the words i cannot say

Words we I can’t use anymore

Update – 11.5.17

I wrote this about 2 weeks ago.  It’s a draft.  As always, the kernel is interesting, but I don’t feel I can execute on it to not just sound self indulgent and ranty.  So, this piece was shelved.  You are getting a behind the scenes.   Why do I tell you this, and then why I am posting it?  Last night on SNL Larry David did a skit that is EXACTLY my piece.

So, now I had to share it.  Amusingly, it kinda gets filed under ‘I told you so’, or ‘I was Correct’.  The piece below is as it was written, and yet I think it is EVERY buzzword I talked about.  Note, I am a rabid fan of SNL, and never miss it.  I went to NYC so I could see the studio, it was amazing.  First, here is the skit.   Below it is my piece.  Mine was first.  It was written 18 days ago.  I swear!

Being a word guy, I have to pay attention to words we can’t use.  Most of them, it is for good reason.  Thing is, mostly… we were using them wrong.  That is the real issue, maybe.  Let’s start with ‘fag’.  Can’t use it, and we were using it wrong, anyway.  I am not going to play totally dumb here.  We knew it wasn’t a flattering term.

As a young male, I used that term all the time.  Thing is, I was using it wrong.  It meant, totally and entirely… ‘lame’.  “Dude, you are staying home tonight?  Fag!”   As you can hopefully see from the context, this had nothing to do with sexual preference.  Why can’t we use it?  Well, because it does mean ‘gay’, and it’s wrong to say.  Firstly, it is clearly used a pejorative – a put down.  This states, implicitly, and explicitly, that there is a defect in being gay.  Maybe you think ‘but we use it among ourselves.  It doesn’t refer to gay people, and none of us are gay, anyway.’

I mean… what was the subtext of saying an event was ‘gay’, or you were ‘being a fag’.  Of course, we meant these things were lame.  I guess the underlying bit was ‘these things are lame, and so is being homosexual’.  I am going to have to come back in ten years and edit out the word ‘lame’, and say ‘differently able’.  Ok, back to ‘gay’ and ‘fag’.

Well, odds are one of you is.  I am looking in your direction, Steve.  Just get it over with. Imagine how that person feels, especially if they are closeted.   1 in 10 is gay, and 1 in 10 are left handed.  I am left handed.  Imagine if I wanted to hang out with a social group who used ‘lefty’ as a pejorative.  “dude, that guy drives like a lefty”.   Jesus, who made these brownies, a lefty?  What do you call a dead lefty?  A good start!   Man, I think I am just gonna pretend to be right handed around these guys.

So… that one I completely get, and feel bad how freely I used it.  ME.  I am not going to say ‘it was a different time’, or ‘everyone did it’.  There is no ‘we’ here.  This is on me, and they were my actions.  I was wrong.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge this above.  These kids aren’t playing football, or tag.  They are playing ‘smear the queer’.  In case you are young, or not a guy, this was a very real game with a name I feel disgusted by.  You have a football, and a bunch of kids.  Whomever has the football is mercilessly chased and tackled and hit… until he gives up the football.  The next person who gets the ball runs for his life, as he is now ‘the queer’.  Yes.  Terrible!  Not the game, mind you.  The name is just sickening in retrospect.  We played it daily at lunch and recess.

retarded

Another word we lost, due to us moving it wrong – retarded.  Man, I LOVED that word.  And man did I use it wrong.  I meant something was dumb, or ineffective.  This bus schedule is retarded, it won’t be here for another hour.   That has nothing to do with development disabilities and challenges.  Mostly, it means (again)… lame.  Man, this concert is retarded.  This also denigrates people with learning disabilities… and unfairly.  No one chooses to have to cognitive deficiencies.  I get why I can’t use that.

Funny and terrible side note.  As a youth (we are talking about 35 years ago), we were told that word was mean.  We had a retarded child in class.  Instead of appreciating the differnces, and being sensitive to our peers… we came up with a work around.  We called retarded kids ‘gompers’.   Funny, in that we used the work around when the actual word was appropriate.  Gompers came from this – there is a school in Phx, AZ that was a magnet school for retarded children – the Samuel Gompers school.   To sum up – we kept ‘retarded’ in the lexicon to refer to things we didn’t like.   But to refer to actual retarded kids, we called them gompers.   Wtf?

