The Problem with Homophobic Slurs

I intially wanted to make my first post about misogyny in fandom, because I think that’s a topic that’s often ignored, but with what’s happened in the past few days, I thought delving into the use of slurs, specifically, homophobic, might be better.

Here’s the deal: It is never okay to refer to any member of One Direction using a homophobic slur. Ever.

It should seem like common sense that you shouldn’t refer to anyone using a slur, but common sense tends to evade this group of fans so I guess we need to start with the basics.

When I talk about homophobic slurs, I mean words like f*g, f*ggot, and any abbreviation of the world of “homosexual.” No one should refer to the members of One Direction as “gay” or “homosexuals” either, but I’ll save most of that for another post about their sexualities specifically. While the word “gay” itself is not a slur, using it to describe the actions or existence of people who do not identify as gay (such as all of the members of One Direction) is just reinforcing stereotypes and belittling to actual, openly gay people. I know you guys think it’s “cute” to put ~in love with five homosexuals~ in your sidebars, or make puns on Holmes Chapel, or call your favorite member a f*g when he does something silly, but in reality you’re creating a culture that makes it seem acceptable to use these words that make people at best, uncomfortable, and, at worst, can be incredibly triggering. 

The fact of the matter is that the majority of One Direction’s fans are straight girls and women. Many of these girls/women do not hold negative sentiments towards gay people, and in fact most likely identify themselves as allies towards LGBTQ rights. I am fairly certain when these girls/women refer to the members of One Direction through the use of slurs, they don’t believe they’re using it in a negative way. They believe they’re using it as a term of endearment, and their intentions mean no offense. They most likely have heard openly gay people use these terms to refer themselves, or their friends. Sometimes these “allies” mistakenly believe they have the agency to use these weighted words openly as well. Their intention when calling the members these names is not to harm or hurt them. However:

You, as a straight person, do not have the right to use, reclaim or re-appropriate slurs that have been and are being used by straight people to hurt and dehumanize LGBTQ people.

and

Intent doesn’t negate effect. Even if your intentions were not to be offensive, the effect can still be, and often is, offensive. 

The reality of the situation is that these words are still used to hurt and demean LGBTQ people everyday. A recent study showed that 84.9% of students heard “gay” used in a negative way frequently or often and 71.3% heard other homophobic remarks frequently or often while at school. Although you personally may have never seen or experienced these words being used to hurt someone, they nonetheless are are used to offended and demean, regardless of the victim’s sexuality. Every time you use one of these words, whether in your url, or your sidebar, or your tags, or WHERE EVER, someone who has had these insults inflicted on them could see that and could possibly be triggered by it. You are using words that have been and continue to be used to degrade and harass, and whether that is your intention or not, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that when you call Liam a “homo” because ~he looked at Niall a certain way~ that you mean it jokingly. There are people reading it who have probably been called that, and much worse, just for existing and for being who they are, and to think you’re right to make a “joke” takes precedence over their right to be able to enjoy a boy band and participate with other fans without having face those types of words with such negative connotations is entirely unfair.  Those words have a history far beyond your keyboard. And that’s a history of hatred, violence, amongst other horrific things, and your use of them can not erase that. 

A lot of people, when confronted that they are being offensive, often claim it’s just a “joke.” This op-ed from the New York Times explains a lot better why this defense is not good enough:

"There are too many bruised ribs and black eyes and buried bodies for the targets of this violence to just lighten up and laugh.

We all have to understand that effects can operate independent of intent, that subconscious biases can move counter to conscious egalitarianism, and that malice need not be present within the individual to fuel the maliciousness of the society at large.

Words have power. And power recklessly exerted has consequences. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s about being sensitive to the plight of those being singled out. We can’t ask the people taking the punches to also take the jokes.”

What is a joke to you is not a joke to others. What is a word you can type on the computer, and then close up, and go on with your life, is a word that torments and harms people on a daily basis. The tormented cannot simply escape this reality by closing their laptop. It is impossible for them to walk away from it.

You need to realize that while the members of One Direction may not be seeing what you’re writing, people with different experiences and lives then you do will, and you must recognize their feelings on those words are valid. If they find it offensive, it’s offensive. You do not get to dictate whether slurs that do not apply to who you are as a person can be seen as offensive. The oppressor does not get to define what is offensive for the oppressed. 

Some of you might be thinking, “I’m not the oppressor! I love gay people! I think they should be able to get married! Harry and Louis are soooo cute!!” Which, yes that’s great, but at the end of the day your ability to have a sexuality that does not greatly increase your chances of homelessness, violence, or depression puts you in a position of privilege. If the one thing you cannot do because of your sexuality is use derogatory terms to describe a hand motion that Louis is doing or something similar, you should consider yourself incredibly lucky. LGBTQ have much bigger things to be worrying about.

Now if you happen to be apart of the LGTBQ community and are trying to reclaim these words (which, good for you!), you have every right to work towards changing the meaning and use of these words. (Once again: those who identify as straight cannot reclaim these words as they are not apart of the oppressed group) However, that still does not give you the right to apply these words to the members of One Direction. As it stands, none of the members of One Direction have openly declared themselves as gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc. In fact, no member of One Direction has explicitly outlined his sexual identity.

Regardless of your sexuality, you do not have the right to assign a sexuality to anyone, and in turn, using a homophobic slur not only can be used to degrade the person, but it also assigns a sexuality. As mentioned above, I will eventually dedicate an entire post to the problems of assigning sexual identities to the members of One Direction.

Now, even if one or more of the members of the band did come out, you could still not use slurs to describe them. This blog post was written in response to a Vanity Fair article authored by an openly gay man who described Kurt and Blaine on “Glee” as f*gs explains it. I strongly recommend reading the whole post, but here is a short snippet:

"He also did not self-reference using this slur. He wasn’t referring to himself, his friends or, I doubt, anyone else who happily identifies with that slur. He decided to use this world to apply it to other people – as a label for any gay man or for gays generically. You don’t get to do that and not get some heat. If you want to call yourself by that slur then more power to you – but you do not get to decide that everyone should be happy having that slur applied to them. 

Slurs have power. Slurs come with connotations of hatred and violence and dehumanising. Every time this word is used that is the context it carries. It carries the message of us being lesser. It carries the message that we are something vile, unpleasant, contemptible. 

And being snarky or sarcastic or whatever damned excuse you want to use for having it out there doesn’t justify that. It’s WORSE. Because even if “no malice is intended” you are putting out this idea – this idea of us being contemptible and vile – in daily casual discourse. It’s not even a message of hatred! It’s a message of NORMALITY. It’s a message of normalised contempt.”

I am not a LGBTQ person. I will never begin to understand or know what it’s like to have these types of words used against me. However, I do know many of my friends who have been hurt by their consistent use by fans of One Direction, and I do know it needs to stop. You need to stop sending the message that the use of these words is okay or acceptable. No matter if you don’t mean it maliciously, no matter if you think it’s a “joke.”

Calling anyone in One Direction a homophobic slur is offensive and not okay.

If you really are a fan of One Direction, and want to support them, stopping the use of slurs would be an excellent way to start.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to ask, and I would love if any LGBTQ people would submit their own experiences.

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