The Double Edged Word

On Larry King Live, Isaiah Washington, a former star of Grey’s Anatomy, discussed his use of the word ‘faggot’, which he reportedly used against former cast member T.R. Knight.

Likewise, Elizabeth Edwards (via phone call) confronted the conservative cheerleader Ann Coulter about her use of the word “fag” in reference to presidential candidate and Edwards’ husband, John.

Language is a powerful tool. What once meant “happy” and “giddy” now can be used as a homophobic slur, giving “gay” a whole new meaning.

As far as offensive language, there a few common threads, as Jessica Valenti noted in Full Frontal Feminism. As she notes, a few of the worst things you can call a woman include slut, whore, bitch and skank. As far as worst things for men, a few examples are fag, girl, bitch and pussy.

What’s the thread?

“The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult.”

Mainstream rap makes excessive use of words like “bitches” and “hoes” among many others.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech. Yet, sometimes this freedom is abused, as shown with the Don Imus debacle.

In his interview with Larry King, Isaiah Washington took full responsibility for having used the term ‘faggot’, but denied that it had been used against TR Knight. From what I could tell, he does regret using the word and knows why it caused the outrage it did, but I think he doesn’t quite get why using the word should be taken so seriously.

a conflicted man…

King asked Washington if he at all felt bad for Don Imus, who had gotten fired because of his inflammatory statement. Washington didn’t say much about the Imus affair, but did wonder about the state of our society that is becoming “less tolerant.” What isn’t being tolerated now, he noted, would’ve been tolerated a few years ago. Could it be because of the government policies, which are increasing tensions?

My answer to him, absolutely not.

I hate to break it to you, but we don’t live in a free and equal world. We live in a patriarchal society, one where women are still expected to be moms instead of successful career women, one where black men can still be overlooked in favor of a white men and one where black women are still hypersexualized.

The words that Imus used against women of the Rutgers University basketball team aren’t just words, they are reinforcing the ideas that young black women can’t be accomplished athletes and must in fact be relegated to the category of “nappy headed hoes.”

The words “fag” and “faggot” in reference to sexuality encourage the belief that homosexuality is something to be looked down upon. It’s not only a difference, it’s one that can be used as an insult.

Washington said that when he used the word faggot, he didn’t mean it as a reference to sexual orientation, he meant it as an implication of weakness, as someone not deserving of respect.

Quite frankly, that admission doesn’t help his choice of language because that is so often how people of the GLBTQ community are seen. Case in point: there are laws against discrimination based on sex and color, but try to promote legal protections of the GLBTQ community and you will find nothing but opposition.

A young boy to get fatally beaten up is tragic, yes, but there are little to no legal protections for him—so that beating is essentially O.K.

So Mr. Washington, I would like to say that No, opposition of language such as faggot isn’t because of a decreased tolerance. It’s because we want respect, whoever we are. We want to be seen as human and not have a label thrown not only at us, but thrown out as an insult.

Change is necessary, and the only way to enact change is by speaking out and making sure that change happens.

So to the people that are that change: keep it up—speak out against inappropriate language! And be conscious of the words and language you and the people around you use. If someone says “that’s so gay”, make an effort to educate that person on why that language is inappropriate.


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