‘Hate speech’ is tricky, so please note: *trigger warning*
The reclamation of hate speech is difficult to discuss without diving straight in to the obvious negatives. The only person you’d want calling you a “dirty little f*ggot” is whoever’s slamming you from behind (of course, only if you’re into it). I’ve heard “you like that c*nt?” during sex because he thought I’d find it sexy. Needless to say, that was the last time we saw each other.
Hearing words deemed as hate speech can bring discomfort and be jarring to hear. All queer men will have different associations with words like “f*ggot”, “homo”, and “queer”, but these words also connect us with a shared experience. These words are part of our individual journey to self-acceptance and self-confidence.
Why take it back?
Language evolves and flexes over time. For example, “faggot” is an archaic English term for ‘bundle’. “What a lovely faggot of linen” is just something you won’t hear today. New words are created, and others die out, both in and out of the queer community. This is why the belief that queer hate speech should always be weighted as a homophobic slur is both understandable and problematic. There is a dark history of certain queer slurs penetrating our community. If being called a ‘faggot’ is the worst thing you can say to a gay man, and the word isn’t taken up and re-molded by its intended target, then it will stay as the worst thing you can say to a gay man.
Sorry, I didn’t order this?
Reclaiming language is important because it focuses on stigma, negativity, ownership, and power. Hopefully, hate speech isn’t something we experience in our daily lives even though we know it still exists. Certain words, for certain people, lurk in the closet ready to jump out and sucker-punch you in the back of the head.
British linguist Paul Baker insists ‘“queer” was reclaimed by academics and activists in the early 1990s. This is an example of the awkward transition phase of language reclamation. There is an initial disconnect between those reclaiming the word, and those who don’t know that the word is being reclaimed, and continue to use it in a negative way. There’s also a portion of men who won’t participate in this reclamation because they don’t fully associate themselves with the queer ‘lifestyle’.
Childhood cycles of self-loathing and internalised homophobia also start with the associations impressionable kids place on words.
Fag = bad. Gay = bad. Faggot = bad. Homo = bad.
Unlearning these words in a negative context takes years. This is why it is so crucial to disarm hate speech and make these phrases neutral (or even positive) by removing stigma and leaving them unable to offend or injure.
Work on your relationships
I’m sure we’re all still eliminating certain words from our heterosexual friends’ vocabularies. Some words hurt or empower more than others, and each of us has different relationships and understandings of the words that might be used against us. Some will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when uttered, and you won’t flinch while others are screamed in your face. A 2015 study found that self-labeling with a derogatory term actually weakens its stigmatising force. To self-label is an action, and an someone who takes action possess power.
A delicate touch
Changing your mind takes time, especially regarding language about your identity and self-expression. You’re allowed to be passionate and invested in it because it’s so important. It is possible to reform a positive relationship with hate speech, if and when you’re ready.
Almost all negative associations with hate speech are associated with feelings of isolation and othering, which is why it’s so important for the queer community to collectively recover and reclaim the words that are thrown at us.
Fortunately there is something you can do to end the hate attached to certain words.