Sunday, December 03, 2006

N-word Please!

I wonder how long it'll take the utterly benign phrase "N-word" to become a slur as incendiary as the one it was designed to replace. I suppose when someone (or more ideally, some celebrity) hurls it at someone else in anger. Because remember kids: in this culture, nothing matters until a celebrity does it.

The thing about slurs of any kind is that they are always about intent. I could call someone a humanitarian in an ugly voice and make it sound bad. Yet I completely empathize with blacks in this. I figure whitey's had hundreds of years of using this word, and now they're done. They've used up all their n-words until the end of time, and then some. If you have a problem with this, don't blame blacks; get a shovel and take it up with Strom Thurmond.

The fact that blacks use this word amongst themselves has nothing whatsoever to do with whites using it. Remember: it doesn't matter what other people do, it only matters what you do. Other people kill their spouses and rape children, too, so don't expect the right to do that either.

Now, being gay, I have a few words I don't like to hear from non-gay people (men especially). I don't need to list them here. You all know them and you've probably all used them, even if it was just once, years ago, before you knew better, and you didn't inhale, blah blah blah.

Whenever I hear a non-gay person say "That's so gay" I about lose my f-ing mind. Another one that gets me is "art-fag", which is a double whammy, since, in my opinion, there are far too few of these, but the slur implies there are too many. The problem I have with most bigotry is its inaccuracy.

Yet the other day I said (with a non-gay face) that the reason I loved watching "Greg the Bunny" so much is that I'm totally gay for puppets. A couple of the non-gay people there got a little peeved, I told them I was gay, they claimed not to know -- no harm no foul, and, thankfully, no group hug either.

Blender magazine has a monthly feature called "CD We're Totally Gay For" and I'm not about to organise protest rallies in front of their offices, because I know what I'm like when a new Madonna album drops. When Kylie's "Fever" was released Davie Street was like Twink-a-palooza. I have no problem having "gay" used as a synonym for enthusiasm; I do have a problem with it standing in for stupid.

Being a wordsmith I'm very sensitive to putting moratoria (let alone issuing fatwae - what is the plural of fatwa, anyway?) on words, ideas, or concepts. I have to admit that, while I will never utter the N-word (since I never have, why start now) I will likely type it again in my life. If the idea that I may do so really bothers you, please get it out of your system now.

Not that it's going to stop me. When I was writing a scene featuring a Kansas sheriff organising a lynch mob in my novel "Killjoy" I knew I couldn't have him saying: "Get that filthy African-American and string him up." It just didn't, as we say, scan.

The fact is, the word has been used, is being used, and will continue to be used. As an artist I am responsible for reflecting culture, so you see the bind I'm in. However, if I'm reading publicly from my work I will feel obligated to either let people know that the word is coming up or (less likely) say "N-word" instead. In whatever situation, I will always strive to do whatever gives the least offense.

I offer up the same solution to anyone who wishes to use it.
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