With a new poll showing that many young people still think it’s acceptable to use many gay slurs, Jamie Wareham of Student Pride asks – should we be reclaiming language that has the power to hurt so much?
A BBC Newsbeat survey has shown that nearly half of 18-29 year-olds still think its OK to use the phrase ‘that’s gay’. It also shows 34% think faggot, a word long steeped in hate, is also OK to use, despite 75% of the respondents being offended by it.
One way the LGBT community has responded to homophobic language is by taking words used against us, and making them ours. One group that is renowned for proudly reclaiming words that were used to demonise LGBT people is Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners.
After the Sun Newspaper called the LGSM perverts during the miners strikes in the eighties, the group held a massively successful ‘Pits and Perverts’ fundraising gig.
Jonathan Blake, original LGSM member and one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in London, is a big advocate for reclaiming hateful language.
Jonathan prefers to use the term queer, rather than faggot. In fact, he’s pleased that many young people now proudly define themselves as queer. That said, if the community wants to reclaim faggot, which Jonathan said no self-respecting vegetarian would, then “power to them”.
Perhaps faggot should remain in the bank of words the BBC Newsbeat results found as offensive. Other words which seemed unacceptable for the majority of the 18-29 year olds included ‘N*gger’ and ‘Paki’. The overall trend showed that racial slurs were found to be more offensive than homophobic language.
A brief look at NoHomophobes.com, a website that counts how many times a day terms like faggot and dyke are used on Twitter, shows the tide of hateful language is receding. In the last year, the daily use of the phrase ‘So Gay’ has halved and that of faggot has decreased by close to a third:
The tricky thing about language: it’s all in the context. If I want to describe myself as a big camp fairy queen, then I should be able to. But if a stranger called me out for prancing down the high street doing just that, offense is intended, no matter how much I own those words.
Kai Maletti, 29, does head out in truly fabulous style, often hitting the scene in drag. Kai goes out and performs in the persona KaiKai. He isn’t a fan of the word faggot, defining himself as a queen. “You can get away with saying almost anything when you’re in a dress, wig and heels. People seem to find it funny being insulted by a drag queen,” he says.
Kai makes an interesting point: gay men have long enjoyed going to see drag queens who make insulting people a cornerstone of their act.
“I could call somebody an ugly c*nt as myself and it would more than likely be taken offensively, but a drag queen calling someone an ugly c*nt? Well, that seems to be hilarious!”
Picture: KaiKai in action (photo by Paul Grace)
Perhaps it’s because, in a drag queen, we recognise someone who is part of our community, and who has in some way earned the right to insult us. And yet, Kai also draws a line at using the term faggot in his act.
“I do sometimes use the word myself, but only with very close friends and more as term of endearment. If a very close friend of mine said it to me, I would likely find it funny, as I know it doesn’t come from a place of hatred. But if somebody I don’t know very well, even another gay person, called me it, I would be very offended.”
LGBT YouTuber Jazza John sums how I feel about the word faggot. For some, he points out, “It is the last word people hear when they are being beaten to death – for that reason, even as a reclaimed word, I feel uncomfortable using it.”
“If others wish to reclaim it, they should be able to do so. But for me personally, I have a long way to go before I can feel comfortable around the use of that word.”
Whether or not faggot is a word the LGBT community will or even should claim back, there is one clear message to take from the Newsbeat poll. No matter how much we try to own the language we use, 49% of young people thinking it’s acceptable to use the phrase ‘that’s gay’ is too high.