Revisionist History

When I was growing up, it was hard to find a movie in which the word faggot didn’t play at least a minor role.

Truly. Watch 80s movies. You’ll be surprised how often that word comes out.

It was totally acceptable. Everyone said that word. At school, I heard it all the time. I even used it a time or two. Had to fit in, after all!

I had Eddie Murphy’s debut album. This was 1982. I was 11. On it was a bit called “Faggots.”

Eddie Murphy

“Faggot ass faggot,” Murphy shouted, and the crowd howled.

So did I.

So did my friends. They used to do the bit all the time. Or the one where he lisped like a gay guy allegedly would, when he was getting beat up for being gay. “Stop bothering me,” he lisped, and that, too, was hilarious.

I don’t know if I got it, back then. If I knew that I was laughing at myself. I think soon after, if not right away, I did know, and I think it was just part of what I had to do. I had to compartmentalize. My feelings and what I put out into the world. My private self, my public self.

It was just what you did in the 1980s.

Privately I believed I was a piece of dirt not worthy of being stuck on the underside of someone’s shoe. Publicly I soldiered on.

We’re different today. For some of us, at least. If you are, like me, a cisgender, gay white male, it’s a zillion percent better. My life has been normalized, and it’s okay in most places for me to be open about the fact that I have a husband.

But another thing that has happened along the way is an erasure of history.

It all just changed with the “faggot” thing. That went from a totally acceptable word–seriously, it was, I had teachers who used it in class–to a forbidden word, an unacceptable, horrid slur that, if spoken, could make someone lose their job.

What occurs to me, though, is that we’ve never really had that societal conversation about this. It just … happened. And we pretend that it’s always been this way, when it really isn’t. My history has been washed away. Like we have this agreement: if you agree not to bring up how shitty it was all those years ago, you can have a piece of the pie. You can have a place at our table. My trainer recently said, “Name one way in which gay people have been discriminated against.”

I was like, “Do you have an hour? A week? A year?”

He really believes this. That being gay in this society is and was no different than being straight.

What is with this revisionist history?

I’ll tell you the truth: I’d like an apology.

I’d like to be apologized to for having been acceptable collateral damage in the world for the first 40 or so years of my life, before it all changed. I’d like it to be acknowledged. My experience. Because while yes, today, my life is so much better, that didn’t just “happen.” I spent years being shit on along with all my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I spent years watching AIDS happen to gay men and the world truly not giving two shits.

And now we fight for the rights of LGBTQ people of color and trans people, so that they, too, can have this experience, so that they, too, can have a moment where history is revised, and society forgets that there was a time when they were treated like garbage as well.

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7 Responses to Revisionist History

  1. Brian Farrey says:

    I recently rewatched MONSTER SQUAD, a movie I remember loving when it came out. Then the “f-word” got dropped and I actually had to stop the DVD I was so stunned. You’re right. That word was everywhere in the 80s, especially movies. Anyone who believes there hasn’t been persecution for the LGBTQ community is willfully ignorant. It doesn’t affect them so why should they know anything about it. Which is what landed us the current shitstorm in the White House.

    • bkonigsberg says:

      I often think about how lightning fast all these changes happened. How we went from Ellen’s kiss being a huge story to where we are today. The downside of such a monumental shift, to me, is that it’s painfully uneven. The experience of being LGBTQ in today’s society runs the gamut from totally acceptable to absolutely deadly, and that’s a strange place to live in, isn’t it?

  2. Boysen Hodgson says:

    Thank you Bill. Truly. And I’m sorry.

  3. Alex says:

    I think you are right, the LGBT community needs an apology for all the shit we have endured in the last century. And maybe for the cruel and inhuman treatment we received in the last two millennia as well. I can’t think of any other group of people who have been so brutally repressed, our own identity being denied for so much time. Justin Trudeau formal apology to LGBTQ community for government discrimination may be a first step in this direction. The Pope also said a couple of years ago that the church should ask forgiveness from gay people. However, in other countries, such is the one where I live (Romania), the situation is worse than in US, since many people are scared to come out. And in other places is still hell on earth for our brothers and sisters.
    Also, Bill, can’t wait for your next book! I’ve pre-ordered it on Amazon and I’m sure it will be as good as Openly Straight trilogy which I loved so much. Thank you for all the amazing books you’ve written! Alex

  4. Dave Hughes says:

    For me, I don’t think an apology would change anything.
    For one thing, who would it have to be from and who would it have to be to in order to be meaningful?
    For example, if Billy the Bully came up to me at a high school reunion or found me on Facebook and apologized to me for all those times he beat me up in school, that would have meaning. If he took me out to lunch, told me how he totally turned around when he found out his brother was gay and now campaigns for equality-minded candidates and donates to LGBT causes, that would have a lot of meaning.
    If Barack Obama, when he was president, issued a proclamation stating that “on behalf of all Americans, I apologize for all the discrimination, violence, and hatred our LGBT brothers and sisters have experienced throughout our history” that would seem empty. Those who perpetrated the discrimination, violence, and hatred haven’t apologized and may not even be sorry. It doesn’t lighten any of the burden or make any of the past suffering less cruel. It’s meaningless. It would change nothing for me. At its worst, it could be considered politically-correct grandstanding.
    Regarding Eddie Murphy, if he issued an apology today for all the offensive material he performed live and released on records in the 80s (and it wasn’t just us – he offended a lot of Asians and women), that would mean something. If he gave back some of his massive profits by making a significant donation to LGBT service organizations, that would carry a lot of meaning.
    By the way, that album is still in print. You can buy a new copy (on CD) today.
    And speaking of that album, it also contains a track called “Boogie in Your Butt,” a dance rap which extols the virtues of putting all kinds of things in your butt. It contains lines such as “put my face in your butt” and “put ME in your butt.” It’s silly and amateurish, but still kind of funny. Apparently neither he nor the vast majority of his audience noticed the irony.
    In any case, the past is the past. We can’t change it. The struggles made us who we are. I am much more interested in the present and the future.

  5. Very interesting and perceptive read. Thanks, Bill. I can fully relate. I was in the principal’s office for fighting when anyone called me a nigger because I was in part of the problem. I guess for being black.

  6. Sam Edmonds says:

    Hey, so for me I’m more of a closeted boy. Only my friends know that I’m a trans gay boy. I tried telling my parents about me being trans, but it’s hard for me to say much to them, so I wrote it down where my mom would see. She didn’t understand the point of why I wanted to be called Sam. I feel like she’s totally cool with my friend being trans but when I try to come out, she makes herself seem really transphobic. I’m also scared that’s what my parents will do if they find out I’m gay, even though my sister had come out as bisexual not too long ago. I’m honestly considering just staying in the closet where I feel safer, even though it may be relieving to be out and able to feel free in my own house. I don’t really witness any other homophobic comments, but when I do I try to keep my frustration to myself. When I let out my true feelings about it to a homophobic person, I look like the prick. I am proud of who I am, just not ready to be that proud in front of my family yet. And by the way, love the story Openly Straight, can’t wait to start reading Honestly Ben.

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