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.