My last name is Hunt. When I was in third grade, the other boys at school found another word that rhymed with Hunt, and that was what they called me. Back then, I was a sissy boy who got beat up, a lot. And by the end of third grade, that four-letter word that rhymed with Hunt, was what all my classmates called me. It became my name.
I was a strange boy. My greatest childhood memory was finding a pair of emerald-green satin pumps in the back of my mom's closet. The closest I came to personal power as a kid was when I stole those shoes, put them on and tip tip tipped down the sidewalk of my suburban neighborhood. Which of course didn't help with the beatings up and my new four-letter name.
So, I grew up with a name that held a great level of shame for me. Eventually I went to New York and left my entire name behind to go in search of a new one.
Everything changed when I came to New York. And one night in particular enlightened me. It was a Tuesday night in 1994, where I was up-in-pumps (drag), feeling wild and reckless. I ended up stranded in the Meatpacking District wearing only a bra, red-hot-red panties, a blonde wig, black fishnet stockings, a sparkly, violet sequined hat that once belonged to Marsha P. Johnson, and a stolen pair of Vivienne Westwood high heels.
I was stranded and half-naked. But then I found a leopard-spotted fur coat in the garbage. I put it on and tip tip tipped through the cobblestone streets, where I stumbled upon a door with a long line of beautiful people that wrapped around the corner, a little red velvet rope, and a Catwoman-like door girl named Kitty Boots who let me inside the nightclub Jackie 6O. Hello.
Inside that nightclub were drag superstars, downtown artists, and sexy go-go boys proudly wearing t-shirts that read, I (Heart) Trannys. Then a tall Queen with jet-black hair, dressed head to toe in black leather and gun-metal-lipstick-painted lips, spotted me from across the room. She walked over, eyed me up and down, and called me that name -- the word that brought back all my childhood shame. I got heat in my nerves, and up the back of my neck, and along the hairline of my platinum blonde wig.
But then she explained something to me.
That Queen was the Misstress Formika. And that night, she explained to me how, amongst the sisterhood, that word was the highest compliment a Queen could pay another Queen. She was giving me approval. This information transformed me. I had walked into that club wearing garbage and internal baggage, and I left proudly embracing it all.
I know that owning a word and stripping it of its negative effect is not a new idea, but that moment changed the way I heard and used language. Now I could own this word -- amongst other past slurs against my sexuality -- with pride and power.
But not everyone applauded my flamboyant vocabulary.
I had then, and still have, many close female friends who took offense to me using the word that rhymed with my name. For them, it represented specific slander toward their gender; a group I didn't belong to. I understood their feelings and wanted to apologize and not use it anymore, but for me there was significance to its power.
I decided to explain to my friends about the way I was when I was young and beaten up, and how I came to New York, and how the Queers of my generation, took the words that oppressed us and owned them; took away their sting and claimed their power.
And there was something else I had discovered. Something that many of my women friends didn't even know: the word's origin. Its root meaning corresponds to myriad goddesses and female figures in African, Egyptian, Hindu, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese culture and mythology. It is a word that means power; more specifically, feminine power, something that I regard with great value.
So, together, my friends and I learned that it wasn't the actual word that was derogatory; it was the way people had twisted it to mean something opposite. We were simply twisting it back proper.
This story is not meant to be a tardy two-cents to the somewhat recent controversy over language on one of my favorite TV shows ever, RuPaul's Drag Race. It's a concern I have for what I've seen in the aftermath: online comments arguing language and phobia, throwing more slander, and weilding the word "hate". My fear is the splintering of the LGBT community and the fragmentation of a united team.
I'm aware that I come from a specific generation of Queers. I have a different relationship with some of the words being argued over; we used them to express power reverence and value, we owned them as a way of celebrating ourselves. The meaning of those words -- similar to the story of my four-letter name -- was in the intention. If we are being asked not to use them anymore, we are being asked to disconnect from that power and that history.
Debate is a wonderful and creative tool if it leads us into conversation. Censorship is dangerous because it is divisive, and it does not always solve the issue; we must be careful when inviting it to the party. We've seen the fragmentation of political parties and how it weakened them. Let's not make this same mistake. We are stronger together.
The issue of how we choose to express ourselves is an opportunity for us to share our stories. By sharing and listening, we can understand how our life challenges have been different and how they are the same. LGBT is a vast umbrella with a colorful and beautiful spectrum underneath. I love you, my brothers and sisters.
Let there be Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.