Recently, I asked the genuine question of “why do gay men want to reclaim the word ‘faggot’?” I hear people I know call it out to each other in both terms of endearment and as insults to each other. When someone is acting “stereotypically gay” one of their fellow gay men will be quick to try and put them down with, “faggot.” At times when it’s used between close friends, it almost seems endearing. ‘Maybe I could try that out with my friends!’ I think to myself. Then other times a gay man will use it against a gay man as the sharpest of insult, meant to cut them as much as those who have wielded the hate speech to oppress the LGBTQ community for decades.
All I asked was –why is this happening? I understand that groups have taken words historically meant to hurt them and attempted to reclaim them in order to take back the power of the word. But from what I have seen, that is not happening with the group of people I have witnessed. This isn’t an attack against them, though. Nor is this an attack against anyone who chooses to reclaim the word “faggot” or any other derogatory word. No, this is me trying to understand when it became not okay to ask questions.
As soon as I asked my question, I immediately was called “cishet” (which apparently means heterosexual and hetero-normative- I had to look it up, you know, just trying to gain knowledge here) as well as “stupid, and smug,” along with other vile things. This perplexed me because for the past two years I have lived my life openly as a gay man in almost all aspects of my life- including my Internet presence. I was told I had no right to even write the word “faggot” as a straight man and that I should “shut the fuck up.” Fascinating to me, seeing as it is my humble belief that even if I were a straight man, I should be allowed to ask questions and expand my understanding. Have we come to a point where you can only ask questions and want to gain knowledge if you fall into the group that you’re asking about? Are we fractioning ourselves off even more?
However, as soon as I corrected that I was actually, in fact, a gay man, the verbal berating ceased. It was okay now. I was allowed the knowledge I was seeking. People were open to instructing me because apparently any time I have a question or slight opinion, I need to preface it with my gender/ socio-economic class/ and race.
Social justice has seems to be reaching a fever pitch. People are fervent and sometimes bloodthirsty, ready to rip off metaphorical heads of those who are misinformed rather than instruct. There is a crucial difference we seem to forget between asking questions before doing something offensive, and doing something offensive and asking why it is wrong later on. Although these two instances are not directly related, I use this example to highlight how we need to stop being offended when people genuinely want knowledge. No one who claims to be a social justice advocate was born intrinsically knowing how beautifully different and diverse our society is. They learned, through asking and learning and openly experiencing everyone and everything.
It is so easy to slap someone down when they seem to be outside the group looking in. It may seem like they’re harmfully critiquing groups and only wish to harm those they’re observing.
Sometimes people who have faced oppression choose to hide themselves away within the group they see themselves in. It’s safe there. People understand there. We sometimes forget to emerge from our bubble and observe how much progression still needs to occur. We forget that not everyone is as accepting and educated as those we may choose to surround ourselves with. We forget that the most important way to approach any cause is with openness and respect. We forget that sometimes people ask questions without the intention to harm us. Sometimes, even, the people who want acceptance become the bullies they always tried to protect themselves from.
To me, it seems counterintuitive to the groups who seek acceptance to respond to questioning and prodding with such venom. I may not have the entire lexicon of correct terms, phrases, and knowledge just yet. But I want to learn and let my knowledge grow every day. Can we help each other respectfully learn?