Yes, honey boo boo, I’m a faggot.

Whether it’s spray painted across your car in pink letters, hurled at your face as you walk down the halls or exalted into the air on a dance floor, the word Faggot is like lightning. It can split the soul wide open, fracturing the essence of who you are or it can burst forth across the sky and light up the world. It’s a word that can destroy and define an individual or a group, like all other slurs. As of late, I’ve grown quite fond of referring to myself as a faggot. Pause. I think I just heard pearls and hemp necklaces being clutched. You call yourself, a what? 

A Faggot. First, some words are just glorious to say. Faggot is an oral powder keg. The F like FUCK, full of power and Force. A as in Adam, as in the beginning, as in I was here first and will always be here. Two G’s one for me and the other to make sure you’re still listening. We end with OT, as in over time, one more chance and as in the end of a story told by a griOT. Griot/Faggot, it is all one. I am a storyteller. I am a faggot.

This word spits out of my mouth, refers back to me and is empowering. I could sit here and tell you that faggot is a derogatory term used to describe homosexual men and that it’s English for a bundle of sticks and has also at one point been used to describe heretical women . Etc. Faggot is one of those words with a complicated history . Linguistics and poetics aside, the word resonates for me as the intersection of the joy of both masculinity and femininity. Those are also loaded words that deserve some defining. For this context, masculinity and femininity will be used in their most basic heteronormative formats as indicators of what behaviors are associated with maleness and which ones are associated with femaleness. I will also use those terms to explore elements of the butch/femme dynamic. We’re going on a word ride, ya’ll. Thank god, we’re all friends here.

As a definitive term, faggot encompasses all of the me’s that need a little structure, that need a word to connect to. It holds within its six letters the vulgar discomfort that being homosexual or queer identified in a heterosexist society entails. Being gay ain’t easy or fun all of the time and that’s just the truth. But life isn’t and I own my homo struggle and relish in that shit. It’s made me as awesome as the rest of you. So yes, vulgar discomfort is a part of it. To claim that aspect of my homosexual life experience is liberating. Here’s where the joy comes in. Claiming a word like Faggot can be one of the moments in your life when you know exactly who the fuck you are.

In the first episode of Queer as Folk, Brian Kinney’s black jeep is vandalized with the word faggot spray painted in pink .
 from imageshack.com
He refuses to have it repainted. He embraces it and screams that word at the top of his lungs driving full speed and not giving one fuck. I may be using an example from a show about privileged white gay men but that particular moment in that episode is not just for gay men.

 I’ve been called a faggot . I was just minding my own business, walking down the block in boy shorts and a t-shirt and some dude tried to holler at me. When I didn’t respond, he said, “Fuck you, faggot. You fucking faggot ass motherfucker.” I spun around and just looked at him, mouth wide open and didn’t say a word. I was so surprised that someone would call me, a queer woman of color, that word. I blogged about it and figured out what to feel. Then at a queer ladies spot in the city, some lesbian told me I was “dancing like a faggot” and she didn’t mean it in an awesome way. She meant it as an insult because I was vogue-ing.
So the word has been on my mind. This essay has been on my mind since the passing of Whitney Houston. Stay with me, I promise this will all make sense. See I’ve got super diva tendencies. I might dress like a nerdy Johhny Cash wannabe but there’s a raging disco queen inside of me. The theatrics spills out whenever songs from Whitney’s repertoire are spun on the dance floor. You cannot stop me from singing at the top of my lungs to “I Get So Emotional” and twirling to “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”.
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So I’ve been called a faggot for acting that way but being a masculine presenting homo. So fuck that. Yes, if by faggot you mean someone that has found the joy in being a homosexual then yes, honey boo boo, I’m a fucking faggot. I take issue with this slur being slung at me by lesbians more than just some dumb ass dude on the block. We should know better. There is this willingness in our community to exalt masculine qualities, to fetishize women that do the dude thing to a T. Butch/AG/Stud women are HOT and as a community we reinforce that on so many levels. However, there is this strange disconnect between that strength in lesbian masculinity and its interaction with the feminine. The feminine is expected to remain outside of the masculine, as in your girlfriend should be your feminine. Some femmes have their own little club too and like to keep those lines very clear sometimes . That baseball cap, your half shaved head and a pair of black steel toed Doc Martens are the banner with which femininity is eschewed or expected by others to be eschewed. It’s bullshit.

