‘Queers. Because I'm queer. I'm gay. I'm homosexual. I'm a poof, I'm a poofter, I'm a ponce. I'm a bumboy, batty-boy, backside artist, bugger. I'm bent. I am that arsebandit. I lift those shirts. I'm a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, shit-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant. I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I'm Moses and the parting of the red cheeks.’
We have all heard the various terminologies used by others as derogatory insults. Most of us will remember the first time that someone called us one of the above. I personally remember how much it upset me in my teens to have these words hurled across the playground at me. For me it hurt even more because I didn’t think I was. I wasn’t even aware of my own sexuality at the time. Back then I genuinely had no real thoughts or feelings of bias towards any sex to be honest. How could others be calling me these things when I didn’t even know myself? It caused untold amounts of anguish, confusion and pain for me.
Fast forward through the years and I have grown from those experiences. They have given me a very thick skin and the ability to shrug them off. But I shouldn’t really have to shrug them off because, quite frankly, that kind of language shouldn’t be heard in society and should be frowned upon as severely as racism now is. Yet, every so often I still hear it and, like I say, for the most part I shrug them off, but occasionally, if it catches me off guard, it hurts as much as it did back in my teens.
Therefore you can imagine my shock when I hear those terms bandied around by other gay people! Firstly I can’t believe what I have just heard and I have to double-take and secondly I am taken to that place in my teens. It then makes me incredibly angry. Some of us spend so much time and energy fighting against the use of this kind of language. When did it become acceptable to use it within the community? Or is that it? Are people who are LGBT allowed to refer to one another like this yet if anyone else says it, we get offended? I’d say that smacks of double standards wouldn’t you? It is almost as though we are claiming exclusive use of those words, which in turn, separates us from everyone else.
It is a bit like the rather controversial N word often used as a derogatory term for Black people that is also used as a colloquial term in some black cultures where it is considered acceptable. In one instance it is the nastiest and vilest insult you can call someone and in another it is perfectly acceptable. Here, a community uses the language that was once used against them. Doesn’t that take the power out of it? The black community often refers to themselves and one another using that N word. Within that community it has become desensitised slang. And likewise, how many times have we referred to one another as a poof? Within the community, have these terms become warm and can they be used affectionately even? I can see that in some kind of way it disarms the language.
You see, for me, it is the acceptance of the use of these terms within a community that makes the waters really muddy. Here we are, fighting to be accepted, to be equal and to be treated like everyone else. Some of us are active in trying to make sure that children (or anyone else for that matter) do not grow up thinking it is ok to use these words. We try to help people understand just how much it can hurt and why language like this has no place in society and then we use those words ourselves.
I remember an old saying that it was always best to take the mickey out of yourself before someone else does, so I can understand why someone may opt to use those words before anyone else does. Perhaps, in some skewed kind of way, it is a form of taking ownership of the word and almost changing its definition. After all, the word gay itself didn’t actually mean a male who is homosexual. It simply meant happy. People then started to use the word in other ways, for a reason I am still researching (probably a blog entry in the future) and then the next thing you know, it had become a nasty word to use against people. But now we use it quite happily (how ironic) to describe ourselves. Alternatively, people currently use the word gay to indicate that something is not very good… ironically, it inspired the title of my blog. I wanted to take that negative indication that many people currently use and turn it around, reclaim ownership as it were.
But does attempting to reclaim ownership of the words make the use of them ok?
Personally, I don’t think we should. I would feel like a hypocrite calling one of my gay friends a poof. Oh yeah, because they are my friend it is perfectly acceptable!? After the years of hurt that very same word caused me I simply couldn’t do it and I would not accept anyone else, gay or not, calling me by that word.
There is also the legal standpoint. You can be brought to book for using what is considered to be offensive language even if the person offended is not the recipient. If I called a close friend a queer and some outsider heard this, they could have me prosecuted. I can definitely see why this is the case. If I overheard a group of white guys talking about the black community and using the N word and generally being racist, I could remonstrate with them and have the law on my side but it gets complicated if it was a group of black guys saying it. The context surely, is the intent to offend. Who draws that line and decides whether there was intent to offend? It would be very difficult to police surely?
In this instance I am very conflicted. On the one hand I can appreciate the need to take ownership over what is an insult to thereby desensitise it and destroy its effect as an insult. On the other, I can honestly say it would make me feel uncomfortable using such language as some kind of bizarre term of endearment. Given that I am so conflicted about this, I can’t really come to any conclusion about what is right and what is best. Right now, I feel it is really important that we don’t encourage the use of such derogatory language by making it seem acceptable within the LGBT community. I feel it could damage the on-going fight for equality and only serve to drive a wedge between the way we behave and the way we expect everyone else to. However, I admit I could be wrong and possibly over sensitive about the language in the first place, given my past experiences.
So, given my own indecision, what do you think? I would be interested to hear your thoughts...