as a negative into a positive through ownership is our right as the abused community to decide we want to do. (And for the record, don’t worry, within the gay community their is plenty of internal strife over whether or not we should be using it at all either.)
7) “But you having a word the rest of us can’t use is divisive, pointing out the distinctions between us!”
Yes, that’s true. And as long as their are members of your community who don’t perceive us to be equal socially and legally, us occasionally calling each other “fags” isn’t the thing that’s keeping our community divided from the heterosexual majority. So maybe if you spent less time defending your right to use “fag” in some theoretically non-homophobic way and devoted that energy to ensuring there wasn’t a reason for our communities to feel divided, you might get a little bit of sympathy in your desire to have the freedom of all speech. Maybe. (Probably not though.)
8) “If I can’t use the word fag, you can’t say (insert generic heterosexual male stereotype here.)”
Yes, because they are exactly the same thing. Brilliant argument. Well done in making it about you and your incredibly hard journey.
9) “My life is hard too, homosexuals aren’t the only ones who are bullied!”
Of course not, and if your life is hard, I have a great deal of sympathy for that. In reality, life is hard for most people. If yours has been hard, surely the ability to relate to others would keep you from feeling the need to fight so strongly for a word that really cannot possibly have a great deal of relevance to or necessity in your day-to-day hard life? Let it go.
10) “You don’t get to make the rules. Gay people use words that are offensive too!”
Part one – yes, we do. Part two – you are absolutely right. None of this argument is to negate the impact of other hurtful slurs on other communities. I’m not speaking about them because I’m not a member of those communities. However, it’s flawed logic to posit that because some gay people use hurtful or hateful speech we cannot discuss how the singular offensive piece of slang directed at the gay community affects us!
Obviously the list goes on, but you get the point. In almost all of the above instances it is about an individual saying “but somehow this affects me!” and it doesn’t really. The moral of all of these word debates is that as human beings we should not be using words that are likely to be hurtful to an entire community of people. We certainly shouldn’t be using ones that historically are accompanied by the threat of physical violence or actual violence. And really, fighting semantic arguments to maintain the right to use a word you absolutely know is going to be harmful in nearly every circumstance doesn’t make you look like an intelligent debater, it makes you look at best like an insensitive and misguided member of a privileged majority who is unwilling to relate to others and at worst like an undercover bigot looking to maintain the right to use a favorite insult because you just like using word.