But then there are ones I just don’t get.

Mulatto

That means half black, half white (I don’t have time to type out African American.  For brevity… it’s black).  Apparently, that is a pejorative as well.  I guess it always was?  I truly NEVER saw it that way.  I kind of tracked rock stars of mixed race, as it was interesting to me.  Lenny Kravitz, Bob Marley, Tyler Stewart, and Tom Morello.  It fascinates me to see what race they ‘pass’ as.  Tom Morello… just looks white to me (yeah, white.  Again, no time to type Caucasian).  Here is Tyler, the drummer for Barenaked Ladies

I find it SUPER interesting that Bob Marley was.  Why?  He is probably the most recognized black man on Earth.  His music and life’s work were about the struggles of being poor and black in Jamaica.  Bob Marley is who you listened to in college so that girls knew you were sensitive.

I tell you that to tell you this – what is wrong with it?  To me, it is simply a descriptor.  Apparently, I am wrong.  Here is a nice and thoughtful little piece about it.  I do know this, though – as a straight white male… I don’t get to decide what is offensive.  It appears the preferred term is ‘mixed race’.  I don’t like it… just because it is too long.  Wait, that is dumb.  Mixed race is less syllables than mulatto.  Why is it offensive?  Is it because it implies being black is somehow less than being white?  OR… it is because being of mixed race is somehow less than not mixed race?  Truly, I am just curious as to what part about it is offensive.  Good news, though – even though I disagree philosophically, I have dropped it from my vocabulary.

Midget

Can’t use that anymore.  I guess I see why, as it can be used as a pejorative.  I see it simply as  descriptor, though.   Here is my big problem with having to drop the word ‘midget’… it’s replacement >  little people.  Man, that seems WAY worse to me. Were I a little person… which would I prefer?  I guess it would depend on the context.  I am super sensitive to this issue, though.  I am short.  Not real short, just 5’8”.  I have always been insecure and neurotic about it.

Siamese Twins

Yup, gone.  We have to call them conjoined twins.  Nope, don’t like this replacement, either.  How is ‘siamese twins’ a pejorative?  I have never heard someone use that term to describe anything other than humans who were born physically stuck together.  Perhaps if people said things like ‘dude, you drive a like a Siamese Twin’.  Or… ‘nice guitar.  Who picked that out, a Siamese Twin’?  Even if I wanted to use it in a derogatory way, how would I go about that?

Dumb

Handicapped

*** ok, end of piece.  I was going to explore those next two words above, but I realized the piece was petering out.  My next intention is what words do we use now that won’t be acceptable in 20 years.  Like… we don’t say ‘handicapped’, we say ‘disabled’.  Well, i think we do, that may be out already.  You get the idea.  Instead of saying ‘retarded’, we are allowed to say ‘dumb’.  Well, remember… ‘dumb’ is a medical term, and has NOTHING to do with intelligence

lacking the power of speech (offensive when applied to humans)

again… you get the idea.  We won’t be able to say this soon, and that is probably ok as well.  Language is malleable, and I love that.

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Friday Fives – school yard edition

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Tell us about your first fashion crisis. 

Not something I thought we were going to talk about here.  This question, America, is why it should be abundantly clear I do not write these questions.  I have, of course, but 90% of the time they come from my editor and mentor, Roy.  Sorry, back to our question.  When I was in kindergarten, I remember very little.  BUT, I remember ‘Western Day’.  We were to dress up in fun cowboys ways.  One of my big brother’s (the dumb one, not the ugly one) had some cowboy boots.  Both brothers are about 5 years older, so the boots did not fit.  That had NO bearing on my decision…  I was going to wear those fucking boots!  So, I spent the day at school falling out of my shoes and probably looking dumb.   Obviously, it didn’t go terribly well… as it is literally my only memory from back then.

I smile as I look back, but that is also because I had all my classmates murdered since then.  Well, except the Az Monkey Boy.  He even knows about the library book incident… which assures he will be dead.

What is your earliest memory of recess?

