Last month at the University of Redlands, a provocative advertising campaign was launched by D.U.D.E.S. to spread the word for a rather ambiguous forum being held on campus. All posters and flyers for the event had the same phrase written on it with little other context: “The F Word.” Speaker and sophomore Anthony Gutierrez explained many people were confused as to which word the advertisements referred to. Some believed “the F-word” was “fuck.” Others, “feminist.” One person thought it referred to the Vietnamese cuisine, phở.
However, Gutierrez made clear which word would be discussed when the event began the night of Friday March 30 in a Gannet Center classroom.
“Today we’re going to be talking about the word ‘faggot,’” Gutierrez said. “And the past, present and future of this word as well as microaggressions against LGBTQ+ people.”
Some who were drawn by the ambiguity of the event were taken aback. Gutierrez asked the room how they would feel about someone calling them “faggot.” Everyone agreed that the word would make them feel uncomfortable, whether they were gay, considered themselves members of the greater LGBTQ+ community or not.
Gutierrez then described the history of the term in the English language, beginning with its original use in the late sixteenth century as an abusive term for older women who made a meager living collecting bundles of firewood (these bundles were also called ‘faggots’). Because of its origin, the term may have developed to describe the perceived femininity of homosexuals.
The word is also used in a variety of other contexts.
“It is a type of meatball. It [was] also a term used for a cigarette back in the day,” Gutierrez said. “but the term is used today primarily against gay men.”
Once the background for the word was laid out, discussion turned to the present state of the word. As the advertisement campaign demonstrated, referring to the word faggot as “the F-word” is not common enough to be instantly recognizable. Yet Gutierrez explained that the topics of previous talks held by D.U.D.E.S., such as one on “the N-word,” were crystal clear to students by their ad campaigns. Gutierrez prompted his audience by asking them why they believe this difference exists.
One student suggested that people are “a lot more uncomfortable” discussing the word “faggot” as opposed to the word “nigger.” Another disagreed, asserting that the latter slur holds “more of a stigma” than the former in general discussion. Another suggested that the word “faggot” is “not as re-claimed” by the LGBTQ+ community as the colloquial variation of the word “nigger” has become to the black community.
As the forum progressed, students voiced their opinions on other slurs against the LGBTQ+ community like queer, pixie, and fairy, as well as other microaggressions. Psychology Today defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” These include phrases like “no homo,” “that’s so gay” and others that negatively portray the identities of the LGBTQ community.
One of the common threads from each topic was how “hypermasculinity” creates an environment in which microaggressions and slurs like “faggot” are used. The majority of the audience agreed that this type of rigid male behavior bars them from seeing certain types of hobbies, clothing and professions as socially acceptable for them. Conversely, many gay males within a sport are socially pressured to stay in the closet, unless the sport is commonly considered feminine.
There were many stories from audience members of hypermasculine males using slurs to disparage homosexuality, and the consensus was that the men who used these slurs were insecure in their masculinity. One student shared a story of a football player at a party who repeatedly used “faggot” to intentionally make her uncomfortable, her response was to call him out on it. She explained that this had no effect, so she sought help from her peers about what to do in a situation like this. Another audience member, freshman Logan Smith, suggested a party is perhaps not the best setting to confront him.
“A better setting would be to [take him somewhere] quiet, sit down with a couple of allies and people who may know more and see his position in order to try and draw out where he comes from and what he’s doing,” Smith said. “Figure out ‘where did this behavior come from?’ I can tell you that just from sitting down with a couple of football players in my own dorm that they’ve got backstories where they’ve kind of developed these attitudes, and you have to really go back in order to figure out where are they coming up with this language.”
The forum closed with a discussion of what one student referred to as the “tokenizing” of gay people. Gutierrez prefaced the topic with a Teen Vogue video on “The 8 Things You Should Never Say to Your Gay Friends.” Some of the eight garnered considerable reaction, including “I’m so supportive, but are you sure?” and “I love gay men! Want to be friends?”
Junior Emilia Rivera commented on the commodification of her friend in high school by his peers after he had come out as gay.
“When he did come out, people would come up to me like ‘you’re so lucky you have a gay best friend!’ … [When] we went to a Beyonce concert people would be like ‘you’re so lucky you have a gay best friend to go to the Beyonce concert with you.’ We’re just two friends who like Beyonce … he wasn’t my accessory.”
Another student compared the treatment of her friend to a “chihuahua in a purse.”
Gutierrez recalled a remarkable comment from a peer, prompted by the question from the video, “are you sure?”
“[That] made me think of something someone said to me back when I was in high school. They were saying ‘I’m not homophobic, but guy-on-guy relationships scare me.’”
The audience erupted into laughter as Gutierrez pointed out the remarkable similarity between his peer’s comment and the definition of homophobia, but the truth of the statement is rather severe. It demonstrates the necessity for the open dialogues that organizations like D.U.D.E.S. facilitate. The bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community that persists today is perhaps so long-standing as a result of simple ignorance as much (or more) as sheer hatred.
Editors note: Due to it’s incorrectness, the Redlands Bulldog has removed the following sentence from the article. “Alternatively, Gutierrez described an urban legend popularized by American sociologist Douglas Harper, who attributed the use of the word ‘faggot’ to the use of faggot bundles for burning witches and homosexuals at the stake.”
Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Miracle Cariaga.