|Posted on August 25, 2016 at 8:05 PM|
By Dennis Stone
The slur was yelled at my friend Sean as he drove his roadster through town one hot summer day.
A second slur later the same day, unusual for our generally accepting city. When he told me about it later he was not bothered at all. That didn’t surprise me since Sean has always been self confident, and has been totally comfortable with his sexuality and his place in a straight world since his late teen years.
In fact, he was amused by the double slur. He assumed it related to his cute little BMW Z3 roadster, painted in the distinctive color called Santorini Blue. We had previously joked that it looked like a quintessentially gay car. Insert into the car my friend - very thin and always impeccably coiffed and dressed - and you have what obviously seemed to some to be the sort of image that could have appeared in an advertisement in “Out.”
The next time he mentioned having been out and about I asked without any premeditation, “did you take the fagmobile?” He thought that was hilarious, and from then on his car was the “fagmobile.” There was no subliminal anger, there was no discomfort, there was no self loathing or acquiescence to hate speech. We were too comfortable in our identities for the slurs of idiots (as we thought of them) to bother us. Water off a duck’s back, as my mother would say.
I am reminded of the incident in “Queer As Folk” where kids spraypainted the word “FAGGOT” in large letters on the side of Brian Kinney’s jeep. Rather than blanch in shame, or hide the jeep until he could have the word removed, he jumped in and almost jubilantly drove his new conquest Justin to school. “FAGGOT!!” he defiantly yelled to the world as he drove down the street. “Fuck ‘em. They can write it in neon across the sky.”
The lesson of the fagmobile is that words do not have an inherent power to harm us. They only have the power that we give them. Sean could have come home in tears, demoralized and shamed. Brian could have felt dehumanized, his confidence shattered by two kids. Instead, Sean was amused and Brian reacted with what could be called joyful defiance. “You think you can get to me with that impotent little word?” they both seemed to be asking in their own ways. “Ha!”
When I was a boy the word “queer” was the go-to epithet in my neighborhood. “Fag” was sometimes heard, but “queer” seemed so much worse. It signified someone who was innately different, someone who was abnormal, someone to be both derided and feared as being intensely outside the bounds of what people were supposed to be. Over the years we as a community have gradually reclaimed “queer,” and now I much prefer to use it rather than LGBT or any other expanded initialism.
On the other hand we have made “faggot” our version of the n-word, the one word that can lacerate the soul, the one word that can dehumanize, the one unforgivable word. I think that was a partly conscious and partly unconscious decision. We wanted our civil rights fight to be as important as the the civil rights fight of our black brothers and sisters. We felt that if the collective homophobia and hate of the straight world could coalesce around one terrible word our victimhood would be easy to understand, easy to identify, easy to fight.
I think that exalting the word “faggot” in this way was a huge mistake. We don’t need one special slur word to give our fight for equality legitimacy. We don’t need to mimic the racial civil rights struggle. What we did was to give our enemies a simple word they can use that deeply harms so many of us, especially the most vulnerable and least secure. By reacting the way we do we give a small word the power to slice through our defenses to our very identity.
But we can choose to not play along. I would like us to reclaim “faggot” as we did “queer,” but it’s not going to happen any time soon. In realistic terms I would like to see us stop reacting so violently, and with such pain and offense. People who use the word are not only idiots, but members of a dying breed. Take their power away!
The ballad of the fagmobile taught me that a word can’t hurt me if I don’t let it. As Brian Kinney and my friend Sean discovered, it’s liberating.