A few weeks ago someone came into my workplace and called me a fag. Now, I’ve been called a fag (or the longer, more sophisticated variation: faggot) on a number of occasions. I’ve usually been able to laugh it off or just walk away. This time was different. I was tired. I was stressed. I hadn’t had my caffeine-saturated Mountain Dew yet.
I could feel my face getting red, and those veins in my forehead sticking out. I yelled back. He yelled louder. So, I yelled louder. It turned into a pointless shouting match. No one really won. He left when I called the cops, and I couldn’t help but think he got the best of me—with a word. A single word. Fag. Three letters. One syllable. It means cigarette in England.
Dan Savage once had his readers address him as “Dear Faggot” in his advice column. The idea is that the word gets its power not from the speaker, but from the receiver. Reclaim the hate speech! I agree. But easier said than done. Try turning the other cheek when you are in a bad mood, or before your daily caffeine fix. And try telling that to the kid who’s called fag or faggot everyday at school. He can’t just call the cops. We should banish the word, like we did that other notorious f-word: French! (Remember Freedom Fries?)
But censorship solves nothing. It’s just shouting at hate speech with silence. That night, after I downed a few Mountain Dews, I reflected on how I use f-words (fag, faggot, and fuck) extensively throughout my novel. There is such a thing as being too PC, after all. There is also such a thing as overreacting to haters, homophobes, or to people who write letters to Dan Savage. Fag is like any other word—in that it is nuanced depending on intent and context. Consider that the next time you hear the word fag—or any hate speech. More importantly, before you react, ask yourself if you’ve had your caffeine yet.