I refuse to fear multi-gendered expression. I refuse to be desexualized by other lesbian women who don’t know how to act in the presence of a masculine presenting and effeminate acting queer. Cuz “I get so emotional baby” every time I think of this bullshit. Experiencing the feminine through a queer-i-fied lens is finding the joy; it’s letting go of expectations and homonormative gender expression. Whitney Houston played her part because diva driven pop songs have long been the source of acceptance, love and happiness in gay club culture. (Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer, Madonna and Lady Gaga just to name a few have also helped us work it out on a dance floor.) My first homo experiences came from heading out to Club Nations in DC, being surrounded by gay men and dancing the night away, light and free. Singing ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ at the top of my lungs because “somebody” meant a beautiful girl and in this club, with this music and these people, I could sing my wish for her into the universe and not be afraid.
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These larger than life pop songs sung by divas of all colors spoke to me in a way that traditionally lesbian music did not. I couldn’t relate to the Indigo Girls, Ani Difranco, Sleater Kinney, or even Tegan and Sarah back then. I’ve always apparently been a fag.

Now as I reclaim this word for myself amidst Whitney tributes and a sangria filled brunch, I don’t want anyone to think that I am absorbing the multi-faceted reality of being a homosexual male. There is a small amount of privilege that comes with being a chick that digs chicks, especially in my neighborhood. Dudes want to get in on it and not kick your ass for being queer. Not that either one of those is that great but I think you get what I’m saying. This reclamation of faggot comes from my existence, my navigationg a queer WOC life, enjoying the complexity of gender expression and the power of words.
You may argue, why use the word at all? Now there are other words that have been reclaimed in some form or another. Words like slut, dyke, queer and even the N-word. Oy, I know some of you, especially my WOC, are like you gotta be kidding me, bitch. Do NOT even bring the N-word into this…well I’m going to for just half a second. See the word faggot doesn’t come fully loaded with generations of institutionalized slavery, rampant racial inequality and the current state of a society dominated by an oppressive white culture situation. I don’t want to compare oppression. It’s so easy for gays to look at black struggle n be like “seeee black people, gay is kinda like being black” cuz uhmmm no sir. I am fully aware of that and not doing that. I just am showcasing one explosive word in the context of how another one is used. Let me get to it then.   If we’re gonna talk about loaded words why not use the ones that pack the most punch?

So I’m at the Brooklyn Museum and there’s this amazing exhibit called Question Bridge . It’s a multi-generational conversation between Black men from all economic and just life experiences. It’s amazing. Go see it. Anyway, use of the N-Word is part of the discussion. One man argues against its usage by imploring us to consider whether or not Martin Luther King, Jr. would have publicly addressed a group of Black people as N’s. While to me the answer is an obvious HELL NO, it made me wonder about the word faggot. Would that ever be an appropriate way to address a group of queers? “Welcome, faggots…” just doesn’t have the right ring to it. No, seriously, I might in my wildest dreams think that would be an awesome way to address people that I love and respect and share certain aspects of my lifestyle with but I know in that context it’d be wrong.

How can I reclaim a word that would hurt my people? Just because we’re all homos in some way or allies or whatever we are, doesn’t mean that one size fits all. We know this. We live it. We create new words to describe our beings, bodies and orientations just to have a place in the world or in the dictionary. Being queer comes with a higher level of responsibility. We must respect that there are triggers surrounding words, immense levels of pain from violence, bullying, isolation and act accordingly. People throw words around to insult. These words can and do lead to violence. I do not take that lightly. There is such a thing as linguistic privilege and respect. You cannot call me that which I am uncomfortable with. You can only refer to me with words I choose to give you. I can call myself anything. You may not. Those are the rules for all of us.

So I may want to reclaim faggot for myself but I will not put that on you. I will refer to you how you want to be referred to without question, without making you have to explain yourself. I will not desexualize or hypersexualize your being. But we must allow for all of the spaces to be expressed. You must not tear down a woman in men’s clothing for Vogue-ing. We must remember to counter these stupid archaic behavioral rules that try to restrict our experience. (Like Dee Rees does in Pariah.) What is so wrong with femininity and acting in an effeminate way that we have to chastise each other for it? There is nothing wrong with being a faggot or a dyke or a stud or a gender queer or a diva or any of the other terms that help us connect to ourselves. Drop all of the terms if you want. I don’t always carry the terms with me either. When people ask me who I am, all I say is Gabby. When you see me on the dance floor though, I’m living the joy of being a faggot.

Oh and to end on a note of joy that transcends race and gay and all of the things. Here is my new favorite version of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Ben Rector.

Tell me all of the things you feel now. I’m sure a million of you wanna school me in some way or another. Do it. I love it. I learn from all of you and am so grateful to have this space to share my thoughts and feelings on gay stuff. What words do you hate? Are you a faggot and proud of it?

up next: possibly discussing lesbians who now date men, the fact that I no longer want to have beliefs and would rather have tea and conversations, and as a side note: how BORED i am of the words femme and butch.

