“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” you too may have had this ingrained in your mind as a defence against bullying. With a renewed campaigns to raise awareness of homophobic abuse even in scenarios where the person throws around a word without it meaning to offend. I ask; does putting a stop to the casual homophobic slur threaten free speech?
Focus in this A bit of Fry & Laurie sketchis on the use of language, for the improper use of words mixed with a negative tone can cause offence. Let me expand; I work in a call centre, dealing with annoyed customers for the most part. The company has a policy of two swear words from a customer and you are within your rights to terminate that call. I myself adopt a liberal approach, allowing customers to swear as much as they like as long as they don’t aim it at me, or any of my colleagues, so I won’t get offended if a customer says “Well it’s a fu*king mess”. However, I would take issue with “Are you a fu*cking idiot?” I don’t view swear words as taboo; I see them as adjectives enhancing speech.
The likes of Billy Connolly, a brilliant stand up who often swears in his shows demonstrates the flow it can add to the story he is telling see it as a way of expressing oneself. I don’t take issue with comedians like Frankie Boyle who are riské with their offensive humour, nor do I take issue with Family Guy or South Park because they are not exclusively insulting the gay community. They are equally insulting to all of society, be it of race, disability or sexuality. I think it is good to laugh at ourselves and then laugh at the people that are so hateful. There is a skill to it and a failure to master it is potentially career ending these days.
I’m sure many people have experienced homophobic abuse, whether having given, received or witnessed it. Back in Primary School, when Will Young came out, a fellow classmate said to me “I don’t understand why everyone says Will Young is stupid”. For the word ‘gay’ had not been used in its proper context in the playground. Calling someone ‘gay’ was meant as an insult. Heck, I probably thought the word ‘gay’ did mean stupid until someone like Will Young came out and made me aware of the true meaning of the word.
Adding to this, I do detest the word ‘f*g’ or ‘f*got’. It’s so aggressive which no doubt is attached to negative instances in my past as I’m sure it is for many others. It is argued that it’s ‘okay’ for gay people to use this phrase towards each other. I disagree; it is a vile word that can’t be said nicely no matter how hard you try in my view and is on par with the equally vile ‘n’ word.
This brings me on to another clip from Fry & Laurie which aims to poke fun at the misuse of the word ‘gay’:
Jokes aside you would think the issue would alleviate as we grow older and have a greater understanding of the world. If anything the homophobic slur becomes ingrained in speech. Granted the meaning of ‘gay’ has changed over the centuries from happy, to a man that loves another man. First recorded in the 1920s with regards to sexual orientation ‘gay’ came from the meaning of being carefree and uninhibited with the implication of a disregard for conventional sexual morals.
Debating this, I must admit I am indifferent when it comes to the casual homophobic slur. I don’t get upset when someone near me says “Oh that’s so Gay”. I tend to retaliate if at all with humour rather than an angry comeback. With the renewed campaign to raise awareness of homophobic bullying which is so often verbal, I feel the need to make more of an effort in stomping it out. Maybe it is my growing up with the casual slur being an everyday occurrence. Does this excuse it? Certainly not. I think in this day and age where society is becoming more liberal we should make a conscious effort to teach future generations not to use the homophobic slur otherwise we will see the degrading of a minority continue.
The homophobic slur will get you into trouble. Take Alec Baldwin for example, who called someone a c*ck sucking f*got which led to the shambles of an excuse “I called him fat head.” I fully support the public shaming of famous people who use homophobic language. It is no good to come out and say “I’m sorry if what I said caused offence to people”. That’s not taking responsibility, that’s simply shifting the blame from yourself to the people ‘who took offence’ as X Factor winner James Arthur did, he has since left Twitter after the backlash against his homophobic tweet.
Some argue “it’s just words”. Words have meaning, symbolism and power, why should we allow negative symbolism; negative power attached to words which may cause harm to individuals directly or indirectly, words to break the spirits and to cause mental anguish in turn causing fear which limits your lives. Harm is not necessarily physical, mental harm is harder to fix. So to those out there who drop even the casual homophobic slur just think about it and whether it can harm, not offend, but harm.
When Tom Daley came out I remember reading a tweet: “Always knew you were a f*g. Congrats.” A stark contradiction congratulating someone by abusing them. No wonder sports stars remain in the closet if that is the sort of ‘supportive’ message they can expect from fans.
My local MP Philip Davies, was asked about homophobic chanting at a local rugby match in relation to free speech, he said he wasn’t there so couldn’t comment but if it had gone “`beyond what was acceptable” action should be taken. Beyond what is acceptable? This implies that there is an acceptable level of homophobia in sport. If this is the attitude of law makers can we realistically expect more sporting personalities to come out?
As I said I’m liberal about free speech, however, like with most philosophical ideas they tend to buckle when in the real world. Do we really wish to offend each other? Is it the price of free speech and a free society? After all, we can jokingly and without malice insult our friends.
I oppose restricting freedom of thought or opinion. It is the verbal abuse on the basis of those thoughts that I object to. It is meant to be malicious, it is meant to stir up emotions on both sides. Free speech is a free in name only. Speech has consequences. You can be sued for things you say or post online, however free speech enables progress within society. It is the hate that has filtered down into everyday speech which makes me question this progression.
Treat all equally as we would like to be treated. You wouldn’t stand by and watch someone being punched in the face would you? So why stand by when harm is being caused through words? Think; don’t stay quiet if you hear a slur. Yes; sticks and stones may break my bones but words cut so much deeper.