‘That is so gay!’

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!’

Matthew Sini

Matthew Sini is a writer currently based in Melbourne. He has published essays, plays, screenplays and fiction in both Australia and overseas.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Exactly. Thank you.
    I have found over the years that if you explain to the person using the term, as was explained to me many years ago, that faggots are the torches once used to light the fires when homosexuals (and others) were burnt alive at the stake, they tend to think again before using it.

  2. Being a proud dyke, I affectionately refer to my gay friends as fags. My girlfriend is hottest when being a butch baby. And when people use words as casually as Rice apparently does, they don’t get that it’s okay for me because I AM one of the queers, I DO KNOW the history and I am choosing to reclaim it. It’s like… my Greek friends love to call themselves wogs, and when they do, it’s affectionate and fine. Some black guys will call themselves niggers. I’d do the former and not the latter, because I am part of one community and not the other, and I understand enough to know what’s not okay.

    So yeah. It’s just a word. And so is queer, and so is nigger, and so is jew, and if you’re not the part of the group you do not get to say what is and isn’t okay.

  3. I get away with making politically incorrect jokes with a few of my Aboriginal friends (I’m white), but I would never dare make them to someone who wasn’t for all intents and purposes my sister, and certainly not in public. In fact, admitting that I make them at all is probably a bit of a faux pas, because I know that most people (except those few who know me and love me) probably won’t think it’s okay for me, I’m not part of the broader group for whom it is okay, and it’s only “okay” for me in very, very specific contexts.

    So I wonder if part of the problem though is that it’s sometimes difficult to see from an outside standpoint who is “okay” to make those jokes and who isn’t. Younger kids see older people using words in contexts that are considered “okay” and then start using it in contexts that aren’t, or are totally unrelated. Hence you get people like Rice using the word “faggot” as a slur, white kids using “sup nigger” to each other as a greeting (this is so common it’s not even funny) and

    1. I have this problem – I battle with my more aggressive students about using ‘gay’ – they never use it as a compliment – and I threaten them with long conversations about homosexuality (or just conversations where I say ‘homosexuality’ a lot), but its so prevalent in society as a casual insult that I’m pushing water up hill – its already an old habit for these 12-year-olds, even when it’s banned in my classroom. I wonder how much of its prevalence is due to people from the ‘in group’ are using it without them being clearly ‘licensed’.
      And Rice did mean to insult someone: the opposition, by calling them faggots. Unfortunately, her advisors aren’t that well versed in the issue, indicated by the weak ‘if I offended anybody’ apology.

  4. I’m a woman – I know the history – so ‘ladies’ bitches, sluts and whores, princesses, drama queens and airheads (get barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen where you belong: keep that ball and chain away! you bad drivers, you simpletons, get back to the harem – put your ugly selves away you old bags, you dried up old spinsters) it’s okay to call you cougars, isn’t it – or is that just gay?

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone – surely not. You women all know you’re none of those things, don’t you? You know I love women and gay people and even gay women people, don’t you? You know I don’t mean YOU! I’m just joking. ahahahhaha … see? no? oh.

    Just askin’

    (reCAPTCHA says ‘spiritual chismy’ which seems to make sense!)

  5. Not that I disagree with your idea fundamentally, but really who made you the fun police? If it wasn’t so ironic I’d get you to critique my last retard comment at the pub, except that I didn’t do the necessary research into the historicism of the term… think I’ll stick with spazz in future… that’s a safe word right?

    I mean… like…. clearly I am one

  6. I think what I’m getting at is less “policing fun” and more hihglighting that there is sometimes a rather big distinction between saying a word and what a word says. Like I mentioned, I don’t think me and my fellow gays can say “fag” because we are gay, I think it is because what we are saying is not necessarily what is said…ugh, I’ve confused myself. Good luck trying to work that out. Hope I’m making some kind of sense! :S

  7. “(particularly if they are burdened with the limited vocabulary of a sportsperson)”
    Whats with this comment? Are all sports people stupid?
    This stinks of a University boffin who thinks he is above everyone.

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