I am not politically correct. I make the funny with friends about their sexualities, their lifestyles, their cultural stereotypes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling my gay friends ‘poofs’ or ‘faggots’ (this may of course be easier for me to do considering I am one of those pesky gays), making my Indian friends laugh at my poor excuse for an impression of a beatific yogi, or taking pot-shots at German friends about efficiency. The reason there’s nothing wrong with these things is because I am conscious of what I am doing and saying. I am less making fun of my friends and more making fun of a stereotype. In that way, I suppose I am being politically incorrect.
The problem with using language such as ‘faggot’ when you are not aware of its history and what it signified and still does signify is that you make light of the violence behind such language. When I call a fellow homosexual friend a poof or even a fag, I am fully aware of the word’s history and am using it in a very specific, ironic manner. I even try to encourage straight friends to join in, but they’re often reluctant to do so, for obvious ‘politically correct’ reasons. But really, the reason I am ‘allowed’ to use those terms is not so much that many gay people have allegedly reclaimed them, more that my intention is extremely aware of the word having a history as an insult. And with this, comedy gold ensues!
A certain tweeting swimmer used the word faggot recently in a haphazard, inelegant and wholly unconscious way the other day. As many Rice-lovers have vocally pointed out, the intention behind the word choice was clearly not to insult. But that is the point. When you can use this sort of language in such a casual way, you have displayed an ignorance of very material prejudice and a history of oppression and suffering. Both Stephanie Rice, and me and my friends, make light of this history of suffering, but the difference is Rice does not acknowledge it when making light. She can only be accused of ignorance. In the same way that many ‘kids today’ use the phrase ‘that’s so gay’ or some cognate of it to describe something that is undesirable.
The most disturbing aspect of this Rice twitter palaver are the comments by those people defending her right to free speech and telling gays, especially Ian Roberts, to not to be ‘so sensitive’ and to stop acting like a ‘princess’. See the actual quotes from the comments – amazing.
When tweeting, facebooking, texting or even speaking, one is of course free to use any word they want whenever they want (particularly if they are burdened with the limited vocabulary of a sportsperson), but one must also be prepared for the reaction that using such loaded terms will engender. Furthermore, one must also be aware that one must be prepared for the reaction that such loaded terms will engender.
I’m imagining what Stephanie herself is saying about all this stuff. The poor 22-year-old is probably a bit bewildered. Bathed in the glow of her iPhone, watching the various social media flare up in response to her innocent little tweet, she probably mutters to herself, exasperated: ‘this is so gay!’