THE BLOG
09/04/2013 02:43 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

A Critical Response to 'Faggot'-Calling Culture

My younger cousin recently tweeted, "I support gay marriage but I am never going to stop calling my friends faggots." Aside from the ignorant nature of the comment -- "It's OK for gay people to get married as long as I can use their community as the punch line of my derogatory jokes" -- the tweet highlights a concerning trend in both the visibility of the LGBTQ community and the attitudes of college-aged men.

I am called a "faggot" relatively often. Sometimes the insult comes from anonymous Internet users responding to blog posts I write, like this one, and other times it is hurled at me by drunken guys at bars. One night I was walking with my girlfriend through my neighborhood in San Francisco when a couple of men in a truck slowed down next to us, threw a beer bottle at my head, called me a "faggot," and shouted at my girlfriend to "get a real man." So I have a pretty intimate relationship with the word "faggot." When I hear the word, I tense up, my body instinctively preparing to defend itself, and my heart rate quickens.

When I see my cousin asserting his comfort with calling his (presumably straight male) friends "faggots," I do not feel directly afraid of my cousin, but I feel afraid of the culture that both he and I are surrounded by and respond so differently to. The complicated side of this kind of commentary is that it embodies an attitude of tolerance surrounding the ability of gay people to get married while also furthering the "faggot"-calling culture that creates the violence that our LGBTQ community is surrounded by. The biggest issues facing LGBTQ youth -- homelessness, hate crimes and emotional and psychological violence -- stem from the most privileged people in our society, largely straight white men, believing that they are inherently better than people who do not share their unique, non-marginalized life experience. Words like "faggot" are used to demean people who do not fit into the hypermasculine framework of our culture's power structure. The college-aged men who casually incorporate "faggot" into their vocabulary have never experienced the violence that their words create and therefore find it acceptable to call each other "faggot" and still claim to not be inherently homophobic.

Well, homophobia doesn't disappear just because you're OK with gay people getting married. Homophobia disappears when people with privilege recognize their privilege and actively choose not to use degrading language and to empower others rather than demean them.

I believe that the strategy of the LGBTQ political movement, in some respect, is responsible for the growing population of young people who tolerate marriage equality without being allies or advocates for the cultural reform needed to ensure real LGBTQ equality. I believe that the marriage equality campaign sells the idea that gay people are "just like you" in order to make queer relationships less threatening to the status quo, without acknowledging that, in reality, LGBTQ people are probably not "just like you" at all. They have largely experienced serious marginalization, feared for their safety, and taken precautions to avoid the violence that "faggot"-calling culture creates in a way that the beneficiaries of hypermasculine culture do not experience. For this discrepancy, I think the LGBTQ community has fallen short.

There is an imperative need in young male culture to assert masculinity. Young men call each other "girls" as frequently as they call each other "faggots" in an effort to police percieved weakness. Somehow, young women tend to turn the other cheek and accept that their biological sex can be used as a demeaning slur. Viewing femininity as weakness is the exact attitude that creates an expectation that women "owe" men something and leads to the alarming reality that one in four college-aged women is a survivor of sexual assault.

Our society is at a crossroads. There are growing numbers of people -- men and women, straight and queer -- who are rejecting the hypermasculine culture that deems so many people "lesser." People are starting to understand the root causes of violence, and not just violence against the LGBTQ community but violence against women, racial and religious minorities, and the general population of "others." It's 2013. When college-aged men hear their friends calling each other "faggot," they should be able to stand up and tell their friends to knock it off, get off their homophobic high horse, and become an empowering member of society.

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