Gendered Meanings and Fluid Identities

“To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing.” -Jeremy, junior at River High.

Somehow over time sexuality and gender have become interchangeable. Somehow being a faggot has become an insult to one and a defense for another. It has become a word that, if used “correctly”, can be debilitating to one, hilarious to another, and a source of reassurance all at once. How is it that this one word has all of this power?

According to the students at River High, you are not just a fag for actually being homosexual. In fact, many of the students interviewed stated that they would never use the word fag in the presence of one of their gay friends. A student named J.L compared homosexuality to a disability stating, “There’s people who are the retarded people who nobody wants to associate with. I’ll be so nice to those guys, and I hate it when people make fun of them.It’s like, ‘Bro do you realize they can’t help that?’ And then there’s gay people. They were born that way.”

The fact is that the word fag has an incredibly different social context then what was its original meaning.

When C.J Pascoe interviewed different boys about why others get called a fag one of them replied, “Anything… Literally anything.” Another boy replied, “It doesn’t even have anything to do with being gay.” So what does being a fag entail? Pascoe discovered that being a fag is being the opposite of masculine. She discovered that the trigger points for being considered a fag are how someone dresses, dancing, and incompetence.

Before I get into the deconstruction of the word fag, let me take notice to the differences between being a fag, being gay,and being a lesbian.

First and foremost, being a lesbian is completely accepted in River High because it fits into the heterosexual male fantasy. Second, gay is entirely gender neutral. Both boys and girls in the school can be called gay, but it is commonly referred to objects. For example, “This class is so gay.” The fluidity of the fag identity is much more complex.

Though the boys state that being a fag has nothing to do with sexual preference, in many ways being a fag has as much to do with failing at masculine tasks (heterosexual promiscuity, strength, competence) as it does with sexual identity. The fag identity is a fluid one that is constantly policed by boys. They police each other and themselves out of fear of having this “fag identity” or behavior and will do anything to avoid it.

When Pascoe asked a student named David specifically about a man being homosexual the student replied, “Being gay is just a lifestyle. It’s someone you choose to sleep with. You can still throw a football and be gay.” Therefore, if a gay man could still be masculine enough to throw a football then he isn’t considered a fag.

This scenario that David played out specifically refers to the crisis of masculinity, meaning that boys, gay or straight, are obsessed with the idea of hyper-masculinity.

The fag identity is fluid, but no boy wanted this identity and they could quickly escape it by deflecting it on another.

When the boys are struggling to avoid being considered a fag they will play this game of hot potato with the word. It bounces from one boy to another. For example, Pascoe witnessed this game being played in auto shop class. When a student named Neil made a joke about two boys, Brian and Craig, having sex (when it was obvious they were not) Brian quickly deflected the comment onto another student, and so on, and so forth. No boy wants to be stuck holing the fag card, to say the least.

Overall, boys constantly feared the fag identity and policed each other to reassure themselves that they were not a fag and to let other boys know when they were not acting masculine enough. These gender identities need to be addressed before the policing of boys goes even further.

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