Yesterday I unfriended someone. This isn’t something I do a lot. I don’t require all my friends (real or virtual) to believe or think exactly like me. If I did I’d be a little lonely and a lot bored. But my tolerance ends when the name calling begins.
Here’s what happened…Scrolling through Instagram I came upon a picture posted by a distant relative of a group of teenagers with the caption “hanging out with these fags”. I tried to convince myself that these were kids and that’s just how they talk, certainly they didn’t mean anything by it, but the more I thought about it the more it disturbed me.
Words are powerful things. They carry the weight of history and heritage. They express who we are and what we hold precious. They have the power to hurt or to heal. In some religious traditions it is believed that the world was brought into being through words. Words are sacred and the most sacred of words are names. The ones we are given at birth, the ones we chose to call ourselves, and the ones we call those we love. Of all words these must be chosen with the greatest care.
I do not believe in the idea of “reclaiming” words, that taking a word that has traditionally been used slur and using it to address your peers somehow liberates it from its history. To call your friends fags, bitches, sluts, whores or anything else in that vein doesn’t strike a blow for change, all it does it blur the lines between what is acceptable and what is not. It gives those who would use these words in their most brutal and pejorative sense an out to throw up their hands and say “just kidding”.
Every day women and men are bullied with these terms. The shame, humiliation and fear they feel will stay with them all their lives. They will never be able to hear these words as lighthearted banter. As long as these words are used to abuse a single soul anywhere they should be considered anything but amusing, and cannot be, will never be, reclaimed.