At one point in my life, about 10 years ago now, I noticed a little distinction about myself that I commonly re-forget and remember a lot in my fumbling upwards — there was very little difference between being an actual hater, and the person who just strategically and cleverly used the language of haters that I considered myself to be.
The distinction hit me while riding as a passenger in my friends car. As we passed through Skagit county, I noticed the sign, and started saying it out loud.
“SKAGIT. HA. sounds like a bad word. ‘FUCKING SKAGIT’.” and repeated it a few more times.
This friend of mine had just ‘decided’ he was gay a year or three earlier, while we were, effectively, dating one another. I’d managed to bag him ONCE before this announcement, and for quite a while after that I was pretty well scorn, and feeling rejected.
Part of that rejection, I now understand, was my friends retreat into safe spaces where he could explore his identity and subculture with his boyfriend, whom I had introduced him to. I was, it seemed to me, rarely invited, and it pissed me off. That wasn’t so much true as that I did not belong and I did not fit in where my friend was going.
I saw my friend rejecting things I identified with, took his expressions of that personally, and that pissed me off too. I tried generating power in the situation by using ‘their’ insults, knowing that my history with my friend would mean I could get away with it even though they weren’t mine to use. I tried making jokes that I ‘turned’ him gay, centering myself in his journey and only half joking because I didn’t know shit about what the process of confirming ones gender identification is actually like, at the time.
It was one of the most memorable moments in my life that I’ve experienced that gutbomb — you probably know it — that feeling when something comes out of your mouth that unexpectedly turns your stomach inside out. It was when I realized “Skagit” sounded like a bad word to me because it sounded like “Faggot”. And that I was repeating it mockingly in the car with a gay person I supposedly loved.
I didn’t -really- understand how I was responsible for how that was fucked up, I externalized the rationale that swiftly came after the rush, that I probably looked like a real asshole to him even tho I of course was not actually an asshole.
I of course thought, long before I stopped using homophobic insults, that I was not homophobic.
I just recognized, you know, the proper way of things, the way the world just ‘was’. I just recognized that being gay wasn’t as good as being other things cuz ‘society’ — but not to ME, mind you. “Other” people. “Other” people who have power and are in charge of shit so it’s probably best to just confirm with and mimic them sometimes in order to maneuver.
So even after I recognized that I wanted to examine the preconceived notions I may have held under the surface about what would eventually evolve into the concept of gender non-conformance, I hid behind ‘language’ that ‘everybody’ uses, that I had and continued to use.
For a while, my excuses for not doing the work were numerous and made sense.
One in particular was tough to shake, and it settled in well with my view of what I was in the world to do — cause people to feel deeply. In communicating with other people, it stands to reason that you’d use language that will effect and resonate with them to make a point. Right? I mean, if you wanna insult someone, really make em FEEL it, wouldn’t you wanna use their bigotry or whatever against them?
So, yeah, dudebro: You’re a fuckin’ pussy, fucking fag. I’m a 20something white feminist with a close friend who newly came out and I’m insulting you with feminine devaluing homophobic language but that’s not on ME really. That’s on *gestures* everyone else who makes the language so EFFECTIVE.
I could feel my hold and importance in his life slip away, over the years, despite my firm belief in my lack of homophobeness, and my slow but sure improvement in my quality of personhood. I am sure there are lots of reasons for that, both that had to do with me and most that didn’t.
But it stuck with me, that car ride.
It took me a long time to begin to articulate what that gutbomb in Skagit country signified in me — it was probably 12 years ago now and this is the first I’ve written about it and I’m still not sure it’s complete.
But when I think now about the people I see who insist they’re not racist, or homophobic, or misogynist, but use the language of those oppressive, hateful populations to express themselves and interact with others, I think about that moment as a snapshot of who I was back then.
Whether I was saying what I was saying because I honestly hated my friend or not, whether I was cracking racist jokes back then because I honestly wanted to harm anyone with them or not, whether I was remaining ignorant to the lived experience of my friend out of malice or not, what I was doing was a cop out that perpetuated and strengthened the collective hate that I claimed to be against.
And by doing it that way, I was letting myself off a hook that I now recognize as being pretty much the absolute least I could have done to show up, and be a friend.