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July 29, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Bent – The Reclamation

Civil-rights movements, such as black civil rights, feminism, and queer rights, have a strong history of reclaiming words. The word ‘queer’ used to be a hurtful slur, but is now largely used as an umbrella term for non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities. Younger people who are described by this term are usually comfortable with it, having not had it used against them in a negative way, but with some older people its use can still evoke the hurt of the insult it used to be.

Reclaiming words isn’t easy, and starts with the group being oppressed by a word taking on its usage themselves, until it becomes so mainstream that people forget it ever was a slur. It’s the in-between space that’s the weird bit: after a community has started using the word, but before it’s in the mainstream and no longer hurtful. This is tricky ground, and it’s important to be mindful of people’s experiences.

Communities also have to decide for themselves whether they even want to reclaim a word. ‘Faggot’ is a contentious one, and some members of the queer community are working hard at reclaiming it, which is, in a way, an admirable thing. But this is a recent effort, and while people (in Wellington at least) don’t shout “fucking queer” at you when you’re holding your partner’s hand, they do still shout “fucking faggot”, and it cuts me every time.

‘Faggot’ is a word that for a lot of people is tied closely to their own experiences. I myself find it almost triggering, and I have no doubt that some people find it much worse than I do. It’s a word that is so rarely said without venom and hate that I find it hard to imagine a world in which I would feel comfortable being called ‘faggot’, even when it was meant well, and by a friend.

We, as a collective, need to look very carefully at a word before deciding to reclaim it. Perhaps it’s inevitable, but I don’t think that all words need to be reclaimed, and right now I’m not sure I want to be part of the process of reclaiming this one.

It’s important to be aware that not all words are yours to reclaim. Just because a person of colour calls their friend the infamous ‘N-word’, doesn’t mean a white person can use it too, in any way. If you’re a man, think carefully before you use the word ‘cunt’, even if you’re trying to be sex-positive; you are treading on dangerous ground. If you’re not queer, please, just don’t use the word ‘faggot’, whether you mean it positively or not. We’re not ready yet, or at least, I’m not.

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