“How’s my favourite faggot doing?”

By Kyra-Lianne Samuels  

‘So, how’s my favourite faggot doing?’ I say into my phone before one of my best friends even has the time to greet me. He takes no offense and continues on to tell me about his day as usual. ‘Kinda funny we all ended up being queer,’ I tell my friends over another one of our Zoom calls, we laugh about how long it took us all to notice. ‘She looks like a bad bitch,’ I mumble, referring to another Instagram model flaunting her outfit as I mindlessly scroll social media at 1am. Never once did it occur to me that I am actively participating in the process of reclamation. Never once did the implications of what it means to reclaim derogatory terms cross my mind. 

Slurring is the use of derogatory words to target people categorized as minorities on account of any personal characteristic, examples being gender, race or sexual orientation (Bianchi 2014). The reclamation of slurs, also known as the reappropriation of slurs, is a process in which the negative connotations associated with words used for slurring are undermined. This makes it more difficult for these words to be used in ways that harm others. With these definitions in mind, we can consider reappropriation as a process in opposition to hate speech and as a counterweight to the use of derogatory terms, seeking to empower instead of undermine minority groups.

As a member of various minority groups, I’ve also had to struggle with piecing together my identity and finding the right words for it. To that extent, I’ve also felt the sting of words negatively attributed to me just because of my race or sexual orientation, but this has also made me very aware of the power that words can really hold over a person. So far, I consider myself to have been spared of any extreme direct situations of slurring. Even so, I still have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to reclamation. The fact that words can be reclaimed, and that I can play an active part in their reclamation, taught me that I hold more power over how I’m perceived than I thought. I can choose to take a stand and say that while words can hurt, these particular ones won’t hurt me any longer.

There is much disagreement regarding many aspects of slurring and reclamation, but one thing that is widely agreed on is the fact that the process of reclamation can only be started by members of minority groups. The reason for this being that there needs to be a sense of irony present in order for reclamation to be effective. Without this obvious sense of irony, onlookers will assume that the use of slurs which is taking place is doing so in its usual context, which is that of aggression. Bianchi (2014) further argues this point by noting how it is only members of the in-group who possess unmistakable characteristics which can indicate that there is no malicious intent present in their use of slurs. Research done by Gibson, Epstein, Magarian and Gregory (2020) also illustrates that bystanders and non-minority group members will begin to adopt an active stance regarding slurring if they are constantly exposed to it in contexts that seem contradicting, for example an Asian who is using slurs against other Asians. This means that more and more people, not only members of minority groups, will begin to reflect on slurring and the negative effects that it has.

Once the process of reclamation has begun, it will open up a new world of possibilities relating to connotations associated with the reclaimed term. This term will now be able to denote more than just disapproval. Galinsky (2013) indicates that through reclamation, slurs previously used only to show disapproval will be transferred back to the minority groups who are disparaged by them. These groups will now also hold power over these terms and can choose to use them in positive ways, for example to show pride or camaraderie. Anten (2006) mentions how the reappropriation of slurs isn’t just a linguistic phenomenon, but a way that minority groups can express and construct their identities.

While the reclamation of slurs does seem to have many benefits, it’s important to note that because no two people have the exact same experience and relationship with slurs and derogatory terms, ambiguity and mixed feelings can arise. While I can easily wear the terms ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ as badges of honor to show my identity, not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community feels the same way. In that regard, there are also many labels which I do not identify with or that do not sit well with me. Personal preference is important to consider when it comes to reclamation and this should be respected.

Reappropriation is about more than just individual utterances, and the effects of reappropriation can spread and have positive outcomes for whole communities. By taking part in this, I am choosing to go against often decades worth of hurt and oppression. To me, there’s beauty in being able to say ‘Yes, I am queer and yes, I am a bad bitch, and what about it?’ I am my own person, and the labels I use are mine to choose. That I can help others feel more comfortable with their labels is a bonus. So, until there’s no more reason to even acknowledge the negative connotations associated with even the worst slurs and then some, I’ll keep on answering: ‘Your favourite faggot is doing great’.

References

1.      Anten, T. (2006). Self-disparaging trademarks and social change: Factoring the reappropriation of slurs into Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. Columbia Law Review, 106, 388–434. 2.   Bianchi, Claudia. (2014 May). Slurs and appropriation: An echoic account. ScienceDirect. https://doi-org.ru.idm.oclc.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2014.02.009 3.      Galinsky, A. D., Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., Anicich, E. M., Hugenberg, K., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2013). The reappropriation of stigmatizing labels: The reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling. Psychological Science, 24(10), 2020–2029. 4.      Gibson, James L. Epstein, Lee. Magarian, Gregory, P. (2020 April). Taming Uncivil Discourse. Political Psychology. Vol. 41, No. 2. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ru.idm.oclc.org/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/pops.12626

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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