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The power of words
Last week I got into a fight on a Facebook friend’s wall. The topic? Whether or not the terms “queenie twink” and “lez” were homophobic. The context of their use of these terms? Slagging off some people on an unrelated matter who just happened to be homosexuals.
Why am I banging on about this? For a few reasons. The first being that these people took offense when I called them on their homophobic commentary. All parties defended themselves on the grounds that they had gay friends or relatives and therefore could not possibly be considered to be homophobic.
I can understand where this concept comes from. As a group we colloquially call ourselves poofs and lezzos and other unprintable things. However the risk in doing this is that people outside the community will feel free these words to describe us too. They may or may not be allies of the community, and they may or may not use these words to derogate us in situations of conflict. It is not appropriate to use a term of derision, even one that may have been reclaimed by the offended party, against anyone.
The second reason is because homosexuals have been classified as criminals, been the victims of abuse, and worse, throughout history. And unfortunately that power imbalance still exists today. We have achieved almost complete legislative equality, however these are very, very recent achievements – in most of our lifetimes homosexuality was criminal in Australia. And social equality still lags well behind the law.
Words are powerful, they have meaning, and we need to be careful how we use them. Our straight friends and allies can never understand our view of the world because they have different life experiences. Our responsibility here, and the only control we have, is to try to give the right impression about how we expect to be treated. This is not always easy, but we need to be as consistent as possible about what it and is not acceptable ways to treat and talk about the queer community.
Because whatever their disagreement with these homosexuals, these self-proclaimed gay allies immediately called up a homophobic insult to vent their grievance. They used their privileged position in society against us. And it’s not on.
by Lainie Arnold • NSW GLRL