A few years ago, I was having a conversation with one of my best friends about a person we mutually disliked. Let me preface this story by emphasizing that this friend is about the most enthusiastically pro-LGBT person I've ever met. She has taken immeasurable crap from her own family over her support of LGBT equality, although she is straight herself. Which made this experience all the more surprising. During the course of our conversation about this person, she blurted out, "He's such a FAG!" There was an awkward, stunned silence. She continued with something to the effect of, "I don't mean 'fag' in the anti-gay way, because he's not even gay. I just mean he's an awful person."
I didn't really know how to respond. I think I said something along the lines of, "But that's not what 'fag' really means. You can't just change the anti-gay meaning of a word that has that kind of history." She defended herself by quoting some (straight) comedian's act in which he "reclaims" the F-word and assigns it to straight assholes. I replied that it's obvious the comedian has never had to go to school every day, like I did, and be called "fag" and "faggot" on a regular basis, sometimes fearing for basic safety. If he had, I said, maybe he wouldn't so lightly throw the word around. Later, after some silence, my friend apologized and said she was out of line, and that she understood my point about using the F-word. She promised to never use it again, and she hasn't. She remains one of my best friends to this day.
My friend willfully learned an important lesson that day about using language that has historically oppressed minority groups. That lesson, in a nutshell: Unless you're a member of the minority group, you have absolutely zero right to do it. It's a lesson many, including a certain Alec Baldwin, just can't seem to get through their heads. Follow me below the fold for more thoughts...
But First, A Word From Our Sponsor:
|Top Comments recognizes the previous day's Top Mojo and strives to promote each day's outstanding comments through nominations made by Kossacks like you. Please send comments (before 9:30pm ET) by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by our KosMail message board. Just click on the Spinning Top™ to make a submission. Look for the Spinning Top™ to pop up in
Make sure that you include the direct link to the comment (the URL), which is available by clicking on that comment's date/time. Please let us know your Daily Kos user name if you use email so we can credit you properly. If you send a writeup with the link, we can include that as well. The
Please come in. You're invited to make yourself at home! Join us beneath the doodle...
If you haven't been following the latest news about Baldwin--first of all, congratulations, I'm jealous. Every day I get to go without hearing about another of Baldwin's homophobic outbursts is a good day indeed. First there was the incident in which he called reporter George Stark a "toxic little queen" on Twitter, and now he's calling a member of the paparazzi a "cocksucking fag." Or, excuse me--he claims he said "cocksucking fathead." Aside from stretching the limits of credulity by claiming he's the last person on earth to use the word "fathead" (yeah, right), he doesn't seem to realize that "cocksucking" is also a homophobic slur.
Here's the thing about Baldwin and the people who run in circles trying to defend him. They always emphasize how supportive he is of LGBT rights. After the "toxic little queen" incident, Baldwin denied being homophobic, claiming in a letter to GLAAD that he's a super duper extra big supporter of the gays:
I have worked, periodically, with numerous marriage equality organizations, especially over the past couple of years, to achieve the very rights that gay couples are earning by recent court decisions. I would not advocate violence against someone for being gay and I hope that my friends at GLAAD and the gay community understand that my attack on Mr Stark in no way was the result of homophobia.How, then, could Baldwin explain this tweet, also directed at Stark?
If [sic] put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I’m sure you’d dig it too muchFast-forward to the latest controversy, in which Baldwin called a member of the paparazzi a "cocksucking fag" (because that is what you said, Mr. Baldwin). In the wake of the incident, which resulted in his show rightfully being suspended by MSNBC, Baldwin took to the Huffington Post to claim the mantle of victimhood. He, of course, couldn't resist emphasizing his undying support for the LGBT community, in addition to dragging his gay friends into it (YES, his GAY FRIENDS!):
My friends who happen to be gay are baffled by this. They see me as one who has recently fought for marriage equality and has been a supporter of gay rights for many years. Now, the charge of being a "homophobic bigot," to quote one crusader in the gay community, is affixed.Baldwin also trotted out his gay hairdresser to confirm that he's not a homophobe. Seriously. Would a homophobe use a gay hairdresser? Case closed.
A diary here on Daily Kos also defended Baldwin against charges of homophobia, claiming that Baldwin was "seeing red" when he used the homophobic slurs.
Here's the thing. I'm really glad Baldwin is such a consistent supporter of LGBT rights. That's fine and dandy, but it doesn't give him a pass on his language. A homophobic slur hurled by a liberal supporter of LGBT rights is still a homophobic slur. There is still a long, oppressive, violent history associated with these words. People hear these words as they are being beaten to death. LGBT youth are bullied relentlessly with these words. You cannot claim to be a supporter of gay people and still use the F-word. Even if you think you're not using it in an anti-gay kind of way (although, I assure you, you are).
Noah Michelson of HuffPost Gay Voices has a provocative, but spot-on, article up about this topic in the wake of the latest Baldwin meltdown. He has a handy list of things for people who are confused about the use of the F-word to think about. Including:
1. If you are a straight person, you do not get to use the word "fag." Ever. You just don't. Even if all your friends are gay and everyone in your family is gay and they all say they're fine with it (more on this below), it's still not OK. Sorry. Choose another insult.He also specifically addresses Baldwin when he urges straight people who use the F-word in a flash of anger to admit their mistake, honestly apologize, and work to make sure it doesn't happen again. As Michelson emphasizes, many of us have grown up in a homophobic environment. Shedding deep homophobia and the slurs that come along with it can be difficult. The mark of a true ally is admitting the mistake, attempting to understand where the mistake came from, and moving on. Not claiming you actually said "fathead."
2. If, for some reason, you do use "fag," you don't get to then insist, as rapper Tyler the Creator recently did, that "it's just another word that has no meaning." For millions of gay men, that word is only charged with meaning: There's a surge of crackling, bright-blue electricity sprinting down the corridor between our heads and our hearts whenever we hear or see it. It's the word we hear just before a fist meets our eye socket or a bottle is brought down upon our skull. It's the word that has told us we are dangerous and filthy and evil. It's the word that has led too many of us to our ends (real or imagined) too soon.
4. As a fag, I do get to use that word. And so do my faggot friends if they should choose to do so (and, it should be noted, many of them don't). It stitches us together with a shared history of pain and violence and strength and resilience, and if and when we choose to reclaim and use it to define ourselves, it is ours to do with it as we please. We have earned that right.
When it comes to Baldwin and anybody in a similar situation, it all boils down to this:
8. You can't claim to have queer people's backs and use words like "fag" or "cocksucking" as slurs. And if you do, you don't get to trot out your gay hairstylist, as Baldwin appeared to do, to defend you...You can have a gay friend or even a gay sibling or parent and still be homophobic or make homophobic statements. Hell, you can be gay and still make homophobic statements. When you've been told how disgusting you are for your entire life, it only makes sense that a little of that might have rubbed off on you too.Stop talking about your gay friends and your gay hairstylist and your support for gay rights, Mr. Baldwin. You don't get to use the language that has oppressed the LGBT community (and then lie about it) and still claim to be an ally. And other allies of the LGBT community need to stop defending Baldwin by using his support for equality. Language matters, too.