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Opinion: The Q-word, the N-word, and the F-word

by Brian McNaught
Thursday Jan 31, 2013

Some high school and college-age students want to be called "queer," despite the feelings of many older gay men and lesbians who find the word offensive.

Additionally, they'd like the LGBT acronym to be expanded to LGBTQIA. The newest letters stand for "queer" and/or "questioning," "intersex," and "allies." Intersex people don't see themselves as transgender, just as many lesbians don't see themselves as "gay." Nor do bisexuals like the G or L words. Many young people also like the terms "gender-queer" and "bi-gender."

Though I strongly caution against self-describing as "queer" in today's corporate world, if you see LGB as a white, gay, male acronym, and you're wanting to name yourself outside of those categories, why shouldn't you?

My generation did. At one time we were called inverts.

Without self-destructing, national movement organizations in my lifetime have survived changing their names and/or their focus from "homophile" to "gay," to "gay and lesbian," to "gay, lesbian, and bisexual," and then to "lesbian (ladies first), gay, bisexual, and transgender."

We've come to refer to ourselves in shorthand as "LGBT," which I've always felt was unhelpful, because most heterosexuals don't know what the letters stand for, and no one comes out by saying, "Mom and Dad, I'm an LGBT." But it looks as if LGBT is here to stay, so, what's wrong with adding a few more letters? If heterosexuals and older homosexuals are confused by the new acronym LGBTQIA, our job is to educate them to what the new letters mean, and why they needed to be added.

But we have to educate others with patience and a good sense of humor. Insisting on political correctness with our own language, and with that of others, tends to make us overly zealous, and can cause unnecessary stress. I've wasted a lot of energy in my life arguing against gay men referring to themselves with effeminate names like "fairy," with national leaders using the acronyms "LGBT" in a speech, or with professors using the word "queer" in the title of their college course.

Oversensitivity on the part of some gay people has led other people, including straight journalists, to use the phrase, "the F-word" rather than saying or writing the word "faggot." They agree that if it's not okay to say "nigger," why should it be okay to say "faggot?" I've come to think that the whole fear of words is nonsensical.

There's a lot of controversy today about the film Django Unchained. The word "nigger" is uttered over one hundred times. Spike Lee refuses to see the film. When a white journalist asked one of the film's black stars, Samuel Jackson, what he thought about "the use of the N-word," Jackson refused to answer his question unless the reporter actually said the word "nigger," which the writer refused to do. So, Jackson, who thinks the controversy is silly, wouldn't answer his question.

I've never been able to get my arms around the phrase, "the N-word." Is there any other word in the English language that we're not allowed to utter? Words are just sounds that communicate images. Sometimes, the images are unpleasant or disturbing, like those which come up for me with the words "Pope Benedict XVI." But, I don't want others to protect my feelings by using the phrase "the PBS-words." Say his name, please, despite the awful thoughts that come to mind.

I try to accommodate people and groups with the names and words they prefer. For instance, some family members have changed their first names to something more comfortable for them, such as going from Tommy to Tom, or Peggy to Maggie. That's an easy accommodation.

I usually try to ask what name people would like to be called by, because I tend to shorten everyone's first name as an indication of affection. That has backfired. I recall the response from one woman whom I called "Deb" at our first meeting. She looked at me with exasperation, and said slowly, and emphatically, "My name is De-bor-ah." Her manner of telling me this scared rather than educated me, so I started avoiding her. Because I don't want other people to avoid me, I try to educate them about preferred language with patience and good humor.

If you tell me, "Please don't ever say the word 'nigger' in front of me, regardless of the context," I will do whatever makes you comfortable. But I'm not going to assume that everyone feels the same as you. It's just a word. When I say it, there is no malice intended. I need to keep that in mind about others when they say the words "queer" and "faggot."

If a younger gay person uses the word "queer" in front of me, he or she isn't doing it with ill will. I have had bad experiences with the word, such as when the guidance counselor of my high school said to my senior class, "You can come in and tell me you've screwed a chick, and we'll talk, but if you tell me you're queer, I'll kick you out of my office." The LGBTQIA person using the term "queer" today doesn't know about my bad experience, and even if he or she did, they still have the right to name themselves as they wish.

It's best if we keep it simple. Tell me what to call you, and I will. Tell me what not to call you, and I won't. I'll try to do the same for you. But let's not be afraid to say words such as "nigger," "queer," or "faggot" if no offense is intended. They're just words, or letters in an acronym. If we give them too much importance, we create our own misery.

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