You can call me anything. The words themselves don't mean a thing to me. I used to get really up in arms about the word "dyke." These days, I've been known to use it myself, even sometimes to describe me (though not in a negative, name-calling way). My problem with the word "dyke" was a very simple one. "Dyke" was (and is, I think, still) the lesbian version of "fag." Whenever I'd heard it used, it was with complete malice... or, so I thought. People called you a "dyke" because they hated lesbians, and they hated that they thought you were one, whether you were one or not. I was naive and thought that people were honestly intelligent and thoughtful enough to at least hate you for what they thought to be true.
Then came the advent of "That's so gay." And, again, I seethed at the homophobia that ran rampant around my high school hallways. I lashed out at friends who used the phrase into their conversations. It got to the point where, whenever it would slip out of someone around me, the speaker would instantly apologize to me to avoid being lectured. I'm not proud of that, but I can't say I'm ashamed, either.
And then I realized that this had nothing to do with gay people at all. Well, I mean, part of it did, but not the part that included my friends and peers.
Clearly, whoever started using "dyke" and "faggot" to refer to lesbian/gay people did it with the intention of isolating that section of their identity. It began with homophobia, and it continues to exist because of homophobia, but it also continues to exist merely because of a lack of education. Most of these people don't actually have a problem with gay/lesbian people. "That's so gay" began because of a negative connotation attached to gay identity, but the kids in my school that picked it up did so out of the mere fact that being constantly surrounded by a certain dialect will cause you to eventually emulate it. Many of my friends told me they didn't mean it, it was "just a figure of speech," but I didn't believe them. Now, I do believe them.
But I don't excuse them. Like I said, just because you don't mean it that way doesn't mean that everyone doesn't mean it that way. And it definitely doesn't mean that that's not how it started because, hey, out of all the words in the English dictionary to use as a new way to express disgust, you mean to tell me someone picked the word "gay" out of a hat? I may not be smart but I ain't dumb.
I started thinking about this at work the other day. I get along with my coworkers pretty well. We have a good rapport, I like all of them (aside from one exception who, I recently discovered, nobody else likes either), we've got each other's backs, etc. And although I have a really hard time integrating with most of the rest of society for a plethora of reasons, I do enjoy being in their company.
Also, I am lucky enough to not have to be closeted at work. They all ask me about my girlfriend, I have "girl talk" about her to the girls and, albeit with good intentions, the guys invite me to have "guy talk" with them, though I politely decline.
But I can't help noticing the kind of language that gets thrown around the store while I'm there. Bad music gets described as "faggy shit." A disliked character on television is "such a queer." Strict parents are "just so gay." I know what I said, that they don't mean it that way, they don't even understand what it is they're saying. They obviously don't understand or mean it because they say it while I'm there--sometimes even in conversations with me.
But that's the problem, isn't it? They don't understand what they're saying. They don't understand that, these are just words, but they're words that stem from a way of thinking that has killed and assaulted and tormented generations of people simply for being who they are. And until people understand what they're saying, nothing is going to change. As long as "gay," "queer," "fag," "dyke," are synonymous with "stupid," "pathetic," "weak" and "disgusting," the true extent of discrimination, hate, abuse, assault, violence, and the like goes unnoticed.
I labeled this a draft because it's clearly all over the place with barely any comprehensible content and an unclear thesis that I changed halfway through writing it (sounds like all my papers in
What I'm trying to say, in all different ways, is that the problem I have with this isn't words and what they mean because I recognize that language is fluid and I love that about it. It's with the fact that a majority of society doesn't understand what their words are saying about themselves and what their words are doing in the grand scheme of things. You know? How do I get people to understand why it's more than just a figure of speech? I don't have to get them to care, just get them to know.
As if right on cue, I had an interesting interaction with one of my co-workers today. A woman came into the store who didn't speak very much English--this is not an uncommon thing at my store, which is located near a bus stop that goes to New York City, meaning that we get a lot of tourists and a lot of immigrants who commute for work or what have you. I guess that my co-worker had a hard time communicating with her, and when she left the store, he came over to me. "Do you have any Spanish in you?" he asked me. I thought he was trying to see if anyone in the store spoke Spanish so that if another Spanish-speaking customer came in, someone else could handle it. I said, "A little Portuguese, but no Spanish." Without missing a beat, he responded with, "I fucking hate spics."
This is not the first time I've dealt with racism at work, either, and it's always with this specific coworker. He is seemingly a very sweet person... if you're white. He's told me of his hatred for black people, Asian people, Spanish people, and Middle Eastern people--you know, basically anyone who isn't white. I won't make myself into a saint and say that I've tried to discourage his behavior. I haven't, because he never speaks intelligently enough for me to engage him long enough to do so without feeling my brain cells go kamikaze in my skull. But excuses, excuses, I should say something, shouldn't I?
What struck me about this, though, was his initial question. If I had said I was Spanish, that could have gone one of two ways: 1) He didn't say anything at all; or B) he possibly lashed out his anger on me. I'm inclined to think that the former would have been his reaction.
So... what's the difference between me being Spanish and me being queer? He has no qualms about slinging anti-gay phrases around when I'm at work, why should he care if he offends my heritage? I'm not going to make an argument for or against the idea of racism and homophobia being related/similar/identical issues and don't take any of this to be related to that argument because it's not. But, in this situation, I have to make a comparison and ask the question: what is the difference? People are wary of being racist, especially in public, because there are laws, number one, and number two, racism is generally something that is looked down upon--well, at least, blatant derogatory statements are, I won't go into anything else because, well, you're probably already bored and that's not what this blog is about, is it?
But homophobia isn't generally looked down upon yet. In liberal areas, yes, it is, but even so, that's on a larger scale. Calling a gay man a faggot on the street in front of strangers would surely get you dirty looks and possibly a shiner in most places, but what about in these cases: 18-20 year old boys calling each other "queer" while walking limp-wristed and talking lispy at one another in jest, asking each other, "What is this faggy shit on the radio? I hate this song, it's so gay." They're just being kids, right? Boys will be boys, won't they? And being a boy means not being a girl. And, besides, it's (say it with me now) just a figure of speech. It's not like they're homophobic or anything.
I'm so tired of that argument. "I'm not homophobic, but..." If you have to start a sentence with that phrase, you're about to say something homophobic. Calling things you don't like "queer" "gay" "faggy" etc. is HOMOPHOBIA whether or not you think you mean it to be. It means that you associate these terms with things that you consider to have negative qualities. Yes, it does and yes, you do. I can hear all those high school kids out there now, screaming at their computer monitors, "I have gay friends! I bought a 'Legalize Gay' shirt at American Apparel! I love watching 'Glee!' How can I be homophobic by saying words that I don't mean?"
If you don't mean it, don't say it. Simple as that. "Faggy shit" is just as easily replaced with "shitty music," "pile of shit," "sack of cats being drowned in hydrochloric acid" when you're talking about music. Or anything. Don't say words that you don't mean. It's not just a figure of speech, it's proliferation of discrimination and hate that a lot of people have been working really goddamn hard to eradicate since before you or even I were but a speck of dust on this Earth. So shut the fuck up and think before you speak. Thanks.
Whatever I'm laughing at me for being a Twitter bug, too, but TG World News posted this article from MetroWeekly that talks about this issue in a shorter and better post than mine.