Re-branding “Faggot” — by Eric Marcus
January 16, 2008
The early 1990’s effort to re-brand “queer” always struck me as well-meaning, but misguided. (Okay, in the interest of straight talk, I thought it was stupid.)
In an era when newscasters were just beginning to get comfortable using “gay,” rather than “homosexual,” young activists (whom I admired for their audacity and energy) decided it was time for a change. Let’s embrace a word that’s been used against us, they said, thereby removing its sting and transform it into a powerful, positive all-purpose term that includes gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, “queer straights,” etc.
Nearly twenty years later no major gay rights organization uses the word “queer” as part of its name. And even when LGBT is extended to include the letter “Q,” it most often stands for “questioning youth.” These days you’re most likely to see the word used at institutions of higher learning, as in “Queer Studies.” And it’s still used playfully on the margins (see www.queerballroom.com).
It turns out that taking a word whose definition is negative and turning it into a positive is a very steep, if not impossible, climb. That’s especially true when a majority of the people who are supposed to embrace the word don’t.
But how about taking a negative word that’s been hurled at us for decades—and still is—and modifying its definition to take the focus off us and place it on those who deserve public scorn?
A little background: When I was fourteen I went to a summer camp where baseball was a critical part of the daily activities. I was bad at baseball. I loved arts and crafts. That meant I was a faggot, at least by the standards of my fellow campers and that’s what they called me. They made me cry. I wished them dead. I hated the word. Still do.
My experience is hardly isolated. Few gay men have escaped the word’s sting and these days “faggot” is often used, especially by high-school students (and a certain conservative commentator), as an all-purpose put-down meant to suggest that the target of the epithet is weak, pathetic, and/or less than a man.
A few weeks back when I was reading about the unfolding baseball steroid scandal it occurred to me that the real faggots were the professional baseball players who injected steroids and so were the team owners who looked the other way. And by “faggot” I mean that they’re greedy, weak-willed liars and cheaters.
But if we’re going to shift the meaning of “faggot,” why stop at greedy, weak-willed liars and cheaters? Let’s also include bullies, torturers, and those who set government policy that allows torture. By my definition that means the President and Vice President are also faggots. And so is Ann Coulter (why limit “faggot” just to men?).
Can homosexuals still be faggots? Of course, but not by definition. They have to earn it just like everyone else. For example, an elected politician who is gay and closeted and votes for anti-gay legislation is a faggot. (I’m tempted to say that Larry Craig is a faggot, but he’s so pathetic that I feel sorry for him and for that reason see no reason to call him names.)
So at the start of this New Year, I’m taking nominations for potential inductees to my newly inaugurated Faggot Hall of Fame. It’s an annual award that will go to the one person who best embodies all of the lovely qualities I’ve ascribed to the word faggot. I nominate George W. Bush. I’ll post all the nominations (public figures only, please, and one nomination per person) in my next column. In addition to submitting your nomination, please explain the reasons for your choice (in no more than three lines).
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