Certain words and phrases are particularly powerful, especially in the LGBTQ community, explains Grace Miller
Words can be ridiculously powerful. You can build a person up or tear them down in a single word, whether you mean to or not. Words can be particularly powerful where the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer) community is concerned.
If you’re in the closet, and someone says something problematic around you, it can have a hugely negative effect. You can be pushed right to the back of that closet, behind all of the shirts you don’t wear anymore because they’re awful.
LGBTQ people have slurs and insults thrown at them from all sides. We live in a world where we have to learn how to deal with it, and try to educate anyone that revels in doing the throwing. Words have power, but you can decide what power they have over you. You can make a judgment on a personal level on what offends you. Just because someone else tells you a word is offensive doesn’t mean it has to be if you don’t see it that way.
Our Auditor, Jack Carolan, says “I’m basically the epitome of apathy when it comes to slurs, but I am also aware that other people are not. The word ‘gay’ in no way offends me because I have made the personal decision that ‘gay’ has taken on another meaning in modern language.
“When it is used negatively it is not meant to be in a way that is intended to offend me. When people find out that you’re gay, they are incredibly apologetic when they describe something as gay.” Although, I should probably note that this is the experience of someone who has never even smelled homophobia in his life.
When people use a word or phrase that has been used against them, showing that they’re not going to be hurt by it, it’s called reclamation. A good example of this is the use of the n-word. It went from being a term of oppression to being a term of empowerment. However, it can still cause huge offense, and it is widely accepted that it is not a word that should be used by anyone outside of the black community.
The same has happened with the word ‘queer’. Queer has been used as an insult for decades, but, since the 1990s, a certain amount of people in the LGBTQ community have been using it and challenging the idea that it can be used as an insult. ‘Faggot’, ‘gay’ and ‘dyke’ have, to a certain extent, also been reclaimed.
Though reclaimed, they are still only acceptable when certain people use them. Katy Perry caused uproar and hurt a lot of feelings with the song ‘Ur So Gay’. Queer, in particular, is only okay when used within the queer community, by a member of that community. When used by someone that does not identify as queer or as LGBT, the term can be very offensive.
Sometimes, even people within the LGBT community don’t like the term and have a hard time understanding why anyone would identify with it. Identity is a personal thing; sexual and gender identities are extremely personal. Only you can decide how you identify.
Nobody can make that decision for you, and you can’t make that decision for anybody else. Never dispute the label or labels that a person chooses for themselves. Their identity is not for you to regulate, or even to understand. All you have to do is respect it, and do everything you can to be accommodating.
If someone introduces themselves to you and asks you to use specific pronouns and/or names to refer to them, then you need to do everything in your power to use those pronouns and/or names. It’s really, really disrespectful to knowingly use the wrong pronouns.
If you make a mistake, correct yourself and don’t make a big deal of apologising. It can take time to get used to using they/them/their instead of he or she, but you’ll get there. Remember that you’re helping to make life less difficult for that person by using their preferred pronouns, and you’re showing that you respect them.
If you’re in a public space, particularly around college, you never know who can hear you or what your words can do to them. I’ve heard the word ‘gay’ used heaps of times in a derogatory way on campus, and it makes me feel awful every time.
The first time I called a guy out on it, he smirked at me and laughed it off, though I’d just told him his use of the word made me feel like dirt. Still, I felt better for having told him how I felt, and one of his friends was really apologetic. If you can get through to one person, it’s better than nothing.
There are a few ways of dealing with things if you hear people using slurs around you, whether you’re personally affected by them or you know someone who would be. Feel free to call the offending person out on their ridiculous bigotry, and tell them where to shove it. This can be done politely or completely impolitely, depending on your preference. I prefer politeness, but it doesn’t always work.
If someone uses a word, phrase, or pronoun that you’re not comfortable with, they should have it pointed out to them as early as possible. Letting it slide can often lead to the problem getting worse. If it’s someone in college who uses a slur or the wrong pronouns, and you don’t feel comfortable approaching them, you can contact UCD LGBT and we can help you.
It might not be possible or safe for you to confront somebody in a less formal setting. If your safety or the safety of somebody else is in danger, you may need to walk away from the situation. Your health and safety come before everything else.
Think about the words you use. If someone takes offense at something you say, try to see things from their point of view instead of going on the defensive. Try to make others think about the words they’re using. We’re all just trying to make it through life, and we’re all in a position to make it that bit easier for each other.
Grace Miller is the Public Relations Officer for the UCD LGBT Society.