This week, music artist Azealia Banks continued to prove controversial, with another incident where she chose to aim the word 'faggot' at somebody within a verbal attack. In an altercation on a plane where she claims she was pushed by a male passenger, she engaged in an argument with a flight attendant and called him, among other things, a "f*cking faggot." Banks defended her use of the word on Twitter this week, and has previously stated (after an argument with Perez Hilton) her use of that word is not homophobic because for her it means something different, and she uses it to refer to men who hate women. That excuse is not passable, and here is why: that word is not hers to reinterpret, reclaim or reimagine. It's a word that has been used to degrade gay men for years, and it is gay men only who have that right.
You can be a straight faggot, you can be a gay faggot. A faggot is anybody that hates women. It's like, y'all sing along to my words when I'm saying 'nigga' and 'cunt,' but as soon as I call this one white man a faggot the whole world exploded. Listen, I didn't say all gay men are faggots; I said Perez Hilton is a faggot, so don't try and bring the rest of the gays down with your faggotry.
In almost all minority communities, historically pejorative words have been reclaimed and flipped to redefine them in order to strip them of power. The black community did it with the n-word, and gay men have done it with 'faggot.' While not all gay men will agree, for many it's ok to use among friends and in comedy, but only within agreed parameters set out by those who were subject to the abuse. Setting the parameters for acceptable use is the exclusive right of those who are truly in need of reclaiming it.
As well as a right to use and reinterpret, gay men can also grant a license of use to others, but that license is not without terms and conditions. As a bisexual woman, if Banks' gay male friends allow her to use it on their terms, and with them, fine. Using it as an insult to a total stranger in the middle of an argument, be real, you're calling him a queer fairy 'faggot.' If Banks uses the n-word, be it in her personal life or within her music, that is her right. If a total stranger shouts it at her, regardless of the situation, it is never going to be ok. Whatever Banks believes the word 'faggot' means, it doesn't. In the context she used it it's only ever a homophobic attack that demeans gay men.
What Banks also appears to have missed in her imagined feminist reinterpretation, is that actually it's also an attack on women. I've written about this before, but homophobia aimed at gay men stems from misogyny. A deeply ingrained cultural belief that men are superior, and traditional displays of masculinity are the only way a man should act. Otherwise, he's just a 'faggot' acting like a woman, and there is nothing more insulting than a man being told he is like a woman, right?
Banks has talked a lot about cultural appropriation, yet seems to remain blindly unaware that if she wants those limitations, she must play by the rules. In a subsequent Twitter spat with Drag Race alumnus Willam Belli she talked about LGBT racism and appropriation of black culture, of Miley Cyrus parading and fetishizing drag queens and the lack of consistency of when 'faggot' is and is not acceptable. At no point does she acknowledge that her right to say 'no, you cannot use my culture and history in that way' goes hand in hand with the right of others to say that to her.
honestly. When so many members of the LGBT community use the word faggot, why all the uproar when someone else does? pic.twitter.com/9m6R86jZXw
— AZEALIABANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) September 23, 2015
I don't wish to attack Azealia Banks, I don't know her so only mean to comment on chosen actions, but this is an issue that is going to keep arising. As gay acceptance increases, gay culture is going to continue to permeate all areas of society in a very mainstream way and all of us need to understand nuance and context of language before we choose to adopt it. Look how many times words of this nature have been used on Twitter today alone http://www.nohomophobes.com/, and then take a minute to read the nature of that use -- it's not pleasant. Nobody wants the word police to patrol the world, but we do need to understand the damage and pain some words cause to others, and check ourselves to make sure we're not participating in that infliction.