Fun, playing, running, football.  I was an athletic kid, so recess was the best.  I mean, what’s not to love?  You aren’t in class?  Was I supposed to say how lonely I was?  Am I supposed to say this is when I was afraid to go play because of the bullies?  Is this where I tell you about the incident with the PE teacher who got a little handsy?  No sir.  My childhood was AMAZING.

Can I tell you something that no one will even talk about?  In middle school (so I am about 12, and this is about 1984) our favorite game was called ‘smear the queer’.  Note, this had NOTHING to do with anyone’s sexuality.  It also had NOTHING to do with bullying… because everyone who played was self selecting.  We all voluntarily went out to the field and played.  Perhaps you are not familiar with the game.  You have about 10 or 20 boys, and a nerf football.  Whomever has the football, everyone else chases and tries to tackle.  He is, you see, the ‘queer’.  When he could not longer handle the heat, he would throw the ball away.  Now, he is instantly safe and no one cares.  All eyes are on the next fool who grabbed the ball (voluntarily).  It was silly fun, and tons of exercise.  That is it.  I am sure kids were bullied.  I was not bullied (well… much.  I was a spindly as kid with a loud mouth.  I made things kinda tough on myself), nor did I bully… or see bullying.

OR… maybe I did, and was, and am… and just repressed it.

I want to clarify another thing.  Growing up, we used the term ‘gay’ a lot.  It had nothing to do with sexuality.  Obviously, it is a mean and unnecessary descriptor, and I no longer use it.  However, then (if not now, I don’t know) it simply meant ‘lame’.  Understandably, I don’t use that term anymore.  That word is off limits, which is (frankly)… gay!  Why do I keep working so hard to point out there that 1) I am not gay, and 2) it’s ok if I sling the homophobic words around because I am of course cool with gays.

Obviously, it’s time to do some self reflecting.  It is’t not fine to yell ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ or ‘queer’.  I didn’t get that when I was young, but that doesn’t make it alright.

So, all this ‘gay’, ‘homo’, and ‘queer’ stuff is innocent fun, right?  Just kids being kids?  No it is not.  How would a young 10 year old kid feel who was gay hearing these words and terms thrown around?  we would have sometimes 30 kids out there running around and terrorizing each other yelling ‘fag’, etc.  Odds are, just by the math, some of those kids were gay.  Think of the cruel shame and confusion they must have felt.  What is a young gay kid’s take away?  That being a ‘queer’ is the worst thing you can be, and to be physically attacked was socially acceptable.

There is a horrible epidemic of young gay men committing suicide.  The great Dan Savage began the campaign of ‘it get’s better‘.  I hope it does, because I can’t imagine the pain and cruelness that must have been for a young gay kid who just wants to hang out and play with his friends.  We (us straight little undersexed terrorists) never meant the game to be a public shaming of gays.  I certainly didn’t.  However, looking at it from the other side, how could a young guy man not take it that way?

He would be terrified, and likely ashamed.  THAT is why we don’t  talk like that anymore. Well… I don’t.  Maybe those little homos in 6th grade still do.  Barbarians!

Tell us about your first driver’s test. 

You won’t like this.  It was SO easy and SO awesome.  In short, I got my license without ever taking the test.  In high school, I got to participate in an after school program called ‘Behind the Wheel’.  It was something my parents wonderfully paid for, so I could learn to drive.  2 or 3 days a week, after school, I got driving lessons.  It was a single adult teacher, and 3 to 4 students.  We would take turns driving.  I don’t remember how long this was for, but when it came time to get my driver’s license… I had a pass.  Literally, I was given a certificate from this program and I handed it in and got my license.  I don’t even remember if I took the written test, but I know I didn’t have to take the driving test.

Funny consequence about that:  I never learned how to parallel park.  Seriously, I STILL can not parallel park.  I haven’t had to.  I didn’t drive back East, where you have to parallel park daily.  Plus, 90% of my driving experience has been in trucks.  You don’t have to parallel park

Tell us about your oddest family relative

Believe it or not, and I understand if you don’t… I can’t think of one.  On top of that, I would not be surprised if anyone else in my family named me.  I am fine with that.

Tell us about the first time you got into trouble in school.

No.