There’s no good way to use “fag”

Unless you’re talking about a cigarette. This is a lesson that a lot of straight people still need to learn, apparently.

Shock jock wannabe John DePetro has been yanked off the air for two days and ordered to apologize for calling embattled Big Dig chief Matt Amorello a “fag” yesterday on his morning radio show.

“This corporation has zero tolerance for racial intolerance. Mr. DePetro has 72 hours to think about it,” said Jason Wolfe, vice president of programming at WRKO (680) and WEEI-AM (850).

DePetro referred to Amorello - who is married to a woman - as “Fag Matt.”
But he didn’t mean it that way!

“And I don’t mean gay fag, I just mean the way when you’re a sophomore, juvenile, in grammar school and somebody would say you’re like a sissy boy fag,” DePetro said on-air. “I don’t mean gay fag. I mean like sissy boy. He’s a little sissy boy. Wife wears the pants.”
Oh, well, that’s all right then.

I’m growing exceedingly tired of people who want to rip homophobic and sexist terms from their roots in a cynical attempt to redefine them. Fag is a nasty epithet for gay men. Period. Sissy boy is a nasty epithet that uses the feminine as a slur against a man, setting it up as a negative alternative to the masculine. Period. There is no way to invoke either term and claim you’re not disparaging gay men and/or women. You are. That’s the end of the story.

It doesn’t matter that (some members of) the LGBT community have reappropriated the term for their own use. It also doesn’t matter if you know a gay person who doesn’t find the word fag offensive. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a straight person who has tons of gay friends with whom you can use the word in its reappropriated sense. Calling someone a fag in a clearly pejorative manner is unacceptable.

There are men (and women) who would swear up, down, and backwards that they’re not homophobic, and may even genuinely be supportive of full LGBT equality, but nonetheless continue use the word fag to malign other men—or use “gay” as a negative descriptor. They just like the words. They don’t want to give them up, because they haven’t found anything else that feels quite so good rolling off the tongue as “What a fag” and “That’s so gay.” Who’s it hurting? I totally don’t hate gay people! And that’s why we get these tortured explanations of how they’re not using them “in the gay way.”

But those words just aren’t theirs to use in any way they want to—because even if they don’t associate them negatively with homosexuality, there are still a ton of people who do. Throwing around “fag” and “gay” casually, as if they have no meaning anymore—or some “new” meaning separate from their origins—is ignorant and lazy, and contributes, in spite of all protestations to the contrary, to a culture of homophobia. It’s time to give up the ghost. Find a new word.

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