Friday, June 19, 2009

"There's a big difference between being gay and being a fag"

With roughly a week remaining before a 40th anniversary I didn't know too much about until a few weeks ago, I thought it fitting to write on something that I've been mulling over. This post was first conceived on 29 May, 2009 after an acquaintance posted a status update that was 'a last straw' of sorts....

I've never really felt truly exposed to rampant homophobia before. You know the kind that might make the news because a violent assault and/or a gang rape left the victim, at the very least, severely traumatised but often comatose or dead. I've heard of these things but tend; shall we say; to 'shelve' them with all the other bad stuff that goes on around us.

I live in a country ridden by some extremely violent and senseless crimes and so, for me, acts of pure hatred tend to get lumped together. Make no mistake though, gay bashing, when it is reported results in the same gut wrenching reaction as when I hear about babies being raped and murdered. To date though, they remain in some sort of disconnected otherworld - because I have never been directly affected by such violence.

There are many levels of homophobia, in the same way there are many levels of sexism, racism and other forms of bigoted thinking.

I've recently been becoming more aware of my gay self within a 'straight' society. And whilst I do prefer to think of myself first as human rather than gay, I am never the less in a state of heightened awareness of my differentness within it. Which gets me to the kernel incident that got me into this post:

When Manchester United recently lost the UEFA Champions League. The aforementioned acquaintance posted a Facebook status update: "...Barcelona is a bunch of fags and we probably lost because of the distraction of them touching our boys' ........"

I saw this and was compelled to comment: "hmmm.... I prefer to call 'em Dirty Spaniards?"

Her reply was a quick apology including: "there's a big difference between being gay and being a fag", which has now become the title of this post.

I don't mean to pick on her directly. This is not the first time I've heard this kind of argument.

I was recently floored when straight counterpart used the word faggot to describe a florist we know.

As with this or many other offensive words for all manner of people, most would just apologise and retract the statement - knowing they've crossed that line of political correctness. Fortunately, I was able to gain some insight because of our relationship and that I was able to turn my battle brain off. I had to question his thinking.

His response was astounding: "I've got no problem with you and gays like you, but I've got a problem with faggots!"

"WTF!!", I thought - not quite aloud. I was angered by what he said. But reining in my emotions, I retorted, "But I am a 'faggot'. I may not be the most effeminate gay guys around, but - I'm still very much a gay man." My emotions now momentarily shelved, I requested more insight.

He responded along the lines: "You're still like, a man. Fags are those queeny limp wristed types... It's like they're putting on a show or something. They weren't all faggoty before they came out - but now they running around like men who wanna be women?" His logic was there is a difference between being gay and being a faggot!

Even though I was still offended, I had to stand down as I contemplated his response.
We call carry prejudices. I know I do - even though I fight them. Just how pervasive is this type of thinking? In this scenario, is what was said 'homophobia' at all? Is it bare faced bigotry? Or is it an essentially 'harmless' expression about a stereotype.
For those who have met me, I think you'll know that I generally did not relate well to particularly effeminate men. That's changed somewhat since I've met some truly fabulous but genuine individuals. I won't lie though, in my core I just can't reconcile extreme femininity and transgerderism within myself.

I discussed this with CV the other day, because I didn't know how to express the multitude of emotions I was feeling about this. As the discussion evolved, it became clear to me. To be uncomfortable with people we don't fully understand is a totally human reaction and it should be embraced. It's how we respond to that discomfort and carry it into our words and actions that draws the fine lines between bigotry and tolerance.

My 'battle' as a gay men, is for people to relate to my humanity - and hopefully in some small change the way people see us. To see past the stereo types. I enjoy many human rights that people like me in more 'advanced' democracies do not enjoy. But although we're have many legal equalities does not mean we are accepted as equals.

My experiences and conversations clearly show me we have a long way to go to rid our world of homophobia and other forms of bigotry. Sadly, I think the gods honest truth is we'll never get rid of all of it. But each of us must own up to our prejudices. In some way we must stand up and account for them. I know I need work towards to a better understanding of everyone I feel different from, not through evasion or pretence, but through staring those differences in the face and making a conscious decision to break free of the misconceptions that feed our bigotry.

And so, as I celebrate and commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the birth of the modern PRIDE movement, I have found my rally cry:

"I am human. I am man. I am gay and I am proud of all of me. Know me as a person, before you put your labels on me! And I shall do the same for you."



  1. I think you are a good writer/blogger. However, i don't think that gay men should get so personal about words like fag. It is the same as young black people wanting to be compensated in some way for all that their people were put through in apartheid... when they were not even around.. it is ridiculous to say the least.. should every white person be sent to jail and blamed for murder because just one other white person commited murder? No! So why do all gay men feel so attatcked when a completely different person(and a stranger to you) is called a fag? People are not attcking you directly so don't take so personally..

