The idea for this article came to me some time ago during a conversation by instant message with one of my Internet friends. I found the conversation so interesting that I wanted to write about it but I was hesitant, because it was a very sensitive topic, and opinions about it are likely to be polarized at best. I spent the days that followed thinking about our talk; I just couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I decided for better or worse to sit down and express all of my thoughts on the matter.
What were we discussing, you ask? Well, I’m still not sure just how we got started on the subject, but we got into this great debate on the use of the word fag, and other such insulting terms. Like me, this friend was also gay, and he was saying that he wished people would realize how hurtful that word is, and how angry it always made him to hear it used. He also remarked about how surprised he was that some of his other gay friends did not seem to mind its use, and sometimes even referred to themselves as fags.
I told him that the way I saw it, there were two ways to look at the situation. First, I let him know that his point of view was definitely not wrong; there are many who agree with him. Many gay people are horribly insulted by the word fag, and other such slurs…even when they are used in jest. But on the other side of the coin, there are a lot of people out there, (of which I am one), who believe that there are some instances when those words can have a positive connotation; it all depends on the context in which they are being used. Some people feel that those words are only insulting when it is obvious that they are being used in a manner that is meant to be deliberately hateful and hurtful. They only become insulting when it is clear that the users intention is malicious; otherwise, they are only words…and words can only have the power that we allow them to have in our lives.
Allow me to illustrate my point with examples from my own life. When I first realized that I was gay, the whole idea of it made me very uncomfortable; I was very much in denial about it. I did a lot of reading and research trying to understand my feelings, and learn about life as a gay person. I even did counseling for a brief time, and one of the suggestions that they made to help me get comfortable with who I was is to have a sense of humor about the whole thing…to laugh about it as much as possible and poke fun at yourself in a good-natured way. So that’s what I did. I joked about it and often referred to myself as a fag in a humorous way. Doing that helped me in such a profound way. Without it, I am not sure I would have been able to become comfortable with my sexuality at all…and I am absolutely certain that I would not have been able to do it as quickly as I did.
I have a very good friend who was there for me through much of this difficulty. We shared so much during that time, and are so close because of it. She is now known affectionately as my favorite fag-hag, and I am her favorite fag! When we refer to each other in this way, there is nothing hateful or negative or malicious about it at all. The terms are used very playfully and affectionately. It is a very positive vibe between us. In fact, many of my straight friends use the word fag in reference to me…always with the same affection, of course.
So to me, use of the word fag is not always necessarily a negative thing. As I said earlier, it is only negative when the word is being used with hateful intentions. And you can always tell the difference between the hateful use of the word and the type of use that I have described here.
I think that the key to making sure that you don’t offend anyone is simply to always use the word with extreme caution and care. You have to use your own judgment on a case-by-case basis. In each case, you must know the people around you very well, and just be sensitive to their feelings about its use. If they hate it and are offended by it, don’t use it around them; however, if they do not mind it being used in a playful way as I have described here, then I feel it is okay to do so.