10 Years Out, Why I Call Myself a Faggot
I was going through some…stuff around November last year, and somehow at the time it completely escaped my attention that it had been ten years since I came out of the closet. (Well, I count forward from the time I told my father I was gay, despite the fact that I had been coming out slowly to friends for about a year before that.)
I was mystified. And I felt old. I had never marked this occasion before, and it seemed like I should have had some sort of real hootenanny to mark this round-numbered anniversary. Oh well, I thought. There’s always eleven.
This year, when I remembered that I was going to forget the anniversary of me coming out, it occurred to me that I was celebrating a different kind of tenth anniversary this year: ten years out as a self-identified faggot.
Shudder. I hate that I have to use the euphemism “self-identified” to describe one of my identities. So here’s the breakdown on why.
Faggot is a word used starting from the time kids are old enough to parrot their parents’ prejudices to the time they push these prejudices on their own children to dehumanize gay men & boys at large and, in particular, c/overtly gender-variant gay men and boys (although more of us used to remember and honor the gender variance inherit in being homoerotically and homoromantically inclined).
There are lots of folk mythologies about why the particular word faggot has come to mean what it does. The most popular of these follows that the word relates to a kind of bundle of sticks, linking the word to medieval punishment for homosexuality. However, the word faggot in its present use as an epithet actually descends from the obsolete English word faggot, meaning fat and lazy woman. (Words spelled faggot and fag have a long history in English: for instance, the totally unrelated [obsolete] fag, meaning a poor boy who does menial labor for a rich man.)
Go and figure that the word faggot is at the heart of the connection of sexism, gender policing, body fascism and homophobia as we know them.
The reason none of this matters is, even if the word itself doesn’t represent a painful history of being burned at the stake (or being used to start fires to burn other people at the stake, suggested by faggot’s relationship to kindling), it represents the heterosexist, misogynist, homophobic, gender-is-as-we-say-gender-does playground and grownup vitriol, beatings and killings some gay men experience as gender outsiders.
I would never want to suggest that other people’s experience of the word faggot is less valid or important than mine. I honor the experience of every person who has ever been called a faggot – regardless of actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression [as faggot is also used to enforce gender against rebellious straight men and applied just as quickly to some lesbians and transpeople of all sexual identities].
This is why I do not call other people faggot, in the same way that I do not (or at least always try not to) refer to anyone as an identity which ze has not specifically expressed in the past. It would be inappropriate, colonialist, universalizing bullshit of me to assume I know anything about how another person identifies or wants to be identified. If your name is Whenyouwishuponastar and your preferred pronoun is gadinkitydonk (catchy, huh?), I and everyone else in your life owe you the human respect to use those words in relationship to you.
Names and pronouns are an imperfect analogy for my loud, proud self-identification as a faggot. I recognize this, and I own it, but I think it does get me somewhere in discussing every person’s right to self-identification.
It’s an imperfect analogy because of the difference between I and you. No, that wasn’t a grammatical mistake. What I mean is that “I am a faggot,” but, ninety times out of a hundred, “you are [not] a faggot.” I use Joe Jackson’s rule: “Don’t call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend.” Joe Jackson, of course, is a heterosexually identified cisgender male, but a gender outlaw nevertheless for daring to “wonder who the real men are.”
Chances are I don’t want you to call me a faggot. But if I tell you I’m a faggot (which I do, in fact, frequently tell people), I don’t see why you have some choice in the matter of whether or not that is true. I have been isolated, lionized, castigated and even physically assaulted – by another out queer person – for identifying myself out loud as a faggot.
Faggot is an oppositional identity. Maybe I didn’t choose to be one, but I choose every day to identify as one. It’s fuckin’ dangerous and lonely as shit out here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m hardly the first person/queer/artist/queer artist to point it out, but, if I could be non-offensive in my natural state to a wide array of people – in my case, say, both Joe Solmonese and Dick Cheney – I wouldn’t be living my life in a way that worked for me.
There’s a reason gay man pretty much doesn’t cut it as an identity label for me, and it has a lot to do – in case you haven’t guessed it yet – with my continued stress on the connection between misogyny and homophobia.
I do not see myself as just like other men with the exception that I sleep with other men.
I have no desire to be seen as just like everyone else with the exception of this thing I can compartmentalize really successfully behind the closed doors of my tidy bedroom.
I don’t want to jump headlong into institutions that oppress all of humanity and call them less oppressive if I finally convince the gate-keepers to let me in.
I disagree that getting straight people to like us is a worthwhile goal.
I was a faggot the day I realized that I was never going to be a real boy, and that my parents, I, and my culture/s had no right to expect this of me.
I was a faggot the day I realized I didn’t need to be a woman to not be a man.
I was a faggot the day I realized I like shoes that make noise.
I was a faggot the day I stood in those shoes in front of a man who said “you’re a fucking faggot and I’m going to kill you” and I said “I am a fucking faggot.”
I was a faggot when I got myself to safety wearing those same shoes.
I was a faggot the day I realized there was no such thing as the same or opposite gender of me.
I was a faggot the first time I said I was, when I was a fourteen-year-old punk bassist with a blown amp and a sore heart.
I am a faggot who put that wiggle in his walk ‘cos he likes it that way.
I was a faggot when I saw the misogynist gender-perfectionism (cf. Kate Bornstein’s pyramid of gender & power) that makes the word “dyke” okay in a way that “faggot” isn’t.
I was a faggot when I realized gender is drag and it’s up to me whether or not mine is/are a good show.
I am a faggot who will seek out & embrace all the other faggots, sissies, fairies, nancies and nellies in this beautiful world before I take one more moment with a gay man who needs to use his masculinity to hurt other gay men – and himself.
I am a faggot who won’t stop using the word faggot ‘cos other queer people want me to. Another’s desire to prove hir sameness – hir blend-ability – to the bouncer at the door of gender doesn’t have any more to do with me than I let it.
I am a faggot because I’m finally starting to feel like there’s nothing left I need to pass as.
If you can meet me somewhere on this playing field/cupcake kitchen or even find yourself asking lots and lots of questions, maybe you can call me a faggot. ‘Cos maybe you’re a friend. But you can’t call me a faggot with hate, and you can’t call me a faggot if you’re going to put it in air quotes or hold the word to the side like a turd. And I do ask you to remember the following: I call me “me,” while you call me “you.” Two different, equally valid titles for the same person, right? We’re both right and neither of us are wrong. So I’m gonna keeping on me-ing, and I hope you will, too.