FAG again

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Thu Mar 8 17:09:30 UTC 2001

I disagree with Jesse that a little more continued discussion of REDSKIN and
FAG will "bog down" a list that has had at least a hundred postings on
ORIENTAL in the past month. Maybe fewer people are interested in Indians and
homosexuals, but I'd like to give this one final try. People who aren't
interested can delete (as I have done with, say, the seemingly endless series
of comments on ERR).

I'll skip over Jesse's assertion about the implications of his REDSKIN
parenthesis; if he says that he didn't intend those implications, that's
great. We have essentially had a meeting of the minds. We differ about the
discourse implicatures, I guess, though I would maintain that his article's
particular unqualified reference to Native Americans (instead of "some Native
Americans") will normally be read as entailing 'all Native Americans' or at
least 'most Native Americans'. And that his article would have been better
(and SHORTER) if he'd left the REDSKINS out of it entirely. But that, indeed,
really is just opinion, I guess.

But as for FAG, Jesse's examples simply support my case. As Jesse concedes,
all of these writers are self-referencing (well, except partially for the
lesbian, which is precisely why her comment sounds a little disparaging). All
of his examples are merely illustrations of the general rule that members of
a minority group may self-reference with even the most terrible slur as a
kind of solidarity-building social acknowledgment (if Jesse doesn't want to
call this "ironic self-reference" that doesn't change the way it functions).
This in NO WAY indicates amelioration. Would Jesse seriously argue that all
of the uses of NIGGER in popular music are indications that African Americans
are viewing the term more favorably? I hope not.

The situation is exactly the same with FAG. (Well, I suppose I should concede
that local dialect in, say, New York, COULD be changing in ways that the rest
of the country has not [yet?] done--but I would need to see the evidence.) If
there were really amelioration of FAG, one would begin to find examples of
gay people saying things like, "I don't like it that some of us are seriously
beginning to refer to ourselves as FAGS. I hate that word. I am not a FAG, I
am GAY." Others would be saying, "Let's start calling ourselves Fags. Lets
reclaim the word!" Gay people would be writing letters to the editor in favor
of Fag Rights. One does find such discussions and uses of QUEER because it IS
ameliorating; many people use QUEER as a serious term of self-reference (I
certainly do). Straight members of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
say things like "according to the queer press" but not "according to the fag
press." The only straight people who seriously use FAG in public are members
of homophobic religious cults such as Fred Phelps's "God-wants-fags-dead"
movement (check out his website if you want to see just how unameliorated FAG
is)--and nasty teenage boys who go into AOL gay chatrooms to taunt other
chatters with the word.

Jesse, this is not "opinion"; it is inductive fact, based on all the data
that I have seen to date. I don't mean to say of course that FAG couldn't
ever ameliorate--or that I would not love to be proven wrong about this--real
amelioration of FAG would be totally interesting. But unless you can give me
data that is clearly not self-referencing (or subjective survey evidence from
gay men), you cannot maintain that FAG is ameliorating. FAG is a big bad
slur, like FAIRY, SPIC, KIKE and NIGGER. Writing FAG when QUEER would have
perfectly illustrated your point was a mistake.

In a message dated 3/7/01 10:47:56 PM, jester at PANIX.COM writes:

<< I am not trying to argue that these examples demonstrate that
"fag" is now universally acceptable. But it is clear that "fag"
is at least in occasional positive use by homosexuals, that it
is ameliorating. It is not just "ironic self-reference." It is
also not "totally mistaken," nor "patently not the case," as
Ron later writes.

I don't want to get in a long discussion about offensiveness,
I just want to respond to these specific points that Ron
raises. I greatly respect Ron's work and value his opinions,
and I'm sorry that we disagree on these particular issues. I
do hope, though, that if he is not satisfied by my response,
he will let me know privately so as not to bog the list down.

Jesse Sheidlower

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