Mehring: Stop the Slurs

by Adam Mehring | 11/17/11 11:00pm

The word "faggot" is unforgivably offensive. The same goes for "fag." You might think I'm stating the obvious here, but, much to my persistent dismay, not everyone including many on this campus seem able to grasp this concept.

Last week, someone within our community scrawled the word "fag" on a residence hall window. It was paired with additional hateful slurs that may have been targeting the adjacent gender-neutral program floor. No doubt the vandal was in some way out of sorts perhaps angry or drunk, or at least drunk on miscalculated arrogance.

The community response has predictably been one of regret. After an initial lag in administrative action and student notification, news of the vandalism inspired many to speak out against such behavior. Campus rhetoric has framed the incident as an isolated occurrence unrepresentative of general community sentiments. This sort of thing doesn't happen at Dartmouth, apparently. The real problem lies with our current communication channels, or administrative transparency or the transgressions of a single apostate.

The truth is that our problems are more fundamental. Most students would individually recognize that the word "fag" is hateful. But seldom do we function individually, separated from the influences and dynamics of our community and peers. And in certain spheres within our community, it is considered quite acceptable to use the word "fag" or "faggot."

The use of these slurs is not only acceptable it's prevalent. I stopped counting the number of times I've heard "faggot" bandied about casually like a comment on the weather. Unsurprisingly, the most frequent site of violation has been the fraternity basement that fabled locale where reckless indulgence pairs effortlessly with unbridled masculine rage.

Because despite what users of the word may claim, saying "faggot" always correlates with estimations of masculinity. An established mythos holds that "faggot" has taken on a new meaning that no longer invokes animosity toward gay men. Yet the slur is currently wielded as it has always been spoken by men to put down other men, while reinforcing the user's own sense of virility. Though it may not be directed explicitly toward gay men, and its casual use might aim instead to promote a misguided sense of masculine camaraderie, saying "faggot" inevitably draws upon social politics between gay and straight men and the different evaluations of masculinity between them.

"Faggot" in contemporary usage translates into everything a hateful society once considered gay men to be: pathetic, weak, cowardly lesser human beings. That same hateful society allowed the word's proliferation into increasingly acceptable use. Somewhere along the way, its syntactic applicability may have branched out to encompass broader circles of people, but its roots remain planted in exactly the same place one of intolerance, discrimination and pain.

When "fag" or "faggot" is brandished so informally and without consideration to consequence (and often with a sense of complacency or pride), it's only natural that the word should reflexively return to its original intent that invoking "faggot" should be the obvious response to any scenario that infringes upon our sacred masculine ideals. It's beyond troubling and frankly, it's disgusting when someone, typically fueled by inebriation and male pack mentality, hurls the word "faggot" toward an individual perceived to be less manly, or two males conveying affection for one another, or an openly gay male student. It happens I've seen it multiple times and it needs to stop.

It needs to stop because it alienates a significant swath of our campus. It needs to stop because it stymies social progress, allowing harmful modes of behavior to flourish. Intention of use is irrelevant there are complicated social and historical factors in play, and the impacts of use are the same. But it will not stop unless we hold one another accountable. Who has committed the greater offense, the haughty individual shouting homophobic slurs across a crowded fraternity basement, or the throngs of bystanders who say and do nothing in response? To those among us who use the word "fag" or "faggot," knock it off! To the rest of us, do not hesitate to knock some sense into someone you hear using these words. If we do not change our behavior now or hold one another accountable, it will only be a matter of time before hateful vandalism is discovered once again.