Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reclaiming a Word

I’ve had a lot of conversations about language recently, and how important it is to use language that accurately reflects what you are trying to say.  Using certain language can contribute to a very harmful form of micro-aggression.  Thus, I feel the need to explain why I don’t like the word “Faggot” 

“Faggot” is a pejorative word to refer to gay people, usually gay men.  It is derogatory, and is meant to imply negative stereotypes about gay men.  Homophobic people often use that word as the worst possible insult against gay men (I'm thinking of Westboro Baptist Church's "God hates Fags" signs.)  When a heterosexual man is called “faggot” it is explicitly an insult, meant to emasculate him and make him less of a man, implying that he is secretly gay and that that is the very worst thing he could possibly be.  Obviously, that’s homophobic.  If being gay isn't bad, it shouldn't be an insult to call a non-gay person a word that just means "gay."  

But I think that word can be just as harmful even when it is not intended as an insult.  The other day, a (straight male) acquaintance of mine called another (gay male) mutual acquaintance a “fucking faggot” behind his back.  I spoke up, of course.  But his immediate response was “well, it’s not an insult if it’s true!”  This is a common sentiment among people who don’t think of themselves as homophobic, but there is so much wrong with that statement.  “Gay” is not a synonym with “Fucking Faggot”.  Most importantly, he’s implying that it would still be an insult if it were used to refer to a straight man.  That word is still derogatory in nature and it’s still insulting when used in that context.

So what about when gay men use the word faggot to refer to themselves or to each other?  That’s a little bit more of a gray area for me.  Words can be reclaimed.  My own chosen label “Queer/genderqueer” is a reclaimed word.  (My friend Ryan wrote a great blog entry on that word yesterday, so I’ll just refer you there for further reading on the word queer: )  Has word Faggot be reclaimed?  I think, in order for a word to be reclaimed, we have to assimilate the negative connotations of the word and make the word so much our own that it is no longer potent as an insult.  If “fucking queer” were ever used against me as an insult, it would be meant as “you are not normal, you break social boundaries, you are odd, strange, queer, you exist outside of a narrow and traditional conception of the way gender and sexuality are supposed to work.”  And I could look them in the eye and say “Yes, I am a fucking queer,” and I would mean it in exactly the same way they do.  That word is mine, it has been reclaimed.    

Can the word “faggot” been reclaimed?  I don’t know.  Reclaiming a word has to be a conscious choice, and either an intentional assimilation of negative connotations or at least an explicit defiance against those undertones.  Maybe some people have reclaimed the word faggot.  Maybe some gay men have taken that word and made it a part of their identity.  But I know that when I hear a straight person use that word, whether it is intended as an insult or not, I still flinch.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Freedom of Choice

There's a rally today in DC to protest limitations of abortion rights, and I really wish I could be there.  The current political climate towards abortion is scary, not just because of the vehemence of our opposition but because of the complacency of our allies.

Last year, when I was canvassing on behalf of Planned Parenthood, some of the things people said to me were really disturbing.  I don't mean the people who called me a baby-killer.  They were jerks, but I was prepared for that.  Hearing that was part of the job, and I let it roll off.  What bothered me were the people who said "Oh, you're worried over nothing, they'll never take away the right to choice."  or "We have Roe v. Wade, what are you worried about?"  What scarred me was the (supposedly) educated people who supported abortion rights, but who had no idea what is really going on politically or how much danger we are in.

So to clue you in, things are pretty bad.  We have Roe v. Wade, yes.  But Roe v. Wade is not a universal unilateral legalization of abortion.  It is vague, and has many caveats.  Many smaller cases since have been chipping away at the constitutional protection, and our opponents are going to continue to do so.  We can't count on the current Supreme Court to protect us as new cases come up.  Which means we have to defend our rights in the legislature.

So let me focus in on just one current legislative debate and why it is such a big deal: the de-funding of family planing clinics (including Planned Parenthood).  Planned Parenthood (PPFA) gets about 1/3 of it's total budget from the federal government.  That money does not and has never gone directly to fund abortions.  The Hyde amendment has forbidden government money from paying for abortions since the 70's.  All abortions at these clinics are privately funded. (To be clear, I don't think there would be anything wrong with the government funding abortions, but that's not at issue here.  It is irrelevant.)

What that money does is provide basic reproductive health care to men, women, children and teens all over the country.  This includes annual gynecological visits, mammograms, prostrate cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, affordable birth control, and countless other services.  Without that money, dozens of clinics (both PPFA and non-affiliated clinics) all over the country will be forced to close.  There is no moral justification for wanting these services to be discontinued; they are basic health care, pure and simple.

The most common argument I hear is "Well, it's just about money.  Lots of great services are getting cut, because we just can't afford it anymore."  Sorry guys, that's just not how economics work.  By providing people with affordable and convenient preventative health care we save billions later on.  (This is the same economic principal behind government funded universal health care-but that debate is for another day).  To put it as simply and crudely as I can:  If we give all of our citizens access to affordable birth control, there will be fewer unplanned pregnancies, and thus fewer unplanned babies.  Babies are expensive, and the taxpayers end up supporting many of them.  That's not to mention all of the long term economic benefits to providing cheap preventative medical care and early cancer detection.  Quite simply, the government doesn't fund Family Planning just because it's the right thing to do (I wish).  The government has funded Family Planning through Title X for decades because it is economically sound to do so.

Now I don't believe for a minute that most of our lawmakers don't know all of this.  The economy is a justification, but not the real reason for the movement to de-fund family planning.  They have an agenda, and that agenda is to stop abortions.  If clinics close, millions of women all over the country-especially in rural areas- will lose all access to any doctor willing to perform a legal abortion.  The legislation doesn't (yet) have the power to make abortion totally illegal, so they are focusing instead on cutting away women's access.  With no access, there is no choice.

This is happening guys.  I know we've come a long way since the 70's but we haven't won yet.  Our opponents are loud, so cut the complacency and get your voice heard.