I can say from personal experience that we casually throw around insults in the same way that we don’t filter our tweets on Twitter. People using potentially harmful words without understanding or caring about the consequences is a concerning trend I have become aware of since I came out as a queer woman in 2012. I consider myself very active in the social justice community, so I commit to educating people when they use derogatory terms out of context. I have found that many people are also unaware of where these words come from, or why they are so offensive.
To start, “faggot” today is used by many to describe someone who is lesser than you, or who is stupid or dumb. But the term originates from many different sources and has most commonly been used as a British synonym for cigarettes. “Faggot” has also been used throughout history as a word for a bundle of sticks; specifically, a bundle of sticks used to fuel a fire. Tracing it further, one finds that it has a more gruesome meaning: it was the term for the bundle of sticks used for the fires that burned alive witches, gypsies, criminals, slaves, homosexuals, and people of the queer community.
“Gay” is a term with the original meaning of “happy” or “joyful”. During the mid-20th century, the word had a huge shift into describing hedonistic and uninhibited lifestyles. Currently, what can make the word “gay” offensive is not just the context it’s used in, but the word for which it’s being used as a synonym. I have been told way too many times, “I didn’t mean it as gay, I just meant it as stupid.” Why does that make it any better? I believe that using someone’s sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, appearance, religion or beliefs as a synonym for a demeaning or offensive terms, is an act of violence.
To get a peer’s perspective, I talked to Ruby MacLeod, a grade 11 student here at Barrie Central Collegiate on her view of queerphobia.
“It happens every day, all around us, and even I can say I’ve turned a blind eye to it. It seems people don’t care what comes out of their mouths and how it can affect all different kinds of people. When they say, ‘That’s so gay’ to someone, that person could actually be gay and they would never know how they are affecting them. We need to re-think these words we’ve become so used to,” said MacLeod.
Becoming aware and respectful of the queer community is key to stopping the verbal violence we face every day. We need to acknowledge that the queer community is a huge spectrum, and that anyone could be part of it. No matter a person’s identity, using derogatory terms demeans someone and his or her right to exist. No one should feel less of who they are, or feel less worthy of proper respect from those around them.
I believe that we need to be more aware of others, we need to educate people who continue to show ignorance and hate, and we need to make an effort to be kinder. We are all humans, different and yet similar in so many ways; no one should be made to suffer or hurt. Let’s make this world a little more bearable and easier to live in, for everyone.