Savage Word: The Rebranding of ‘The F-Bomb’
Can you rehabilitate a word? Can you reclaim something if it wasn’t yours to begin with? I don’t think so.
For me, it began when I read yet another article about sex columnist/gay activist/MTV talking head Dan Savage spouting off about something in a manner that got him lots of negative attention. Dan is cool. But Dan still thinks he’s twenty-four years old. He, born October 7, 1964, doesn’t buy into the notion that what is perfectly excusable out of the mouth of someone under the age of 25 is no longer acceptable when you are an established 40-something, self-appointed role model. But that is his choice (to behave that way), and while I don’t think he needs to conduct himself like Anderson Cooper, I also feel his message would be taken more to heart and be more readily received by a wider audience if it were delivered utilizing civil, less-bombastic language. He is a writer, after all, and one would think, clever and talented as he is, that he has an arsenal of words at his disposal and would therefore resist the temptation of resorting to hurling ugly, sophomoric epitaphs (a final judgment on a person or thing) at his intended targets.
Case in point, and the whole reason I’m writing about this, Dan’s recent tweets re: GoProud – that horribly misguided group of gay Republicans who insist on being part of a party they were not invited to attend. And yes, it’s a little like the NAACP joining forces with the KKK to hold a bake sale. They (GoProud) are a ridiculous group, apparently only interested in whatever power they can glom onto in an arena (gay Republicans) where there can’t be all that much competition (like a bunch church ladies), or only concerned about how much of their money those damn Dems are going to suck out of their collective teat. Or maybe the tea room sex at the Republican Convention is simply too irresistible and the only way they can get in is to be official party members – given the many, many so-called ‘gay scandals’ involving Republicans and conservatives, perhaps it really is worth all that well gestated self-loathing.
The tweet in question: “The GOP’s house faggots grab their ankles right on cue.” – Dan’s response to GOProud's official endorsement of Mitt Romney for president back in late June 2012 (yeah, I know – where the hell have I been, huh?).
Here is the letter I wrote Mr. Savage:
I have to take issue with your recent tweets re: those stupid gay Republicans.
First off, let’s look at your use of the word faggot. I know, I know… the current understanding is that by using the F-Bomb we are reclaiming it and it therefore loses its power. Now, where have I heard this before? Let me think. Oh, yeah! That other culture and that equally offensive N-Word. Dan, sorry, but an offensive word used to demean others is... wait for it... still an offensive word. Plus – if I remember right, and I do… IT WAS NEVER OUR WORD. It was theirs. To hurl at us and make us feel awful. Suggestion: grow up and play like a grown-up –deliver your message without coming off as a total ass wipe. There are tons of wonderful words out there to use. I realize that GoProud has used the F-bomb in the past as well, but… hey, like we expect anything different from those idiots? See - self-hate is still hate, Dan. Word to your muthah!
Second issue: you demean bottoms when you liken the activities and choices of the self-serving, ridiculously un-evolved, status and money hungry, gay Republicans to certain God-given sexual acts. Those Log Cabin boys at GoProud? What they do is disgusting. Where as butt sex is just a damn good time (if you’re doing it right and have enough lube)… whether you are a top or a bottom. To cast a bad light on the act of bending over and taking it sends a message of ‘shame on you’ to all bottoms, and I know that was not your intention. Because I’m pretty sure you appreciate a good bottom. Please choose your metaphors more carefully in the future.
Thanks, Dan. I’m warming up to the idea of you being an activist and the voice of our people (well, at least those not so fucked in the head that they align themselves with the Republican party – not that I mean to demean those who like getting fucked in the head: for maximum pleasure use plenty of lube). Like Mary Tyler Moore before you – you’re gonna make it after all!