One thought on “Yes, honey boo boo, I’m a faggot.

  1. This! All of this! First of all, it takes a lot of courage to take on a word that is so uncomfortable for so many people, kudos. This piece, in a lot of ways, reminded me of my own personal struggles with LGBT vernacular being used both within and against the community. Specifically, my beef was with the word “dyke”…which I now embrace and relish in, partly as a result of having my best friend use it as a term of endearment. Tht best friend is a gay man whose trigger was the word “queer”….I call him that lovingly and often. So in this way, both of us having been bullied and having had these words slung against us by society, we’ve decided to reclaim what’s ours and desensitize ourselves to the stigma. 

    “Being gay ain’t easy or fun all of the time and that’s just the truth. But life isn’t and I own my homo struggle and relish in that shit. It’s made me as awesome as the rest of you.” These 3 sentences say so much about the ups and downs of living the lives we’ve been given. It’s true, we work harder than many others just to show the world that we are valuable, that we matter, and that we won’t back down. 

    My own battle with “dyke” began many many years ago, about age 14, though it was for a different reason. Growing up I didn’t think what people were implying by using the term negatively was indicative of who I am at all. Which begs the question, are we more bothered by words we feel don’t describe us? Or those that do? 

    I am feminine. Womanly. Usually had long hair. Have an addiction to high heels. I’ve done typical feminine type things all my life, been a model, a dancer, chaperone for girl scout troops, even a cheerleader for a brief moment in time…all of these things…and Gay. So very gay. 

    To me, being called a dyke as an insult implied that I was not feminine. That my love for women somehow stripped away my womanhood. That I wanted to be a man (this had been said to me before.) Wrong. I’ve grown to accept that my personality and looks are at odds with one another. That the way I see things is often very masculine. That I never wanted someone (certainly not a man) to “take care of me” in the traditional sense. That I enjoy building as much as buying and painting walls more than painting my nails. I cuss like a sailor. When I took a step back and looked at how my masculine tendencies and feminine looks fit together I realized, I am a complete product..and that includes dyke as much as the next word. I am a sum total of these words that describe my parts. I’m the girl in the sequin dress cutting loose on the dancefloor, the same girl who will install that new faucet tomorrow. I’m Dee. 

    So how are we supposed to present this delicate balance of genders to the world without sounding one sided? How do we embrace what is ours without having it used against us or other members of the community?

    Being so feminine, I find myself having to over-clarify my sexuality at times. Call it “femme invisibility” call it wishful thinking, whatever you call it I run into it all the time. I don’t “look” gay so my feelings are somehow less valid. Fuck that. My struggles are every bit as meaningful as anyone else’s whether they look the part or not. This piece mentions a certain degree of privilege which I cannot deny….generally speaking guys are more tolerant of lesbians than of gay men…however I’m not really comfortable with this either. Don’t get me wrong, it does feel safer, but at what cost? Why is it that straight men think I will compromise who I am for them? What about the love between two women makes them think they have a shot?

    At times, it feels like even members of the gay community aren’t sure I’m sure. On a recent trip to a gay bar with my girlfriend the bartender mentioned several times that their go-go boys were straight if I was interested. I told him I’m gay and he looked at me as if I’d said I was the Easter bunny. This makes me wonder, when I use words and phrases about homosexuals in day to day talk, how many people think I’m just being insensitive rather than speaking from experience. 

    All of these things make me feel very much like you and the word faggot, Gabby. That the gender we present at first glance and the way we feel inside are at odds with one another. I don’t want to change the way I look any more than the way I feel. What I want to change is the way people describe these things. If telling others I’m a “dyke” changes the concept of that word, even for a few people, I feel I’ve done some justice. If claiming those masculine traits as my own and doing so with beauty and grace makes me a dyke, then it is something I am proud of. 

    I must mention, since I have been using this word throughout, that I speak of the stereotypical meaning behind the term. The things people who are using it negatively intend to convey. Generalizations. Please believe, I don’t think there is anything wrong or unattractive about women who present themselves in a masculine way. Quite the contrary. I have so much respect for these women and their courage to go out into the world and face such criticism. Some days I wish I were one of you. 

    I know this went off in a lot of directions, and probably went on longer than it needed to, but the point is…words. The ones we use, the ones we hear, they all have meaning. What we take from them says a little bit about who we are. What we feel from them says a lot more. Thanks, G, for bringing some very interesting thoughts and feelings into my day. 

    -Dee

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