Monday, January 5, 2009

GSA Mondays: "FAG" - My New Year's Day Dilemma, and the Power of Words

Okay, so I've called this blog "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" and I feel like I've done a pretty good job on an emotional level to de-fang some of the words that were most often used as slurs to target me (and anyone else percieved as "different") when I was a teen.




And yet, when I woke up on January 1st, 2009, all chipper and excited about the new year, I walked out of my hotel room door to see this display in front of the hotel room door on the other side of the corridor:

Artfully arranged with stirring sticks and sugar packets, the letters "F" "A" "G" were spelled out for the room's occupants, for when they opened their door, expecting to find only two cups ready for their morning coffee. Here's a close-up:

And I was stumped.

Clearly, this was a joke, right? This was someone playing a "prank" on their friends.

This was as innocent as the pattern of stirring straws that were laid to match the patterned carpet for the next ten feet of hotel corridor.

Wasn't it?

Well... I wasn't so sure.

Here's what I was sure about:

I knew for sure that I didn't want my child walking out of our hotel room door to read it.

I knew for sure that if the straws and sugar packets had spelled out "N" "I" "G" "G" "E" "R," I wouldn't have thought twice about swooping the straws up to destroy the word.

There is nothing innocent about words used in hate.

And yet, context adds meaning: Black people can use the "N" word with each other, I guess in a similar way that Gay people can and do use "Queer" within the community.

This might have been some gay-friendly people teasing some other gay-friendly people. But given the history of hate, leaving a word that could be either teasing or mean out on someone's doorstep didn't feel jocular...

So, there was my New Year's Day Dilemma, a 5:25 am puzzle.

Should I have left the straws intact, making sure I didn't mess up someone's joke, or should I have swept them aside, erasing a gesture of possible intolerance?

What would YOU have done?

As for me, after I thought about it, worked out, thought about it some more, and then wrote this blog post, at 6:55am, I swooped. Here's my best cell-phone camera action shot:


I figure I'm an adult, and I'm willing to take the karmic 'hit' (if there is one) from ruining someone's joke, to make sure the world is a little bit safer and kinder for me, other gay people, and my kid.

I realized that yes, words have power, but with a swing of my sneakered foot, I had the power to erase that word.

And I did. Here's the hotel corridor, put back to rights:

So here's to a year, and a world, where we all claim our power - and the power of words - to make things better!




fairyhedgehog said...

I'm glad you did that.

Humour is a weapon, and an insidious one. If you challenge a stereotype or a slur when it's framed as a joke you risk being told that you've got no sense of humour. Well, sometimese a sense of humour is an excuse for some very vicious jabs. I speak not as a gay person but as a woman who grew up in a time and place where it was normal to use jokes to keep women in their place.

Sorry, that's a bit of a rant. You can tell it's brought up a lot of feelings for me!

Sarah Laurenson said...

I think you did the right thing.

I remember when the AIDS epidemic was just about a decade old in the U.S. and the gallows humor started coming out. The jokes were not funny to the people involved with this tragedy. But others needed the 'comic' release because of their fears. So joke or not, it can still be hurtful.

I agree, FHH. Jokes are used to flavor how people feel or think about certain things. It's a way to put an offensive position out there and have people accept it because it was done with humor. And the person who put it out there let's go of the responsibility for the message because it's a joke.

Sounds like a great idea for a non-fiction piece - how humor shaped some part of history.

Hayden Thorne said...

You did the right thing. I'd have done that right off the bat the moment I saw it, and I wouldn't give a flying fig about karmic retribution.

I've always considered jokes to be worse than outright verbal attacks. Jokes make hurtful remarks more "palatable" and easily dismissed because of the humor that hides the attack. "It's funny! It's only a joke! See? We're all laughing!" So we all take it in, think it's all okay, when we don't even know how that's really playing out in our subconscious.

Oh, and kids, who wouldn't know any better, will think it's okay because "it's only a joke!" and you know where that can lead.

Jen Robinson said...

I think you did the right thing, Lee.

Here's to a more tolerant new year!

Beth Fehlbaum, Author said...

I think you did the right thing, too. I mean, for someone to have done that, whether they thought it was a joke or not? What they did was just plain F'd up. No doubt about it.
Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Ch. 1 is online!

web said...

An interesting dilemma. I can see why you thought about it, but also think you did the right thing.

My son is autistic and tends to perseverate on the very words people most don't want him to say. I am so dreading the day he picks up "that's so gay" and so forth at school.

Anonymous said...

Lee ... I'm so glad you did that. It was just plain mean and I don't think anyone finds mean funny. What a dramatic way to start the New Year.