identity slurs, part 1: “gay” and “faggot”

Previously, I’ve written about the importance of words; even casual words we use in everyday conversation, that seem natural. It’s hard to remain aware of language all the time, so it’s good to know an alternative or two to whip out in place of where oppressive language may slip.  This will be the first in a series of two to three articles I will be writing as a follow-up to my previous discussions on language expanding on the potential vagaries of “these words are bad, so please stop using them, please.” We’ve got the entire English language–and an entire world full of other languages–to choose our words from! Why bother using words that are harmful?

What you’re saying: Fag, faggot (e.g. “that guy is a fag; he’s so obnoxious and I can’t stand it,” “stand-up comedians who use misogyny as a joke are faggots”)

What you mean: ‘Fag’ and ‘Faggot’ are more often applied as a descriptor referring to a person whom one deems undesirable in one manner or another, or a person displaying traits and actions deemed undesirable for one reason or another. This pejorative refers to someone who is a jerk or loser rather than someone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum who has reclaimed the term. It’s vastly non-specific when used colloquially, encompassing references to personality traits, behaviors and actions, deemed undesirable or stupid by the individual using the term, used to discredit the person being referred to and their actions.

Why is using that word so bad anyway?: It’s disheartening that this still needs to be explained. Due to the long-term oppression against Queer people, slurs like fag have become commonplace and frequently the fact that it could be offensive and/or triggering to many, many, many people doesn’t even come into question—a word does not become a slur in a vacuum; despite what a large majority think, we are not in a post-oppressive society and use of ‘fag’ as a pejorative that goes unquestioned is proof. When one uses this word, they equate people on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum as what one personally deems unacceptable as if these were inherent traits that come with being LGBTQIA+ identified. Though it was originally used as a slur towards gay men, it evolved (as language always does) to refer to a slew of manifestations of undesirability in a person. The offense goes unquestioned by people using it because colloquial use continues to render invisible the history of the word as a slur towards a specific group of people rather than traits displayed. There’s also the added paradox of certain types of Queerness having gained more credibility, traction, and acceptance, which contributes to the ‘but it’s not offensive anymore’ viewpoint. People can say what they mean without explicit use of hate speech to do so. Though queer individuals are a group marked by society, being marked does not mean equitable with being any of the below.  Separating LGBTQIA+ from ‘icky’ or ‘undesirable’ can easily be done by using the below options over ‘fag.’

What you could be saying: insufferable, annoying, obnoxious, bothersome, rude, repellant, unsavory, icky, pestiferous, objectionable, distasteful.

What you’re saying: Gay (e.g. “midterms are gay,” “it’s just gay that my parents grounded me for not meeting my curfew”)

What you mean: like ‘fag’ and ‘faggot,’ gay used colloquially as a descriptor of a broad definition of stupid or undesirable is a slur. In addition, whereas ‘fag’ and ‘faggot,’ are applied to people displaying perceived undesirability, ‘gay’ as a slur is more regularly applied to situations, ideas or concepts, conversations, and objects and their uses. It’s also frequently, often subtly, used to imply something is wrong or generally incorrect.

Why is using that word so bad anyway?: In addition to what is outlined above, which his also relevant here, the implicit bias held by a vast majority of individuals in a given society sees being on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum as either a) wrong or b) a choice, or the additional view c) a wrong choice. A perceived wrong choice which implies perhaps what may be perceived as irrational. LGBTQIA+ identification falls under none of the above. ‘Gay’ as a synonym for the below is used frequently by youth, not to denote sexuality or sexual expression, but as something to distance themselves from being perceived as, and all of the below wrapped up into one word may be convenient in conversation as it is short, sweet, and to the point, it isolates and pushes traits upon a group of people who are not inherently associated with poor personality traits or who have made unreasonable, unnecessary, and ‘stupid’ decisions (or who are unreasonable, unnecessary, and ‘stupid’), even when the slur is directed towards an object, concept, conversation, idea, or situation and not a person. Separating the idea and act of being queer from adjectives that would otherwise be descriptive rather than pejorative can be achieved by using appropriate language outlined below. And by encouraging others to do so.

What you could be saying: irrational, senseless, uncalled for, silly, unreasonable, vexatious, abrasive, troublesome.

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Jenna-Nichole, more commonly known as JayJay, is a Poet (with a capital P!) currently experiencing life in and around Massachusetts. When they’re not reading books, they’re reading more books.