I am not holding my breath waiting for a response. I have written Mr. Savage a number of times over the years, about all sorts of things. Sometimes I compliment him or congratulate him. Sometimes I am critical of something he has stated, done, or is related to his ‘Savage Love’ column (the illustrations he used to use were sometimes not very PC). I have always been surprised (and pleased) when he had the time to respond. I know he’s super busy now, as his career is on a whole ‘nother level (hate that phrase). What I have learned from those emails is that he does not take criticism well (who does?). Still, I remain a big fan and continue to read his column faithfully. Would he agree that my stance on the word ‘faggot’ is legitimate? I doubt it. Because those who don’t get it only see their side of the issue, and, hey – free speech is free speech, right?
Back to the question at hand – can you rehabilitate a word?
I know that the African-American community, or at least those involved in the parts of the music industry (rap/hip-hop), have made it their mission to reclaim what those of us not allowed to use it refer to as ‘the N-Word’. Personally, I’m glad ‘we’re’ not allowed to use it, because I despise it. It conjures up one of the very worst parts of American history. The people that uttered it then were ugly, repugnant souls – whom one could argue (if you dared – but don’t, please) were simply ignorant and born into a culture of hate. But hate is hate, and America has had a hell of a lot to answer for before and after the antebellum days of yore. The fact that the KKK and other such groups exist in this day and age at all is a testament to the power of hate and the inexplicable need for one person to declare themselves superior to another. That a good number of Caucasians don’t understand why they can’t use the ‘N-Word’ also demonstrates a sort of willful ignorance on their part.
David Bowie wrote: “Blacks got respect, and whites got his soul train”. For the sake of this argument I would say that blacks got the N-Word and the gays got the F-Bomb.
And based on their former uses and users – I think it is an apt comparison.
That said – I don’t think the F-Bomb is a word anybody should be using either, unless they are referring to a bundle of sticks.
I very much doubt if there is a gay guy out there who did not, at some point in their life, have this word either hurled at them in a hateful manner, or uttered in a negative manner in their presence. In most of those cases I just bet that we – to reference Mr. Savage’s tweet – grabbed our ankles and took it without protesting at all. Why – because it was meant to scare us. It was uttered in hate, and hate, by its very nature, is frightening. It is meant to silence us. It is uttered so that we will disappear. So why would anyone think this is a word that we can now throw about as if it is cuddly as a Care Bear?
Have I ever used this word? Yes. For a time period, when it was first deemed acceptable use by the gay community, I would refer to a gay guy who had earned an eye roll from me for something that they had done as ‘oh, that faggot, blah blah’. But I stopped rather quickly. It just never felt right coming out of my mouth. It felt like overkill. After a point, I just couldn’t come up with an instance where it was appropriate – what would someone have to do where I could justify calling them that? So I stopped using it. And now, I really advocate that others stop using it as well. It’s juvenile. It’s beneath us. We don’t need it.
And at the heart of this reasoning is the fact that the word never belonged to us. It belonged to them. They (those that hate gay people) shouldn’t use it anymore and we have no reason to use it either.
The same could be said of the ‘N-Word’, but that’s not mine to argue. The ‘N-Word’ has gone under a kind of cultural metamorphosis. The ‘N-Word’ when uttered by an African-American incites, in Caucasians with a conscious, a kind of sick fear – white-guilt, if you will. And, as I understand it, the ‘N-Word’ is now used by members of the black community as a common identifier (inclusive), much in the way ‘homey’ is used. I very much doubt that the F-Bomb will ever gain that kind of rebranding. For when gay guys use the term faggot, we are not being inclusive in our use, we are hurling it as a negative – which is exactly what the word was originally intended to do – to be hurtful to a gay person.
We all know that language is a powerful tool. That is why people like Dan Savage, who write for a living and serve as role models– self-appointed or not – for a given community need to choose their tools wisely. To do otherwise muddies the water and dilutes whatever impact their voice may have in the world. Dan Savage has a rare opportunity to create social change, and yes, social change has never been pretty – it has always been accompanied by ugly words being hurled back and forth. I just think it would be prudent for those on the frontlines to make sure that the ugly words that must be said are not only the right words, but also aimed at the correct targets.