  2. I believe gay people should reclaim the words that are used against us in a disparaging way: Queer, Fag, Moffie, Dyke etc etc.

    If we do that these words loose their power of hatred and contempt. So becoming personal about these words is an issue to me aswell, only once these "words" has been used against you as weapons of hate and homophobia do you understand the significance of reclaiming it and neutralizing it's negative meaning.

    I am both gay and a fag and proud to be!

  3. oh @#%^&^((^%!

    i just wrote a long and very intelligent comment, and it got lost in cyberspace...

    *jacki groans in frustration, and leaves to go and kick something*

    jacki janse van rensburg

  4. allie says:

    Now FJ, I'm going to throw a "straight" spanner in the works - hopefully, with what you know of me, you will understand the heart with which this is said.

    You say you want people to relate to your humanity - (and for me anyway, that is really easy. You are a very great person to know; interesting to talk to; insightful; funny and more besides)

    However, with respect, it is you who keep coming back to the sexual/gay issues.
    Don't you think that might be making it harder for 'straights' to relate more to your humanity?

    Just a thought - use it; don't use it

  5. Great post, likewise some insightful comments too...

    I am one of those people that rarely gets offended by a name or label... The word itself means less to me than the manner or tone in which it is delivered.

    As for bringing the sexual/gay issues to the forefront, I beleive it's part of my duty to help others understand that "we" are here, we contribute not only to the world, but to their community. Imagine if those differences (and samenesses) were not voiced by people like MLK, where would we be today?

    I will be back! Keep sharing your thoughts!


  6. Thanks, for the comments. As I started reading them, I thought I'd communicated this so badly that no one was getting what I was saying. I likely to to 're-mix' this altogether in an attempt to make it pop a bit more ;0)... Anyway, let's start with the easiest repsonses 1st - hehe.

    @Jacki - you're not alone in that frustration... I've had that happen too...

    @Tom - In just a few words, you seem to have read into the heart of it.

    At it's core, I'm trying to express something that goes beyond sexuality. But at the same time, my awareness and 'sensitivity' to lables is because of my sexuality.

    To the tougher ones..

    @ Anon - huh? like black people wanting to be compensated for the wrong's of apartheid??

    I'm not quite sure how you got to that conclusion from what I wrote - but based on at least two of the other comments so far, me thinks this post may not have been quite as clear as I thought it was...

    This is actually about bigotry. It's ultimately about how viewing those that are different from us can quickly become viewed as 'less than'. It can seep out of us without us even knowing it! I even admit that in the post.

    @Pierre: Let's take two very obvious examples on owning derogatory words - one rather local and one quite wider. Arthur Mofokate, a Kwaito artist released an album called "kaffir". It got him media attention and platinum status. In that same way as rappers called fellow african americans niggers is seemingly also ok. Both have 'reclaimed' the derogatory word. But should I as a white south african refer to a fellow black South African as a kafir, I would be charged with hate speech. Can you imagine the backlash if a white artist - say Miley Cyrus - sang about niggers?

    I've used the word fag to refer to myself and other gay people at times too - in a more benign context.

    But 're-claiming' the words, will never remove their hurtfulness, because there are many out there who use them in the context I've described, with nerry a thought to the possible hurt it may cause.

    I was not personally hurt by the two separate uses of the word fag in my story above. But I was struck by them. Becasue it's so easy to be insensitive and slip into a condition where we view others as not just differnet, but as 'less'. And that's where we begin to tread on a thin and slippery ice path.


    This becasue the post was how 've taken a personal experiencea personal
    this post was

  7. @Allie - sorry for not including you in my comment above, but I think I covered what I needed to say without referring to your comment directly.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I suspect my point is somewhwat clearer now.

    But I do believe the 'gay issues' need to be brought to the fore, time and again by someone like me. I have a far greater chance of being seen for my humanity at 1st glance becasue fo the way I carry myself. But many many more people around me do not. And I speak for them too.

    It's not to push it into anyones faces, but rather to gently nudge people into a place of awareness that as Tom put it: "we" are here and many of us contribute to everyones life in a meaningful and positive ways. At the very least, we deserve the 'equality'.



  8. allie says:
    Well ok then.

  9. I see what you meant, now, by needing time to digest this. I feel like I do, too, before I can make any kind of intelligent comment, other than to say it is SO very hard to determine the line between being overly-sensitive and being bigotted. Bottom line, I guess, is that nobody should ever be allowed to make anybody else feel excluded for something that is intrinsic to them...

    So lovely to see you on Saturday.

    So much love,

  10. Hiya Shiny

    Indeed - it was lovely to see you last Saturday. Looking forward to seing more of you.

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  13. In the military I was taught that you are gays and faggots and are a threat to nation security. My feelings have not changed.