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‘Faggot’ is more than just a bundle of sticks

Eric Naing

While speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ann Coulter called John Edwards a “faggot.” In other news, humans breathe oxygen. I could not care less that Coulter again said something controversial, but what is troubling is that she tried to dismiss her remark by saying it was a harmless schoolyard taunt.

Coulter specifically said “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot.'” The rehab part refers to “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington’s stint in rehab after calling his co-star a “faggot.” I am not sure what is worse, that Coulter called Edwards a faggot or that she did it in the context of a “Grey’s Anatomy” joke. Even worse, this is not the first time Coulter has said something like this. Previously, she remarked on Bill Clinton’s “latent homosexuality” and called Al Gore a “total fag.”

On her recent “Hannity & Colmes” appearance, Coulter tried to dismiss the controversy of her remark saying “The word I used has nothing to do with sexual preference,” and adding that “It isn’t offensive to gays. It’s a schoolyard taunt meaning wuss.” I like to call this the “Eminem defense.”

You may recall a while back there was an uproar over Eminem’s use of similar homophobic language in his lyrics. In an interview, Eminem tried to justify his use of words such as “fag” or “faggot” and claimed he was not demeaning gay people. “I’m not gay bashing,” he said. “People just don’t understand where I come from. ‘Faggot’ to me doesn’t necessarily mean gay people. ‘Faggot’ to me just means … taking away your manhood. You’re a sissy. You’re a coward.”

So according to Coulter and Eminem’s specious logic, calling someone a faggot is perfectly fine as long as you mean to impugn their manhood and not their sexuality. Could you imagine the same logic being applied to other appalling slurs such “nigger” or “whore?” What Coulter and Eminem are doing is drawing a direct comparison between being gay and being a “wuss” and a “coward.” Coulter even acknowledged that the word “faggot” is offensive when she agreed with Alan Colmes that Isaiah Washington was wrong to call his co-star the slur.

The word faggot when used as a slur carries a lot of weight. Literally, a “faggot” is a bundle of sticks used for firewood. Some connect this with the alleged practice of burning homosexuals in medieval England. Others say it refers to the sixteenth century term “faggot-gatherer” which was an old woman who gathered wood. This is probably where the term was linked to being effeminate. Even among the gay community, the word is used by some to demean homosexuals who don’t conform to traditional male gender roles.

Coulter is right that kids across the country call each other “gay” and “faggot” but that does not make those words any less harmful. If anything, her use of that word in a speech to the conservative elite shows that her maturity level is on par with the average 12-year-old. Of course, I would not expect anything less from a 45-year-old woman with poorly bleached hair who still wears miniskirts on cable news. To their credit, some Republican presidential candidates, pundits and bloggers have condemned Coulter. Her words hurt conservative movement just as much as they hurt homosexuals.

With former NBA player John Amaechi and Sgt. Eric Alva, the first American wounded in Iraq show, gay people are hardly synonymous with being a “sissy.” The words of Coulter, Eminem and anyone else who uses “faggot,” “fag,” “dyke,” “homo” and any related word as a pejorative have no place in public dialogue. It does not matter what context you mean to imply when you call someone a “faggot.” Simply saying the word ensures that it continues to live on in our discourse.

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