The other “F” word

Big Faggy Bear Bust FB Banner

First, the fun stuff… Dirk and I will be returning to Hamburger Mary’s Kansas City this Saturday, May 3 for Bear Bust! We were there last year for “Kinko de Mayo” and we had such a great time. We’re really excited to go back!

This time, the theme is “Big Faggy Bear Bust.” Inspired by the wildly successful “Big Faggy Meat Rack” that the LA Eagle hosts every year during Pride, the event will in many ways be the opposite of the usual monthly fur-and-testosterone party that Mary’s puts on. Fairies! Rainbows! Glitter! And, oh yeah, plenty of testosterone and fur and too, although the fur just might have some gold highlights. I really love the inherent contradiction — butch-it-up vs. big and faggy — and I already have a few different ideas for ways to really play up the contrast.

When I first posted about the event on my Facebook page last week, I noticed a bit of criticism concerning the name of the event (though, interestingly, not the over-the-top nature of the event itself). One of my biggest fans, who happens to be a mom, summed up the concern rather elegantly:

The only thing that I’m not comfortable with is the use of the word “faggy.” I took great lengths in teaching my son not to use this word, because I find it offensive for gay people. Am I to understand it’s OK to use it? And even if it is, I don’t feel comfortable using it. Please enlighten me!

I replied that I don’t love the term either, and use it sparingly, but I don’t have a problem with it when it’s used in the proper context. Many people believe that adopting a derogatory term to refer to themselves is the best way to “disempower” the word. It’s not a 100% accurate comparison, but I can see parallels between the gay community’s use of “faggot” (a word with a fascinating linguistic history which, by the way, has nothing to do with immolation) and the appropriation of the “N” word by the African-American community. And while I personally don’t use the words “fag” and “faggot” very often, I understand and appreciate why other gay men do. My hubby Dirk agrees, and while while we certainly don’t speak for all gay men, I like to think that our view is somewhat representative. Here’s what he has to say on the matter:

openquoteThis is classic appropriation of a pejorative term by the thusly slurred populace and turning it inside out. A gay person referring to me as ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ probably wouldn’t endear me myself to them, but I know there are times we use it as an empowering tool. Conversely, if a straight person used either, especially in particular tones of voices or contexts, I’d be likely to apply his teeth to the nearest bit of masonry available. African-American folk have every right to use the ‘N’ word among themselves; there’s nothing demeaning about it when they use it. However, it’s entirely inappropriate and asking for an ass whupping for me to use it, in pretty much any context. The promoters of the Hamburger Mary’s event are gay men. The event is for gay men. We are appearing as the gay men we are. ‘Fag’ in this context offends nobody, especially those of us who might in fact be the ones offended.”

That said, given the confusion that came about as a result of my Facebook post and not wanting to alienate any of my fans, I reached out to the owners of Hamburger Mary’s to discuss the use of the term for the event. Here was their amazing reply:

openquoteOK, so we ran the artwork and idea by the leaders of the KC Bear Mafia, and a few others whom we trust to give wise counsel. They seem to be in 100% agreement that the theme is great and that there is nothing that we should worry about. Their opinion is that it is true that there will be some who are upset that we used the word ‘fag’ in the title. They also echoed what Dirk said. Much like black Americans can use the ‘N’ word with impunity amongst themselves, those outside the demographic are not welcomed to use that word as it is considered insulting. In the same way, the word ‘fag’ is used amongst gays all the time when talking about each other. I hear it tossed around all the time. I’m sure you guys do too. So, not only did they love the theme, they loved the fact that in using the word so publicly and with such obvious parody we actually rob the word of power. Furthermore, they felt like, as I wrote in the event copy, that making our event a tribute to the annual Big Faggy Meat Rack event at LA Eagle further binds us together as a community trying to rob the word ‘fag’ of any power it might wield over us.

Jesse, you have over 200,000 followers on Facebook. That in and of itself is incredible. But there is simply no way you will ever be able to please all of them. No matter what you do there will always be some who will disagree and take a contrary position. It’s just that in this case it involves a word that, for many, is controversial. So of course you are going to hear from those who are highly offended by the use of the word. However, I’ve discovered that in most cases like this, where people try to make a huge deal out of something, the issue is more about them and their trying to get on their own soapbox and get some attention than it is the other person.

