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Sticks & Stones

Does Calling Someone a ‘Fag’ Really Mean You Hate Gay People?


Did you know that being called a “fag” isn’t actually an accusation that you take it up the rear from other dudes? It’s true! When kids are called “fag” in school (or when rappers trade “fag” barbs with each other, or when the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship screams it), they aren’t meaning to offend THE HOMOSEXUAL COMMUNITY, they’re just ripping on their enemies’ masculinity. “It’s really about showing any perceived weakness or femininity – by being emotional, seeming incompetent, caring too much about clothing, liking to dance or even having an interest in literature,” explains the New York Times‘ Judith Warner, who evidently is on the newspaper’s payroll to explain who Captain Obvious is. Throwing around the word “fag” is like what our parents’ parents did when they threw around the word “girl”; so “fag” is no more homophobic than “girl,” as an insult, is sexist.

But before your attention span quits, realize the problem-solution equation doesn’t end there. It isn’t that simple. When kids call each other “fag” in school, they are indeed using a homophobic slur to demean somebody else. (When kids accuse each other of “Jewing” them, they are using an anti-Semitic slur to demean.) By definition, they are associating bad feelings toward entire cultural identities — and that belonging to one of these identities makes you less of a person.

When Preston Whitt survived years of school torment, including teacher-sanctioned games of “Smear The Queer,” he wasn’t just the victim of other children’s masculinity power grab on the playground. Minnesota’s attempt to pass anti-bullying legislation isn’t so a boy can learn algebra without someone thinking he should be wearing a dress.

What it actually means to call another kid “faggot” or “queer” or plain old “gay” may be too complex a concept for a five-year-old bully to understand. Even a teenager studying for his SATs may not grasp the inherent affront to gay men and women behind those words.

But it’s the ingrained hatred toward what is different or misunderstood, and not instant claims of homophobia, that must be addressed. Because tolerating these slurs — teachers pretending they didn’t hear the words; administrators not disciplining or addressing students who harass others — allows this behavior to fester, to grow, and to evolve into realized homophobia.

A “fag” here or there during recess is a gay bashing here or there during adulthood. Think that’s a slippery logic slope? Argue your case with this guy.

By:           editor editor
On:           Apr 17, 2009
Tagged: , , , , ,
    • Mark M
      Mark M

      I don’t know how we started, but in our house we use the word “Fag” for a gay person who is a living sterotype.. like a twink on speed, or something.

      Apr 17, 2009 at 6:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mickey's mouse :P
      Mickey's mouse :P

      The word faggot goes back to the witch hunts in Britain and other countries. Homosexuals were hunted down on placed on pyres and burned alive, this is where “flamers” and “faggots” comes from. the pyre was known as a faggot, or a bundle of sticks and people eventually came to associate homosexuals with faggots. Sometimes at a witch’s burning they would just throw the homosexuals on the pile at the witch’s feet. This isn’t a very well known fact, but it’s what happened. It’s the etymology behind the words. The more you know *rainbow*

      Apr 17, 2009 at 6:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • kevin (not that one)
      kevin (not that one)

      Oh yes, so liking to dance, loving clothes, and acting feminine are obvious points of nefarious behavior that must be put down by the more righteous among us and therefore worthy of insult…

      Heterosexual culture is so morally offensive sometimes that I don’t know where to begin.

      Personally, I reject it. That’s why I don’t use “fag” as an insult. People who use “fag” as an insult are tools of evil. Gays who use it sink to the level of a Warsaw Ghetto capo in my eyes.

      Apr 17, 2009 at 8:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TANK

      Nice semantic interpretation of bigoted words. I agree, too.

      Apr 17, 2009 at 8:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dan

      I’m a little unclear as to what this article is meant to convey. Are the first couple of sentences facetious? Surely every knowledgeable person understands that the word “fag” is a slur expressing hatred or contempt for gay people. There may be people who don’t know this, or don’t realize that people actually kill themselves from being called gay, but the answer to that is education. If some young people think “fag” doesn’t refer to gay people, their teachers have a responsibility to educate them and put a stop to any harassment.

