I go off on one about my mate's imaginary girlfriend and his unwitting use of a naughty word that rhymes with 'maggot'. Also, I show off my (literally incredible) accent skills.
A mate of mine plays a lot of computer games. He also says he’s got a girlfriend, but I’ve never met her. Anyway, yeah, he plays the games where you play a soldier running around a map, shooting at other soldiers, controlled by other people somewhere on the internet.
Well, I say ‘people’, when he invited me to play them with him, it seemed to mostly be twelve-year-olds who’ve done nothing but play games since they fell out of a womb. I think they live on a diet of ritalin and red bull. I never managed to get more than a few steps before being shot by someone I couldn’t see and having to start again.
Then, once I died, these hyperactive little fucksticks would message me to tell me about all the things my mum had done to them. Which was interesting, because all she talks about when I call her is people at work who annoy her, and gin-tasting experiences she’s read about online and wants to do next time she comes to visit.
So, my mate plays these games.
He has his adorable little call centre headset on, and he’s talking in foreign at the other players on his team. And sometimes he shouts foreign swearwords at the other team, too. That’s always fun. Or at least it was, until the other day when he said “Dude, watch out, that guy is a little…” And the he said a word.
It was not a nice word. In fact, of all the words I know, it’s my least favourite. It begins with F. And rhymes with ‘maggot’.
I might have got a little angry at that point.
But, once the red mist in front of my eyes cleared, and I helped him remove the controller I’d rather forcibly inserted into him, he asked my why I’d got so upset. When asked him what he meant, he said “It means someone who” (shut up, I can’t do accents. He’s Welsh.) “It means someone who camps in a certain spot and shoots everyone as soon as they come to life. Is a faggot. Faggots ruin the game for everyone” As I explained that it was a very bad word for gay people, he said “I don’t think he is gay, dude. He’s just being a little faggot.”
And I realised, he’d never heard it as a derogatory term for gay men before, and had only learned it on the context of his game. So, he wasn’t using it to be offensive, at least, not in any way to related to sexuality. But I was offended, just by hearing the word.
So I did my best Carrie Bradshaw, and got to thinking. I realised that the offence isn’t always in the mouth of the speaker, but in the ears of the listener. It’s not what you’re saying, but what I’m hearing that I react to.
And, y’know, often they’re the same thing - I’ve been called a poof and a gayboy and stuff like that before. It was mostly when I was at school, and you just learn to roll your eyes and not worry about it. Same as being called fat or stupid or a wanker, or whatever. It was just a word that got thrown around on the same level as all the other insults.
I’m not saying this makes it ok, and y’know, the world would be a much nicer place if kids didn’t use words like that, but, y’know, it would also be nice if money grew on trees and my mum would stop having sex with overstimulated preteens.
It’s not always intended offence, though, and sometimes there’s no offence at all.
There was a great story from a friend of mine who, just after coming out, went for a family dinner. He was little anxious, because it was the first time he’d seen them since coming out, but happily everyone was being supportive and super-nice, in that slightly over-compensatory way. So, after dinner, he wa hovering a little anxiously and his nan said “Rob, love, come sit with me” he said “There’s nowhere to sit, nan.” “Of course there is love” she said, pulling out the padded footrest thing “Come and sit on the… floor chair…” So adorable.
SO it’s clear that intention has a lot to do with the use of possibly-offensive words. But it’s not the only thing. For example, I know gay guys who use the word faggot intentionally when addressing other gay guys, saying they’re reclaiming it from the offensive connotations. That bothers me less, and it took me a while to work out why.
I think it’s a lot like if a black person calls his also-black friends the N-word. My understanding (which, as a white guy, may be entirely wrong in that case, so let’s go back to faggot) is that there’s a shared suffering there. A shared knowledge of the meaning and impact of the word.
A gay guy calling other gays faggots as a term of endearment, is very different to a straight guy walking up to a group of gay guys and saying ‘Hey, faggots!’.
Imagine a white guy using the n-word to a group of black guys, whether he intended to offend or not, it’s probably not going to go well.
I’ve heard people, stupid, white, straight, people, try the argument “Well, I wasn’t trying to be offensive - if they can use that word, so can I.” Or, and this one I heard a few times when Transgender people began to protest about being called a word that rhymes with ‘Granny’: “Don’t be silly. I’ve always used that word without any problem, and now I’m told it’s offensive. I don’t see why I should stop using it.” and for all this kind of thinking, there is only one response. I’m going to say it three times for emphasis: It’s not about you. It’s not about you. And the last time, for the people at the back: It’s not about you.
So, to recap there’s context; the relationship between the person using the word and those hearing it to take into account as well as the intent to offend or otherwise. It’s pretty complicated, but it boils down, as with most things, to Rule 1: Don’t be a dick. If a word you use offends another group of people, stop using that word.
I remember once, there was a segment on one of those awful daytime talk shows, titled “Which is more offensive: Faggot or the N-Word?”. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Well, if you can’t even say one of the words when asking the question, it’s probably that one.
But that question, debated incidentally by a group of straight, white people, misses the point: It’s not about which word is more offensive. It’s not a competition. It’s a bit like asking the question “Which hurts more? Nailing my hand a to a tiger, or fucking a wasp’s nest?” The answer is “Why would you do either, you complete weirdo? Sit down and shut up.”
And there’s a whole subtext here about artificially creating tensions and friction between minorities in order to distract and prevent them joining forces against the oppressors, but I’m not really clever enough to talk about that.
See, you were expecting dick jokes, and instead I lay this shit on you. I’d apologise, but you get what you’re given, fuckers.
So now my mate doesn’t call them faggots. Instead he usually shouts “leetle motherfucker”, so it seems they say the same about his mum as they did about mine.