While some LGBT are reviving slang, others are opting not to.
A couple days before the stress of finals last spring, my roommate and I threw our friend a 21st birthday party. After having a couple drinks, everyone in the room began chitchatting about random topics, such as “fag hag,” a term used for females who are close friends with gay men.
One of our female friends said she though the term was incredibly offensive. She said it’s used to describe unattractive women who are so incapable of finding male suitors, they rely solely on the friendship of gay men.
Two other gay male friends and I laughed at this and tried to debate her.
“I am not a fag hag,” she said. “I am perfectly capable of finding my own guys.”
I didn’t understand my female friend’s issue with the fag hag label. She’s a very attractive girl — who has a boyfriend — and she is an unbelievable pillar of support for her LGBT friends.
After surfing on the Web for a half hour, I noticed many entries and posts on Web sites agree with this stance on the popular gay slang word. The Free Dictionary said the term fag hag is “an impolite way of referring to a woman with a lot of male friends who are [gay].”
The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association devoted an entire blog post to the term, after a National Public Radio interview segment of Tell Me More expressed that fag hag was an outdated, now pejorative word to describe straight female allies.
After reading about the term from both sides, I began to think of the wide range of terms and labels in the LGBT culture. Straight allies aside, we tend to lump everyone within the community into certain “boxes” or labels.
There are the general ones such as the “fag” and “dyke” box. Many gay and lesbian persons are “taking back” these words for self-empowerment and to alter the words’ offensive intents.
Then, we have the extremely specific boxes such as “lipstick lesbian,” a feminine girl who is often attracted to other feminine girls; “twinks,” a subdivision of gay males who are overly slender and have little or no body hair; and “bears,” another term used for burly gay men who have a lot of body hair.
Many other pejoratives for the LGBT community exist but are either outdated or not used as often as the aforementioned terms. A term that became offensive in the past several years, for instance, is “transsexual.” The term — used to describe a male or female who went through surgical procedures to become the opposite sex — is rarely used, and the preferred word is the umbrella term for all things dealing with non-normative genders: transgender.
This is the opposite for the word “queer,” once seen as offensive. The word is now used as an empowering umbrella term for all things LGBT.
Last year, the LGBT organization on campus changed its name from Common Ground, a title that wasn’t indicative of the group’s member base, to Queer Student Union. While members were generally pleased with the name change, others found it offensive and thought other students or organizations not affiliated with QSU wouldn’t take the group seriously because of the history of the word’s usage.
All these terms, whether ridiculously funny or insulting, are used by both the LGBT community and our straight counterparts.
My friend and senior women’s studies major Arielle Catron, QSU’s financial director, said the meaning behind the word changes depending on the person using it and the way it’s used – whether that be reclaiming the term in a positive way or just for kicks and giggles.
“If [an LGBT friend] jokingly called me a ‘dyke,’ it’s not the same as if someone I barely know, or someone outside of the community called me a ‘dyke,’” Catron said.
“Some people like to use [those terms] jokingly, but not all people like using it jokingly,” she added. “It depends on the individual.”
Catron was right. I see the importance of being able to reclaim words, but the LGBT community is made up of so many different personality types that I’m not sure everyone is comfortable reclaiming a word or using it for jokes with close friends.
Last year two guys called me a faggot as I walked by the Dirt Lot, and it wasn’t said in a manner that meant for it to be reclaimed – nor was it said jokingly.
The tone these guys used was malicious. They said it compellingly, with such hate you’d have thought I’d done something as awful as burning down one of their houses.
Rare instances like these keep me from being able to reclaim “fag” or “faggot.” For this reason, I realize reclaiming a word is relative to the individual. If you are not comfortable reclaiming a word, you are under no obligation to do so.
If being called a twink is something that bothers you, don’t identify with it. Should a friend jokingly call you a dyke, let them know it offends you. If you associate the term fag hag with unattractiveness and low self-esteem, ask your friends to just refer to you as their super-cool straight ally.
But if you are one of those people who can adapt and alter your personal meaning of a word, by all means, reclaim it.
Maybe there will be a day when reclaiming a word like fag completely extinguishes its negative meaning. When that day comes, and I can leave my associations with such words in the past, you can count on me to be walking by, wearing a white T-shirt with the letters F-A-G spray painted on it.
Joshua Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.