There’s been a recent hullabaloo about a gay columnist at Vanity Fair using the word “fags” in his review of a recent Glee episode. To be precise, the writer, Brett Berk, said:
“Nice singing. But how can having girls in the audience make these cartwheeling, foam-party fags straight-sexy?”
Aside from being a rather clumsy sentence to read, I think it’s right that there has been a negative reaction to this wording. Personally, I don’t find it empowering to try and reclaim the word fag, paralleling the black community’s supposed reclaiming of the “n word”. I use the word “supposed” there because I don’t see how the black community has reclaimed this word. Sure, large numbers of them often band the word about when referring to each other, however the fact that non-blacks can’t (quite rightly) use this word means it’s still an offensive word. It strikes me as a double standard for members of the black community to use it in this allegedly positive way, since many would be offended if a non-black person used it at them.
Likewise, when gay men casually use “fag” in their vernacular, I don’t see how one can then turn around and criticise a straight person if they use it; surely it’s hypocrisy, pure and simple? I’m sure there are some gay men who believe they are taking a leaf out of the black community’s book by attempting to re-appropriate the word fag, though I personally believe this an incorrect course of action to take, I also believe it’s a nigh-on impossible task to reverse a word’s usage with such a negative history.
Some would argue that language is a constantly evolving animal; indeed some would most probably remind me that once upon a time, to call someone “gay” meant they were happy, not that they were homosexual. However, this word was a positive word before so wouldn’t have taken the same evolutionary path required of say the word “fag” to become an acceptable piece of terminology again. The problem with both this “f word” and the “n word” is that the word is only “reclaimed” for use by the minority concerned; to be used outside these groups the intent of its application is contentious and never 100% free from potential misuse or misunderstanding.
Usually it seems that gay men who utilise “fag” or “faggy” in their everyday language are attempting to be self-deprecating, just in what they perceive to be a slightly edgier fashion. Although I just feel for everyone’s peace of mind, and to avoid causing offence, the easiest course of action would be for no one to use it. In other words, nice, “normal” people shouldn’t and wouldn’t use it, so for ease of reference you know that if you hear someone use it they’re probably someone you should avoid, rather than someone who should know better and should have chosen their words more carefully. Indeed it seems insane to call someone who is homosexual a homophobe because they thought it would be funny to use the word “fag”.