      When some of our parents’ parents used “girl” as an insult, it was as prejuduced and wrong as homophobic slurs are today. Girls deserved, and still deserve, the same respect as boys and everyone else. I’ve never met anyone in my parents’ parents generation who used “girl” in that way, and most members of my family would never say “fag” or otherwise insult gay people as a group. If the children ever said that word, their mom would immediately send them to their rooms.

      Apr 17, 2009 at 8:59 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • dizzy spins
      dizzy spins

      There are cases where an insult is so far removed from its origins that users don’t know the connection. To gyp someone is to con them, and is a dig at gypsies. “Dutch treat” and “dutch courage” come from a time when Brits hated the dutch. I had friends in college who didnt realize “jewing someone” cam from “Jew.” The word “scum” means cum–and a scumbag is a condom.

      Obviously “fag” is not that far removed–even a child who uses it know it suggests someone is homosexual. But then neither is “nigger.” I hear it all the time in New York, used by black and Latino people. It bothers me when I hear it–I don’t care what the explanations are. Im old enough to remember when that word burned. Just to hear it, whether you were black or white, was to sense hate in the room.

      Then again I call my friends fag when they act silly or overly gay.

      Apr 17, 2009 at 10:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John from  England(used to be just John but there are other John's)
      John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

      @dizzy spins:

      Of course how facinating is language???

      Apr 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • rogue dandelion
      rogue dandelion

      @Mickey’s mouse :P: I learned something today!

      Apr 18, 2009 at 12:15 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Alec

      @Mickey’s mouse :P: I’ve heard that, but I’ve never read an adequate basis for that origin. This is from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

      faggot (2)
      “male homosexual,” 1914, Amer.Eng. slang (shortened form fag is from 1921), probably from earlier contemptuous term for “woman” (1591), especially an old and unpleasant one, in reference to faggot (1) “bundle of sticks,” as something awkward that has to be carried (cf. baggage). It was used in this sense in 20c. by D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce, among others. It may also be reinforced by Yiddish faygele “homosexual,” lit. “little bird.” It also may have roots in Brit. public school slang fag “a junior who does certain duties for a senior” (1785), with suggestions of “catamite,” from fag (v.). This was also used as a verb.
      “He [the prefect] used to fag me to blow the chapel organ for him.” [“Boy’s Own Paper,” 1889]
      Other obsolete senses of faggot were “man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at muster” (1700) and “vote manufactured for party purposes” (1817). The oft-heard statement that male homosexuals were called faggots in reference to their being burned at the stake is an etymological urban legend. Burning was sometimes a punishment meted out to homosexuals in Christian Europe (on the suggestion of the Biblical fate of Sodom and Gomorah), but in England, where parliament had made homosexuality a capital offense in 1533, hanging was the method prescribed. Any use of faggot in connection with public executions had long become an English historical obscurity by the time the word began to be used for “male homosexual” in 20th century American slang, whereas the contemptuous slang word for “woman” (and the other possible sources or influences listed here) was in active use.


      So I dunno. I’m no expert.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 12:22 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • nikko

      Right on, Kevin. So agree!

      Apr 18, 2009 at 4:14 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • oceania

      @Mickey’s mouse :P: This etymology has recently been refuted by many sources

      Apr 18, 2009 at 4:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • oceania

      Of course using the word ‘fag’ doesn’t mean you hate gay people, but it contributes towards an environment of homophobia, especially in our schools, because it more often than not goes unchallenged. It can knock the self-esteem of young people – regardless of whether they’re gay or not – but in particular those who are gay, have gay friends and families, or think they might be gay. It doesn’t matter where the word came from, it’s homophobic in essence and creates homophobia. It must be challenged like racist language is challenged and is now so taboo.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 4:42 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Inanna

      I don’t think she means to condone the use of the term as an insult, but rather to give insight into why boys use it so we can be more successful at getting them to stop.

