Briefly think back to what life was like when you were the ripe age of five or six years old, enduring the blissful day-by-day routine of playing with your action figures or Barbies–whatever floats your boat–with not a single worry other than what atrocities your mom chucked in your lunchbox for the next day.
But then, all at once, you find yourself going about your glorious childhood routine on the playground one day and hear a certain word screamed in the background that starts with “f” and rhymes with maggot. Your innocent self doesn’t really comprehend the societal implications of the word, but the inflection of the voice around you drips with negativity that sticks in your mind like the gum on your shoe. And just like that, life gets complicated.
It seems fair to argue that our adult selves and behaviors take shape on the grade school playground. We play with our friends, we fight our enemies, we crush on the person with the cute smile, we trade forbidden substances, we fall on our knees and we develop those games–both literal and metaphorical–that make our lives go ‘round.
It is no surprise that when the dynamics and language of the playground continues to flow into our adult lives like a recurring dream that won’t go away, we find great frustration. We are disheartened to see that the F-word does indeed persist beyond the realm of the monkey bars and intimidated that the bullies confronted during recess exist in an even more developed form as we walk the streets.
But as the timeless playground adage goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Perhaps the gay community should take note from generations of school kids?
There was a lot of hubbub with my last column about a particular word I used to describe America’s overblown, mainstream GLBT figurehead, Kurt Hummel from “Glee.” To my surprise, many seemed to take my description of him using the word “pansy” as a synonym for the ever-loathed F-word. To clarify, the comment was not meant to carry the message that Kurt is “fruity” or overly effeminate. The point was to say that he is a wimp. Forgive me, but I prefer role models who are less keen on crying and more likely to go all P!nk or Kelly Clarkson on someone and just throw out a middle finger to the world.
It seems that the gay community is stuck in a strange place of sensitivity in today’s world that sees people constantly watching their backs for their respective bullies to resurface. As a result, it seems that to be critical of your own community, especially one drenched in politics like the GLBT community, is to be deemed mutinous. For a group that heralds strength, unity and perseverance, we have gotten awfully whiney, haven’t we?
The GLBT community might find better results in its political tactics and everyday lifestyle if it stops taking everything to heart. So what if Karl Rove doesn’t approve of gay marriage or if “family” organizations find portrayals of gay sex and relationships to be “reprehensible?” These are playground bullies that are best handled by implementing a tactic of ignorance and, most importantly, thick skin.
In the case of the F-word, I used to be quite the stickler on its usage. And while I still don’t use the word out of personal preference and moral standard, I can’t say I care quite as much today when I hear it used in a casual tone or setting. The reality is that, when taken out of the bullying context, it diminishes the value of the word and deflates its negative connotation.
Developing a strong community to be wholeheartedly accepted by the masses means knowing the difference between championing a worthy cause and being flat-out oversensitive. Life is full of relativity, and the sooner the GLBT community leaves behind the scarring stories of childhood bullying presented as all-encompassing representations of every gay person’s life, the sooner the community can be embraced as one that is less aloof and more “normal,” for lack of a better word.
And remember, even the bullied can walk away having dealt a few punches.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.