While the F-slur is one of the most hateful and bigoted words in the English language, it can be an empowering one for those who have outwardly accepted their queerness. In this article, Ryan Gee discusses the nuances of navigating the F-slur as a queer man in college.
I was genuinely excited the first time I got called a faggot. Which sounds strange, because it’s a hateful slur that means terrible things to many people. But to me, it meant visibility.
There I was, walking down the street with my mom’s film camera and a tripod, going to take pictures of my favorite concrete overpass, when a woman rolled down her car window and yelled, “FAGGOT!” as she passed me.
It was shocking; it literally forced me to stop. Yet my first reaction was a smile. That sort of confused smile you give when you aren’t sure what someone just said to you, so you nod and hope they’ll stop talking to you. But I had heard what was said, loud and clear. Only I couldn’t imagine it being directed at me. I scanned the street around me, looking for any other possible faggots in the area. There was an old Asian couple and a man in a well-fitted suit, certainly not candidates for the slur. It had to have been meant for me. I’d gone twenty years without once being clocked as a queer, so how had she known?
Was it the short jean shorts? Those were probably what gave me away, no straight person would wear those. Or maybe it was the dyed turquoise hair that matched my turquoise converse. Only a homosexual could exist on such a powerful level of outfit coordination. Clearly her derogatory remark stemmed from her intense jealousy.
Whatever the reason for the slur, my confused smile gave way to one of real joy. “Finally!” I thought, “people can tell!”
Because that’s always been the battle - choosing how people see me. For a long time I didn’t want anyone to know I was gay from the way I looked. I thought anything could give me away. Shorts too short? Gay. Shirt very colorful? Homo. Ears pierced? Fag. I once bought an extremely skinny pair of jeans, and the first day I wore them to my high school, one of my friends commented, “Wow those are really skinny pants.” As soon as I got home I threw them away. I was terrified to wear anything that would make me stand out.
Then something changed, and I started putting myself out there a little more. My general aesthetic grew to include several women's shirts and jackets, two ears full of earrings, and any clothes that made me feel happy, regardless of whether or not they made me look queer. Now here were the results. The magnificent results. I went back to my dorm and told everyone, “The best thing happened to me today: I got called a faggot on the street!”
I had assumed the experience would be a singularity. Boston, where I go to college, is a liberal city, and it was 2018. Way past the time for homophobia. But to my surprise, I kept hearing that word. It seemed as though all I had to do was step outside of my building, and there would be a line of people just waiting to call me a faggot. At first, I was incredulous, but then I realized that this must be common. This must be what some people have to deal with their entire lives. Slowly that smile wore down, and though I tried to wear the word as a badge, it grew heavy. I was still happy to be seen, but not in this context.
The most recent incident happened only a few weeks ago, again as I was walking the streets of Boston, taking photos. A man, unkempt, with an unnerving look in his eye, pointed at me and shouted “You there!”
I replied quickly with my usual, “Sorry man, I don’t have any cash” and kept on walking. Which was true, even if I had my wallet on me, I wouldn’t have cash. What do I look like, a millionaire?
As if he was answering that very question, he yelled after me, “Fuck you then, you look like a fucking faggot!”
“Yeah, well you look like a hobo, so who’s worse off?” I thought about saying. But that wouldn’t have solved anything. Also, by the time I had thought of that response, had decided the best way to say it, and had worked up the courage to say it, I was about six blocks away. I was utterly consumed with what had just happened.
There was no smile with the slur this time. The whole experience was rather shitty. There wasn’t much about it that made it worse than any of the other times, other than the newness of being recognized as queer having long worn off. I can’t hide from the hate behind the word anymore. I hear it now and can only get angry; it makes me want to scream. Maybe next time I’ll shout back, “What makes you think you can call someone that? What’s wrong with being gay? Why should I have to hide my queerness?”
Honestly though, I know I won’t say any of that. If I said anything at all, it would probably be, “What gave me away?”