A Hollywood celebrity got in hot water this week for calling someone a â€œfaggot,â€ and my friend Brian started a discussion on the slur in Facebook. Brian said that he never used the word, no matter how heated the argument. Maybe I misread the update, and thought he said that he never used the word at all, ever, which surprised me. Maybe I am a few years older than him, but in my personal experience, boys taunted each other with â€œfaggotâ€ all the time from grade school through high school. Iâ€™ve definitely called and been called â€” a faggot â€” during my childhood.
Naturally, the next commenter on Brianâ€™s status, a kind-hearted woman, took me to task, saying that what may have been appropriate in the past is now intolerable, almost as if I was condoning the use of the word as an adult rather than bringing up an honest memory of my childhood. She was doing her best, trying to squash the homophobia and hatred that permeates our culture, but for a second it put me in an awkward position. I was suddenly on the defensive, as if my childhood memory was akin to composing a poem in honor of the KKK. Did I have to wave my pro-gay flag, or recite the lyrics to a Cher song in order to protect myself?
I used to believe that monetization of blogging was the biggest threat to my personal writing online, but as blogging matures, Iâ€™m beginning to wonder if advocacy hasnâ€™t become the biggest burden to our honest storytelling. Do we have to be role models 24/7? How can we tell any stories about our lives?
I remember calling, and being called, â€œfaggotâ€ a lot, especially in public school. The biggest irony is by the time most of my childhood friends used the word, it was already divorced from the idea of homosexuality. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, gay culture was an institution in New York City. Disco had gone mainstream. It was actually pretty cool. My mother worked in publishing, and at least 75% of the men working there were gay, and I never thought twice about it. Â During junior high, I used to work in my mother’s office during holidays, doing filing, and if my mother was busy, I would go to lunch with these two editors, both gay, where they showed me the art of making an egg cream. Â They were not faggots.
I certainly didnâ€™t associate being a faggot with being gay. Gay was gay. If you were straight you werenâ€™t gay. If you were gay, you werenâ€™t straight. Â Faggot was different. It was about manliness. Being a faggot meant that you werenâ€™t a man. That is how we tormented each other in school and the playground. If you didnâ€™t cut class, you were a faggot. If you got bullied off the basketball court and didnâ€™t fight back, you acted like a faggot. If you didnâ€™t accept the â€œdouble dareâ€ â€” like licking the frozen pole in â€œA Christmas Story,â€ you were a faggot. Being a faggot was not about orientation. It was about acting like a girl. Back then, I would have never called a gay person a faggot because it wouldnâ€™t have made any sense, since a gay person acting effeminate was socially acceptable, which was not the case for a straight person.
I know someone is going to be mad that I am â€œstealingâ€ the word from the context of today, or suggesting that the word was as harmful and controlling to straight boys as to gay ones. But thatâ€™s my story. Even today, if you would call me gay, I would probably go â€œI wish!,â€ but if you called me a faggot, my blood pressure would rise.