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.”
“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.