Uptown Bourgeois is an arts, news, and culture blog created by New York-based freelance writer Jefferey Spivey. UB explores universal themes through a black, queer lens. 

Have We Successfully Reclaimed The Word 'Faggot'?

Have We Successfully Reclaimed The Word 'Faggot'?

pride lips

The reclaiming of once-derogatory terms is a touchy subject.  The black community is split over whether use of ‘nigga’ is an empowering embrace of the version ending in –er. Or if it further perpetuates ignorance.  Women also seem split over when it’s okay to jokingly use ‘bitch’ and when it’s not.  It’s really tricky territory, and like these other communities, the gay population seems pretty split over the word ‘faggot’s place in our common vocabulary.

"I’ve had friends use it in reference to each other.  But not as an insult.  It was more to express pride in their sexuality and take the power away from those who used it negatively."

When I think about the role this word has played in my life, I’m especially torn.  I’ve had friends use it in reference to each other.  But not as an insult.  It was more to express pride in their sexuality and take the power away from those who used it negatively.  I’ve been on the receiving end of the word from straight people.  Roughly ten years ago, I was standing at Tuckahoe train station in Westchester County, NY.  And a 20-something guy yelled, ‘Faggot!’ from the passenger side window.  Where I’d sometimes found the word funny before, I now loathed it.  And even some of my favorite music uses the word.  I’m a fan of Nicki Minaj, and one of my favorite tracks is her collaboration with Eminem, ‘Roman’s Revenge’.  There’s a line in the song where Em says, “All you little faggots can suck it”.  Though I love the raw energy of the song, hearing that word in his verse is still a tough pill to swallow.  Even after dozens of repeated listens.  And Eminem has been quoted as saying he doesn’t use the word as an insult toward gays.  He uses it to insult the masculinity of straight men.  Um, that’s still not okay.

These guys seem to be conflicted about it too:

"Isn’t it more powerful to just ignore it? To keep moving forward as though it has no effect?"

For me, my choice is not to use the word. (This Huffington Post piece does a magnificent job explaining why it's still hurtful.)  Because no matter how funny another gay person can make it, it doesn’t take the sting away.  When I think about what the word ‘faggot’ represents-all the discrimination, the ignorance-it takes more than playful use to erase it.  Sure, it can be empowering for a group of people to take back ownership of a word that was used against them.  But isn’t it more powerful to just ignore it? To keep moving forward as though it has no effect?

I can’t outline or prescribe what the gay community should do when it comes to this.  It’s a divisive issue with many men either choosing not to say it or embrace it fully.  There doesn’t seem to be an inbetween.  I’m a member of a subreddit that discusses gay news and current events.  One of the members there openly discussed that he regularly used the word and didn’t understand why others got so bent out of shape about it.  Other subreddit subscribers agreed with him.  Maybe it’s a subject that isn’t as touchy with millennial gays who’ve grown up in a world that’s more tolerant than the one previous generations grew up in.  Or maybe gays have been reclaiming this word for so long that its negative effects are rarely felt.

This is one of those situations where no definitive answer can be chosen.  I can see the benefits of both sides.  Of abandoning the word completely and of taking new ownership.  But my personal decision, based on my experiences and based on what I feel the word still represents, is to keep this mouth ‘faggot’-free.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments!

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