A recent article in CMJ called attention to an incident on WFNY’s The Dog House morning show last Tuesday in which shock-jock hosts Jeff Vandergrift (“JV”) and Dan Lay (“Elvis”) called John Carnes, the bassist for NYC band A Brief Smile, a “faggot” and a “pansy.” Elvis reportedly then told a disgruntled listener: “If I am with my friends and I say that was very faggy, then guess what? It has nothing to do with their sexuality.” It’s telling that this is the same rationale used by Steve Carell’s clueless and socially inept Michael Scott on a recent episode of The Office, in which he tells the semi-closeted Oscar that he never would have called him “gay” had he known he was literally gay. The use of the word isn’t offensive because of Carnes or Oscar’s sexuality, a point lost on Michael Scott, Elvis, and apparently many others. There was an editorial in a recent issue of Details (you know, the men’s fashion magazine for closeted queers) by a straight journalist with “gay friends” about this very issue. The writer claimed his use of the word “gay” meant “lame,” not “homosexual,” and he was tired of all the confusion. His explanation is a little more benign than JV and Elvis’s, and there might be gays, lesbians, and bisexuals out there who don’t take much offense, but it seems like nobody is even acknowledging the etymology of these words…or maybe awareness and critical thought are just for fags. It’s been decades since “gay” was legitimately used to mean “happy” (the path from that definition to “homosexual” isn’t hard to trace), so when someone refers to something they think is lame as “gay,” it means one thing and one thing only: that being gay is bad. The Dog House’s response? “The world does not revolve around the gay community. So relax.” But anyone, gay or straight, who has ever been called a “faggot” knows that it cuts much deeper than simply being called a dork or lame. It’s a vilifying, emasculating epithet that likens one to a group of people who are, to this day, in danger of being beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.