Reclaiming The Word ‘Faggot' Steven Folkins

I pretty much ignored the entire Azealia Banks/Perez Hilton incident that happened this past weekend and then I thought about it and read so much of what so many people I like and respect said about the incident. I felt like I needed to process the information into something that made sense to me.

I’m openly gay and have so many conflicting thoughts about the word faggot. Is it okay to use it when I write to really just punch up a scene? (I’ve done that.) Is it okay for people I know to joke around and call me and my boyfriend fags and me laugh and not say anything? (I’ve done that.) Is it okay to reclaim a word like ‘faggot’? Can it ever not hold negative connotations no matter how you use it? Will you be offending someone sitting near you if you walk up to your friends and call them faggots? Is that something you even think about or should even think about? Can you live your life thinking about what might offend someone and in turn not say words that don’t hold the same meaning to others as it does you? I often spiral out of control in my head with questions upon questions and fail to get to my point faster.

One night after dropping my children off (I have two of them), I was waiting for the bus when a car full of teenagers drove by, slowing down near me. I admit I instantly felt fear, much like I do whenever I go to the mall. I’m a pretty small person and this was a group of teenagers in a car in the suburbs. One of the teenagers rolled down the window and yelled, “Nice shoes, faggot!” I yelled back, “Thanks!” I mean, they were nice shoes, I’m not one to pass up a compliment, backhanded or not. Why is it that one word is so powerful to others? It’s a word that people tend to use when cutting others down because it does just that – it cuts people down to one thing: a faggot. It reduces you to less than a person… at least that’s what I believe the people using it offensively believe it’s doing. I know I’m gay, you don’t need to remind me.

So it brings me back to Azealia Banks using the word faggot in regards to her tweet to Perez Hilton.

In a Gawker post about the subject, Rich Juzwiak wrote this, “…it immediately struck me as an overly comfortable invocation of an epithet that is not hers to reclaim, a sign that she considers herself so down that she is allowed to say what most people are not. You think she never heard her ‘c*nts’ call each other faggots jokingly? You think never joined in? Let’s not forget that a gay icon no less supreme than Madonna, who also mined drag-ball culture for material while surrounding herself with gay men, used the word ‘fags’ a few times in Truth or Dare (‘I wouldn’t hire fags that hate women. I kill fags that hate women. In fact, I kill anybody that hates women.’). No one’s going to confuse Madonna for an anti-gay bigot, nor should anyone Banks.

I tend to agree with him in this case. People often feel overly comfortable with the term, like my friend that uses the word fags in a joking manner – I know he’s not an anti-gay bigot, but I never feel okay about it, either. I don’t want to stand up and reclaim the word faggot, I don’t really like using the word. It feels offensive to me. That’s the thing about that word, though – I think it’s a personal choice. If Azealia Banks wants to use the word and she feels comfortable using it as a bisexual woman, then there’s nothing I can do about it. But it also poses the question: who can say what? Can a bisexual woman say it and it be okay, when the word is meant for a gay man?

What I think is wrong here, though, is her context and the constant issue of masculinity in gay culture. I don’t really care about Perez Hilton, nor do I read anything he does, but no one needs to be called out that way.

Can things really, really be reclaimed? An ex-boyfriend and I somehow ended up with a song that we called ‘our song’. When we broke up, I wanted to reclaim the song, but knew it would never be the same no matter how much I liked the song. I still listen to the song every so often, but the song will never be the same and will always be that song I had with that guy I no longer date. So it all leaves me unsure and I think that’s okay. It leaves me with one final question: Can the word faggot be reclaimed, or will I always be thanking people for liking my shoes?

Image via Guardian

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  1. That definition of faggot may be coloqioal, but it’s not what it really means. during the time when witches, adulterous women and gay men were burned alive for their “crimes”, the gay men were called faggots because they were considered unworthy of even being burned at a stake, like a supposed witch. They were thrown in a pile of bundles of sticks, or faggots, and burned thusly. That is where you get “flaming faggot”. So knowing the word’s origin, I don’t think it’s ever okay to use. I am not gay, but I am an ally, and in conversations with my homosexual friends, most agree the word is too terrible to reclaim, that it should rather fall out of the language pool entirely.

  2. My usual reaction is one of complete disappointment in the person uttering it. I heard it yelled at kids on the playground. Vicious rumors about others in high school. Even from people who I would have sworn were above that base hatred. The word doesn’t deserve rebirth. It is hatred and ignorance and that should never be disguised as something it isn’t. And I so totally want to see the shoes!!!!!! They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend but my secret lover is a new pair of shoes.

  3. I never say the word, ever. Even reading it makes me cringe. Reading it, hearing it…it all brings back memories of hearing the word yelled behind me before my boyfriend get’s jumped and beaten in front of me for having long hair. Reminds me of what was scrawled across my best friend’s locker. The same one he was shoved and locked into for three whole periods one day at school. I don’t care if you reclaim it, as I really have no say for it’s not mine to reclaim. But it’s still a word filled with hatred and without taste, and if you say it whether having the right to or not…to me, you sound unintelligent and cruel.

    I really don’t care about offending people when I speak, but I am conscious of what makes others uncomfortable or is just a dirtbag thing to say. Instead, I simply make an effort to be a good person in general. With a far wider vocabulary that will never leave with with no other words than that one.

  4. It always takes me a second to process when my Scottish friend announces he’s “going out for fags.” He’s going to buy cigarettes but the cross-culture gap always gives me a moment’s pause. But I personally think words only have the power we allow them to have. Unfortunately, being a gay man who has given the words fag and faggot the power to offend him or being a heavy person who allows “fat” to offend them ….or black or Jew or any number of other words that offend people….doesn’t mean that other people aren’t going to throw them around with frivolity. I am overweight but even when I was rail thin in my teens and early 20′s I hated the word fat, because it was so often used to make people feel less about themselves. Even when people didn’t mean it to – concerned mothers, the school nurse, anyone else saying it out of concern rather than ridicule – it still felt like it was.

  5. Because it’s ok to assume that a man “acting like a woman” – whatever can possibly be defined as specific to women only behaviour, is overtly negative. Well done Azealia, in an attempt to become less offensive and more understood you marginalised much more people. Bad shout.