Thursday, 17 March 2011

Reclaiming slurs – and how Vanity Fair got it really wrong

Now, to begin I have to say I am not a fan of reclaiming. I dislike entering slurs into our regular discourse. I don't think it helps to give these words any sense of acceptability. I don't think it helps to perpetuate the ideas and stereotypes they represent and I don't think it helps to keep these words and the ideas

But some people do engage in reclaiming and, while I don't like it, that is their choice. But there are ways and means to do it – and ways to utterly fail. And sadly we have seen a lot of fail over this.

See, Vanity Fair decided it was appropriate to refer to gay characters on Glee as 'f@gs'. Not only are the characters gay but at least one of those actors referred to is openly gay as well.

Now, they avoided the first pitfall of reclaiming by being part of the group doing the reclaiming, but failed on many other issues.

This is not a gay publication. This is not an in-community reference, nor, for that matter, is it immediately apparent that the writer is not straight. The writer may consider it reclaiming – but there's no reason why a reader would assume so. This is a mainstream publication, this is a publication that straights write for straights buy and has a vast straight circulation. There is no way to see any “reclamation” here unless it is explained after the fact. This is a mainstream publication, a straight publication, calling gay characters and a gay man a “f@g”. And being a gay writer for that publication doesn't escape from that

He also did not self-reference using this slur. He wasn't referring to himself, his friends or, I doubt, anyone else who happily identifies with that slur. He decided to use this world to apply it to other people – as a label for any gay man or for gays generically. You don't get to do that and not get some heat. If you want to call yourself by that slur then more power to you – but you do not get to decide that everyone should be happy having that slur applied to them.

Let me say now – I don't care if you are GBLT or straight – you do not now or ever call me a f@g. Ever. Your being gay will not make me tolerate that. Not now, not ever. It's not acceptable, it's a slur, a vile slur that is soaked in violence and hatred and the constant dehumanising the straight world imposes on me. It is a word used to hate, to attack and to violate us. It is a word that I never ever want to see applied to me and I am hardly alone in this sentiment.

If you want to reclaim that word then reclaim it for yourself. You have no right to reclaim it for me and no right to declare that any and all in the entire community has to accept it as reclaimed or accept it as a label with no insult.

Slurs have power. Slurs come with connotations of hatred and violence and dehumanising. Every time this word is used that is the context it carries. It carries the message of us being lesser. It carries the message that we are something vile, unpleasant, contemptible.

And being snarky or sarcastic or whatever damned excuse you want to use for having it out there doesn't justify that. It's WORSE. Because even if “no malice is intended” you are putting out this idea – this idea of us being contemptible and vile – in daily casual discourse. It's not even a message of hatred! It's a message of NORMALITY. It's a message of normalised contempt.

And you know what? Maybe you are a GBLT person who has managed not to have that word connected to violence. Maybe you managed to escape the flashbacks and the fear and the pain. Maybe you don't face a great deal of homophobia, maybe it is just a word to you. Maybe you went through it but have managed to move past it and “get over it.” Maybe it just doesn't bother you for whatever reason.

Congrats to you. Not all of us have. Not all of us are that safe, that recovered, that healthy, that unharmed. And we're not being freaking “precious” because of that. And we're not being “precious” or “sensitive” because we refuse to go along with your reclaiming. We're not being “sensitive” because we won't accept slurs as labels. And we're not being “precious” and “sensitive” and “not getting the point” because we object to one of the vilest words ever used to describe us entering common usage – and doubly so when it is done in a magazine with such a wide and mainstream circulation.

This matters. So quit your handwaving and your dismissing – this was a screw up, it was wrong and people have every damn right to be outraged by it