It just comes down to YOU in this case, Jesse. If you don’t have a problem with it, then those nay-sayers who want to turn it into a big deal just need to shut the fuck up. You really don’t even have a responsibility to answer them, or to even leave their comments on your page if you don’t want to. You have over 200,000 fan likes. So you lose a few who want to get their pink panties into a wad? Really, who cares if you don’t care? It’s their issue, not yours. No, you don’t want to offend anyone. But that’s really an wholly impossible task. And if those who see the artwork can’t understand that it is satirical and a parody against the word fag, then those people are not the people one should base a decision on, in my opinion.

And finally, if you feel like we need to change the title of the event or else you won’t be able to come and participate, then please let us know very SOON. I already included the artwork in one publication that went to press today. I can’t change that, but I can change the name on any further ads and in the Facebook event before I post it. I hope that won’t be the case, because everyone I’ve run the artwork by and the title by seems to love it. They are already making big plans for ‘fagging it up’ and are really looking forward to it. So I’d hate to change the name because of a few people want to be negative about it. But if you ask me to, I will.

Let me know what you think.”

I think those guys are amazing, and have earned my total respect. I confess that sometimes I do try to please everybody… sometimes creating a lot of angst for myself in the process. But I think the best approach in a situation like this is to trust my gut and my beliefs. And my beliefs tell me that, in this context, the “other” F-word is being used in a light-hearted, playful, non-pejorative, and indeed empowering way. So come on out and meet us at Hamburger Mary’s this Saturday, May 3rd, because in solidarity with the owners of Hamburger Mary’s, the KC Bear Mafia, and the wonderful people of Kansas City, Dirk and I are totally gonna let our fag flags fly.

Now… does anyone know where I can buy some glitter and a pair of gold lamé tights?
Shoe Shopping in the West Village

Love Shack   Big Faggy Bear Bust Poster

9 replies
  1. Gerry Greeman
    Gerry Greeman says:

    F word is no bueno! I wince every time I hear it. We should set an example and NOT use it even among ourselves. It is comparable to the N word which in my estimation is no good even among themselves, it, as well as the f word are used often in a derogatory manner even among ourselves. I’d rather we take the high road. We are all better than that.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      Jesse says:

      That’s a good argument, and one that I often hear. The only concern I have is that it does nothing to actually stop the people who use the word negatively from continuing to employ it as a rallying cry for hatred, whereas the Hamburger Mary’s approach attempt to take that power away. It could be argued that both approaches are working toward the same goal, though, and both have merits.

      Reply
  2. Chris Hodgson
    Chris Hodgson says:

    While I still wince at the use of the “F” word…it is in many ways no different than the community appropriation of queer as a badge of honor. Or; how we (getting a little Imperial) took the pink triangle that was used to mark gay men in the concentration camps and turned it into a symbol of power and solidarity. Some will not understand that in order to take power from an oppressor you have to rob them of the things that gives them power over you and appropriating derogatory words and symbols does just that…

    Reply
  3. Adam
    Adam says:

    Reappropriation of derogatory vocabulary is the best way to combat marginalization of any demographic, be it sexual, ethnic or otherwise…FLIP THE SCRIPT ON EM’

    Reply
  4. Lyne Beausejour
    Lyne Beausejour says:

    Thank you Jesse for this wonderful post! I do understand everything after reading both, Dirk’s and yours, explanations on that faithfull night that the question was asked! The debate it started was really something! I do wish I could join you guys! Have fun!

    Reply
  5. randy
    randy says:

    As long as the african american people can use the “n” with each other, I figure we can use the “f” word amongst ourselves. It’s only when others use it to try and demean or hurt someone that it has power.

    Reply
  6. ohthebill
    ohthebill says:

    I live in kc and usually love h. Marys. I also sing on hmc…heartland mens chorus which is kc’s gay mens chorus. Long story even longer ..one of our small groups had a lyric which said ..when someone taunts a gay man and calls him a faggot it says ” it’s mr.faggot to you!” I thought it was brilliant

    Reply

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