Last week The Globe And Mail ran a story entitled “The New F-Word: Out Of The Closet, Onto The Airwaves,” with the subheading: “Derogatory terms for homosexuals uttered in public, but no calls made to ban their usage.”
Canada’s newspaper of record reported on several recent incidents of celebrities calling someone a faggot; incidents which had attracted considerable media attention. There was Grey’s Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington, who allegedly called his costar TR Knight a fag on the set (Knight came out shortly after) and then checked into rehab.
There was the Quebec radio host, Louis Champagne, who called the Parti Québécois “a club of fags,” (“un club de tapettes”) because of its openly gay leader André Boisclair; the host was ordered by his boss to publicly apologize after a brief suspension.
And there was US conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s comments last week about Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards: “I was going to have a few comments on [Edwards], but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot.”
The angle of the Globe story was that despite the controversy provoked by these utterances, no one was calling to have the word banned. That’s in contrast to the case of former Seinfeld star Michael Richards’ racist diatribe a few months back, which prompted New York City to issue a symbolic prohibition of the N-word.
Is the point that mainstream US (and maybe, by implication, Canada) thinks racism is worse than homophobia? This is news? It’s no big secret that lots and lots of Americans are still open about not liking gay and lesbian people.
It’s not like the word faggot has disappeared in Canada, either. Just check out a schoolyard of adolescents — “faggot” is a pretty popular epithet, as is “fag” and “total fag.”
Among adults you don’t have to look very far back to find outright condemnation of gay folks in the public record. In the US, as recently as the mid-1990s, in the debates around the Defense Of Marriage Act, gay men and lesbians were called everything perverse under the sun. In 1995 then-house majority leader Dick Armey referred to openly gay congressman Barney Frank as “Barney Fag” in a media interview. Coulter herself has repeatedly used the word against Democrats, last year calling Al Gore “a total fag.”
Faggot has long been and continues to be among the words of choice for gay-bashers. Calling gay people bad names has been a national sport, not a prohibited activity.
The news story here is not that it’s surprising that there is no call to ban the word, but that using it is finally attracting negative attention. That’s new, a sign that something is changing in the public consciousness.
Why are we even talking about banning the use of a word? Do we now have an office of censored words? I guess we can hand the task over to the police and the folks who regulate the air waves and cable broadcasting and customs officers and the whole network of officials who currently have censorship powers.
Talking about banning the word seems aimed at torquing the debate to make those who question the word seem overzealous, prone to censorship.
Personally I prefer fighting words with more words. Go ahead, call me a faggot (okay, more likely a dyke — but you get my point). I’ll call you an uneducated, bigoted idiot who is standing on the wrong side of history. We’ll leave it to readers, viewers and listeners to judge who’s right and who’s an idiot.