      You make a good point that her commentary may be analogous to an explanation of Captain Obvious. I don’t generally find her analysis very illuminating.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 7:52 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Darrien

      @Mickey’s mouse :P: Witches were very rarely – if ever – burnt at the stake in Britain. Mostly, they were just hanged. It tended to be the religious heretics who were burnt. A faggot is a piece of wood used for burning (as well as a meatball), but by your logic, a religious heretic, the very rare witch and the gays would all be called fags.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 8:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • disco3000

      You know, in Aussie slang we call our cigarettes “fags”.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 9:35 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Anthony

      Perhaps part of the problem is the presentation of gay people. In the media they are always presented as effeminate, weak, lisping, prancing figures of fun. Comic relief, someone to be laughed at. Where are the gay explorers, scientists, doctors. Where are the heric stories of gay soldiers, sailors and pilots? How difficult has it been to be allowed to place flowers for the gay service people of the last two world wars at cenotaphs?

      Apr 18, 2009 at 9:53 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jim

      does using the word nigger mean you hate blacks?

      Apr 18, 2009 at 9:58 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dan

      Now that I’ve read Judith Warner’s article, I recognize the perspective. When I was an undergraduate, I read the works of liberationists who argued that racism, or sexism, or classism was the most fundamental form of oppression, the one in which other forms were rooted. Rather than present research, these authors tried to construct tightly woven arguments that hung together well.

      Warner is doing something similar. She isn’t saying that the word “fag” doesn’t mean gay. She’s saying that the *use* of the word has little to do with homophobia and a great deal to do with sexism, with keeping boys in line by accusing them of being like girls:

      “The message to the most vulnerable, to the victims of today’s poisonous boy culture, is being heard loud and clear: to be something other than the narrowest, stupidest sort of guy’s guy, is to be unworthy of even being alive.”

      “…Boys avail themselves most frequently of epithets like “fag” to “police” one another’s behavior and bring it back to being sufficiently masculine when someone steps out of line,” according to Barbara J. Risman, a sociological interviewer quoted by Warner.

      Warner quotes from sociologists who have conducted interviews. Would the sociologists agree with how she is interpreting their work? We cannot know without reading the original material.

      “‘To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing,’ is how one teenage boy put it to C.J. Pascoe, a sociologist at Colorado College…”

      In my view, this in itself shows the power of homophobia in the classroom – and elsewhere. Certainly we should all oppose sexism, but we should also oppose homophobia as discrimination in its own right.

      Judging from media reports, both of the students who took their lives just days ago understood that they were being called homosexuals, not girls. Their parents understood it as well. Folks will always argue about which oppression is worst or most basic, but when people are dying, we need to stand against it.

      Apr 18, 2009 at 12:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CaLi_BoY

      i dont care how many definitions you guys come up with for those words! sorry guys but, i still hate labels!!!!

      Apr 18, 2009 at 10:55 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      I thought this was a good response to Warner’s article which, although clearly well intended, is heterosexist bullshit. “Gay is the new girl?”

      Apr 19, 2009 at 2:56 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • strumpetwindsock

      I was looking up the etymology of “fagged” as in “I’m fagged (exhausted)”, which apparently came from an obsolete word meaning “to droop”.

      I ran across this definition I had never heard of before – fags are younger schoolboys who are assigned errands and chores by boys in the older grades.

      It also means any menial worker:


      Apr 19, 2009 at 4:55 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark M
      Mark M

      I am still fully comfortable with using the word to describe the kind of gay guy that I feel nothing for. The annoying, drug addled breathing boring stero-type. Not because he likes dick or ass, but because it has a wrenching “I don’t accept you, and don’t think you are fully a human” ugliness about it, which is the best response for that crowd. I have friends who are hot, who are very not, bears, professionals, trannys, lisping fairies, and muscle gym-addicts.. but that meth head club crowd? Naw.. just a bunch of faggots to me.

