Q: My gay friends use a lot of slang, like "faggot" and "dyke" to refer to each other. In a friendly way, of course, and I guess it's meant to be kind of ironic -- or an inside joke. I spend a lot of time with these friends and have come close to using those words, too, because it seems so natural. So far I've always stopped myself. But I'm wondering if things have changed enough in the world that straight people like me can use language like that, too. Of course, I mean in a playful way -- not a hateful one.
A: No, no matter how LGBT-friendly you are -- or how many of your best friends are gay -- you're better off avoiding those terms. "Dyke" and "fag" are on the short list of words that many gay men and lesbians are reclaiming -- hateful vocabulary that we're making our own. You'll also hear "queer" used by some LGBT people in the same vein, while other gay people abhor its use.
Because these words are still extremely offensive when used as epithets, however, they just don't work out of a straight person's mouth. The line is simply too fine between using that kind of language in jest and advocating hatred against your LGBT friends. You may or may not be away of this, but much of the violence against lesbians and gays starts with homophobic words and taunts.
If you do decide to try out LGBT slang yourself, the truth is that you'll likely end up offending even friends who use it themselves. Either way, though, if you continue to grapple with this issue, I suggest raising it with some of your LGBT friends. Ask something like, "Do you think it's okay for me to use words like that?" Who better to tell you the truth than people you trust?
If you have a gay manners question of your own, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Steven Petrow, visit his site at www.gayandlesbianmanners.com