“Oh,” the man said. “Oh, yeah— starry-eyed coon with way, way too much money, who thinks there ain’t nothin’ more important than the lives of some crazy black faggots.” He grunted.
Though he was surprised, Eric laughed. “If you are one— a black faggot, I mean— that can seem pretty
important to you, actually.”
Recently I’ve been wondering about the ways in which we let words travel. In a conversation I hear casual warnings like “Don’t be gay” being thrown around. An accusation that, even in its ‘innocence’ is a strong disincentive. When gaming a friend says “Dude, you play like a girl.” Again, I can’t swallow the meaning. After pointing it out it becomes “Well, I didn’t mean it like that but everyone knows that girls can’t game.” In yet another conversation someone says “But that’s bitches. A bitch will always call another bitch a bitch.” I find this one particularly ironic. Even within itself the statement realizes that the word bitch is an insult. Yet, casually, it is used to refer to any person who is female.
These are things we experience every day.
Gukira writes about banal misogyny:
Banal means dull, boring, uninteresting, unremarkable. What passes without comment. At once background and foundation. What can be taken for granted. I am interested in how misogyny backgrounds banal—how it becomes banal, expected, unsurprising, the thing that need not be named. Indeed, the ground on which choices about, for, and by women can be made. Misogyny is dull.
How did misogyny become dull?
I’m reminded about conversations we have with our mothers and fathers about our place in society. I’m reminded that, as a man, I’m a disruptive force. How uncomfortable it becomes for me when I walk into a room and things reshuffle to accommodate me. The things we do without thinking, speaking. I’m reminded of going to family gatherings (mine, theirs, ours, yours) and sitting with the men around the television while women slave in the kitchen. I’m trying to imagine how these roles are so easily absorbed by us. How they weave themselves into the fabric of our society. And, in thinking about this, I find myself paying close attention to how we use words and how quickly we speak away possibilities.
“You’re a man. You must be able to provide.”
“You’re a man. You must not cry.”
“You’re a man. You are a rock.”
These are the lessons we are taught.
I’m trying to find a way around these words that we use every day. Words of identity that we use to insult, to hurt. Thinking about what these words mean. And, even as I think about this, it is important to remember that because they are so deeply woven inside ourselves, it is hard to unravel them. Taking such problems apart involve re-thinking a lot of presumptions we have about ourselves. Think about having a male house help. Or how we are still shocked at seeing a female pilot. There are presumptions we have made about life because someone said something.
Which brings me all the way back to the beginning.
Ever thought about what you mean when you stand and say “Oh my god, that’s so gay!” What warnings are being given? What lives are being erased? What lives are being asked to remain silent? With a little modification this statement slowly becomes “That’s so gay.” Then “Don’t do that, it’s gay.” Then “Gay things shouldn’t be done.” And, eventually “ Don’t be gay.”
There is no such thing as an innocent statement.
Sara Ahmed reminds us of the problem of perception:
“…exposing a problem is to become a problem then the problem you expose is not revealed. For example, when you make an observation in public that all the speakers for an event are all white men, or all but one, or all the citations in an academic paper are to all white men, or all but a few, these observations are often treated as the problem with how you are perceiving things (you must be perceiving things!).”
I come back to the problem to perception, because now I’m thinking about how we take such criticism. I’m thinking about how conversations continue.
“That’s so gay.”
“Hey, don’t say that – it’s offensive”
“Why? Are you gay?”
“Umm no. I’m not but I’m trying to…”
“If you’re not gay why do you care? You must be gay gay gay.”
As in the conversation above, the problem has been shifted from the offender to the offended. This casual shift in frame is seen every single day. Eventually it becomes a stereotype “Anyone who is offended by X must be X” and on and on it continues. Again, words are used to break bodies. Again, broken bodies are used to pave the path for the patriarchy.
“Make it because you still have hands”
I’d like to modify that to: make it because you still have a tongue. It’s impossible to analyse how words have been used to destroy people without thinking about what kind of world they have been used to build. Yes, a broken world – but a world. One where we live and, sometimes, thrive. And, in knowing that words contain the capacity to build, to grow, to stretch and to imagine, we cannot ignore their important role in rebuilding/repair.
I’d like to imagine a world where identity is not an insult. Where being is enough. Where being as one is, is not cause for alarm, or distress. Where “Don’t be such a girl” is not used to insult people. Where “That’s so gay,” is probably the most absurd thing one could say. And, imagining this world, I’d like to begin building it.
When I was talking to a friend about writing this I told her “But this is so obvious, I don’t even know what I’d write.”
She asked “What do you want to say?”
“Can we stop calling people gay as an insult?”
“Then write that”.
So I have.