      Apr 19, 2009 at 9:32 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      @Mark M:

      Mark, I get your frustration with some type of gay people. But I think your decision that it is good to treat gay men you dislike as though they are not “fully human” is one which ultimately hurts us all. Do you think you are more justified in your contempt for them than people who hate you because you are gay are in their contempt for you? I don’t. This is called internalized homophobia. You and your friends have a problem with self-hatred. I have, actually, a great deal of contempt for you, or any other gay who tries to justify his bigotry against other people, because of it. But I still think you are worthy of being treated as a full human being. I even feel compassion for you. Like the methheads you describe, you are deformed because of the anti-gay hatred of our society. And I hope you get over yourself a little on this. And that nobody who “feels nothing” for the kind of gay that you are decided to kill you some night when you are without your amazingly integrated group of friends.

      Apr 19, 2009 at 11:12 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • nikko

      MARK M., I completely relate to what you’re saying. And agree. LANDON, I appreciate your thoughtful response but I don’t agree that hating those types of gays equals self hate. It’s called discernment of ugly attitudes and behaviour(superficial drug addicted qays) They treat each other and others as sub human. Just observe your local gay club scene to attest to this fact. I have as much hatred/hostility towards them as I do towards evil straights, and it’s justified, not something deserving compassion.

      Apr 19, 2009 at 2:45 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dan

      Mark M. and Nikko, your posts lay bare a classic form of prejudice that relies on duality. There are two kinds of black people: n*ggers and African Americans. There are two kinds of woman: the whore and the virgin. There are two kinds of gay people: superficial, drug-addicted gays and everyone else. People justify their prejudice by dividing the targeted class into two groups and hating one of them.

      The class that isn’t targeted is seldom divided in this way. A racist may say, “I also hate white trash,” but in practice, they rarely call any white people names. I’ve seen the same pattern again and again among gay people who hate gay people: they say they also hate certain heterosexuals, but they go on and on about the gays they hate and almost never mention the heterosexuals.

      Why hate any demographic group, whatever the rationale? What purpose does name-calling serve? I once met a gay man who was addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Instead of calling him names, I talked to him and persuaded him to let me drive him to a halfway house. To make a long story short, he came clean, and he stayed drug-free for several years. As far as I know, he’s clean and sober to this day.

      Apr 19, 2009 at 4:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Nick

      Louis CK and Doug Stanhope both have funny routines about use of the word “faggot.”

      Louis CK:

      Doug Stanhope:

      Apr 20, 2009 at 11:36 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jon

      i’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… we all, str8 and gay or whatever, need to grow thicker skins and stop seeing abuse and haters in every corner. It’s a word, get over it and move on with your life. A word is just a word. Nothing more nothing less.

      Now, I will sit back and await the professional ‘fags’ and professional complains criticise me for this post. In a world with so many problems I think this ranks near bottom… let’s worry about feeding people, ending wars and finding cures…. not whether joe blow thinks I’m a ‘fag’ or not… His use of a derogatory comment says more about him than it does about me. Let them think and say what they want, last I checked we all lived in democracies…
      Grow up whiners and live your lives.

      … man, I really am in a bad mood today! ;-)

      Apr 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce


      Okay, here’s the deal. My “whining” comes out of concern for kids who are bullied into killing themselves. You think that doesn’t compare with the significance of feeding people or ending wars? Fine.

      How does the importance of people complaining about something that doesn’t bother you compare to the significance of ending wars? Not very important, huh? Maybe since you’re so concerned about that, it would be better to do something about it rather than attacking those of us who are doing something about an issue, although it is of no importance to you, does kill young American people fairly often.

      Why does my concern for bullied young people piss you off so much?

      Apr 20, 2009 at 8:22 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • LeftieFairy

      Landon, I do see in Jon’s post anywhere that he was directing his comments directly to you… I think you’ve actually proven the points jon was making… From Jon’s posting he is saying that something like teen suicide is what we should be worrying about… as opposed to being all indignant and uppity when the word fag is used.

      I wholeheartedly agreee Jon, we all, regardless of who we are or what we do, need to grow thicker skins and worry more about hunger, war, and yes Landon teen suicide… Stop whining and do something constructive, build bridges and dialogue and not march up and down streets condeming others who don’t agree with us. We all have the right to our opinions. Isn’t that was freedom and democracy is about?

      Apr 21, 2009 at 9:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce


      Kids kill themselves because of the word faggot.

      A ten year old most recently.

      Stop using it, and stop excusing people who do.

      If you see my unwillingness to let privileged gays off the hook when they treat the least powerful members of our community with no compassion as “whining,” please understand: I don’t give a shit about your opinions. I care about the anonymous kids who need to be told that they matter, that the way they are treated is wrong. They don’t need to read the self-hating bullshit in these comments without consistent voices that say that it IS self-hating bullshit.

      Apr 21, 2009 at 10:26 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Drew

      This is a great book on this subject:

      Apr 21, 2009 at 7:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Digdug

      @Landon Bryce:

      Total agreement, Landon.

      Sometimes I think people feel affronted by these arguments because they take it as an accusation that they are bigoted or cruel and believe that neither is true. Often they’re right, but they’re failing to recognize that there’s a third possibility — that they just don’t think very hard about what they say and prefer to keep it that way. If they don’t mean to hurt someone, surely no one has a right to be hurt is the logic — failing to account for the imperfect relationship between what a person means and the language they use to express it.

      I know kids will always be cruel to each other. But no witnessing adult should tolerate it, especially in school. Whether it’s a slur or not, children who are mean to other children are to be taught not to be — obviously, right…? I don’t understand why that would be controversial to anybody, or why there seem to be so many teachers who are unwilling to enforce civil behavior.

      (I would also point out that when boys call other boys girls derisively, it is very much so sexist… not sure how else one can take it… women = weakness and inferiority)

      Apr 22, 2009 at 1:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Inez

      @Landon Bryce: But, um, kids kill themselves because of lots of other reasons too.

      May 7, 2009 at 2:27 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • MommaM

      @Anthony: “Perhaps part of the problem is the presentation of gay people In the media they are always presented as effeminate, weak, lisping, prancing figures of fun. Comic relief, someone to be laughed at”

      ***Unfortunately, a great number of gays present THEMSELVES this way. The extreme example is when you attend a pride festival. it’s a freak show/circus! Not saying they shouldn’t exist, not saying they aren’t a blast to attend, I’m just sayin!

      “Where are the gay explorers, scientists, doctors. Where are the heric stories of gay soldiers, sailors and pilots? How difficult has it been to be allowed to place flowers for the gay service people of the last two world wars at cenotaphs?”

      ***No one out there, not straight, anti-gay or gay are stupid enough to not know there are these types of gays as well. Unfortunately, it’s usually the most idiotic of every race, sexual orientation, gender etc, that get the most attention drawn to them.

      Think back to the LA Riots, when they would interview a black person on the street. How well do you think those people represented the blacks? Not well!

      As for name calling, we as adults/parents/teachers etc, most likely would stop the name calling if we saw children doing it. We would explain to the child why that behavior was wrong and yet later the same evening, go home and get online and call someone we don’t even know a name, simply because their opinion differed from our own. That’s irony at it’s finest!

      I do not know one single human being that was not teased and tortured by someone at sometime during their childhood. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you wear, how popular you were, etc…we all got teased! If a child commits suicide, it’s not simply over someone calling them a fag, lezbo, white trash, nigger, fat or slutty etc..IMHO

      May 7, 2009 at 3:21 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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