Applause line

Another week, another discussion of anti-gay slurs.

I was in Vegas over the weekend in a travel-and-partying-related news blackout. So I came across the Ann Coulter thing just this morning, though she said it on Friday. If you haven’t seen the video already, I recommend it:

I’ll try not to repeat the apt comments I’ve read on the lefty political blogs. I’d actually like to focus on the part where Coulter isn’t talking.

She says “faggot” at about 0:11 in this clip. There’s about one second of hush — “did she just say what I thought she said?”

At 0:12 the crowd starts to react audibly. You hear “ooo” or “boo,” or both. “Ooo” could mean “I can’t believe you went there” or “damn, that was cold.” Disbelief, possibly even respect for the ballsy blonde. “Boo” would mean disapproval. I’m sure at least a few of the thousands of young conservative activists in the CPAC crowd didn’t approve of Coulter’s use of “faggot.”

The “ooo” and/or “boo” goes on for about two seconds; by 0:14 people have started applauding, and by 0:16 the applause has drowned out an eliminated more ambiguous sounds. Coulter, an experienced public speaker with excellent timing, lets the applause and laughter go on until 0:23 before finishing her line. Her face during the crowd reaction is the face of a satisfied spider who’s just caught her prey.

The reaction of the crowd is yet another demonstration of a salient fact about the Right in these kinds of situations (such as when Coulter referred to “ragheads” in her speech at the same conference last year): They’re all thinking it, and though they sometimes profess shock, they’re all just waiting for someone to say it.

Once in middle school a girl I didn’t even know called me a spic, yelling it at me across the courtyard. The kid was Latina, actually. At that age I wasn’t exactly sure what “spic” meant, but I was pretty sure it didn’t apply to a white boy and kinda suspected it might apply to the girl who had yelled it at me, so I just let it go.

I’ve also been called “faggot, of course.” Growing up in the Southwest, I was just as often called “maricon” or “joto.” It was in middle school as well that I learned what those Spanish words meant as kids applied them to me.

It didn’t happen that often. I’m not that swishy, just not terribly masculine, either, though in countless ways I learned to butch it up to avoid those words. And it happens to most guys, I think, gay or straight, during adolescence. But when you’re gay there’s no defending against it. The arrow finds its mark, and the other guys, the ones doing the gender enforcing, can tell.

There is a small group of words, “faggot,” “spic,” and “nigger” among them, that each embody all the negative things we’re taught to think about the class of persons to which they apply. Play word association to see what I mean: “Homosexual” brings up one set of connotations, “gay” another, but “faggot” — nothing good there. “Negro,” “black,” “African American,” these all have history and power, but unpack everything that is meant by “nigger” and you’ve unpacked nearly the entirety of American racism.

I personally think that sometimes context allows you to use some of these words. There are, I believe, non-harmful, sometimes funny, sometimes affirming uses of “faggot.”

But I also agree with Richard Rorty that political correctness often means simply that it’s no longer socially acceptable to use hurtful language against oppressed groups. And lo and behold, thanks to political correctness fewer hateful things get said, and people are better off for it.

As for Coulter, this isn’t her first venture into hate speech, nor her worst. It provides another opportunity for her audience to show a bit of decency. I feel safe predicting that, with a few fringe exceptions, most of them will instead take the opportunity to show their quiet approbation of bigotry. More Ann Coulter bestsellers, more television appearances, and a another red-meat speech at the next CPAC. Shall we start a pool on which slur she’ll use next year?

16 responses to “Applause line”

  1. G-Lock says:

    At the very least, these episodes of public figures dropping the “F” bomb – Isaiah Washington, Tim Hardaway, Ann Coulter – are helping to galvanize the community. We have made strides in recent years, and these hurtful comments go both to sway the fence-sitters onto the side of tolerance and point up the need for our protection and equality under the law. The perspective of hindsight will not shine favorably upon the haters.

    I was always perplexed to hear black people call each other the “N” word growing up. Now that I am out and comfortable(ish) with who I am, I don’t even bristle when a friend teasingly calls me a “fag” or I use the word in such a manner. But if a passerby were to use it against me the street, I would tense up in fear.

    Ann Coulter is an angry tranny. Sorry. I shouldn’t denigrate the transgender community’s good name.

  2. G-Lock says:

    Dave, the information captured in the post has devoured my non-work related newsgathering time in recent weeks, so thank you. I will never understand the mythical “average American”.

  3. Marleyfan says:

    I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that years ago, instead of using first names, my best friend and I used to call each other “Homo”, “Faggot”, or “Three-Per” (it was thought at the time that 3% of the population was gay) and I never really knew why we did this until I read your post, and realized it was gender enforcing. But in reality, was it enforcing? I tend to think not, because had I been gay, it wouldn’t have made me less gay, nor did it make me more masculine, but it’s an interesting to look at the underlying reasons for our actions. Thanks for the post.

  4. Rachel says:

    It stymies me that Coulter thinks that being a “fag” is such an insult, and that she was confident her audience would think so, as well.

    A couple of years ago I was visiting a friend, an old-school feminist, and met her pre-teen son, whom I hadn’t seen since he was a baby. He had long, straight hair at the time, and was experiencing a lot of name-calling–classmates sneeringly telling him he looked “like a girl.” Every time, he simply said, “Thanks. Why is that supposed to be an insult?” How badass!

    I’m also reminded of a time I was walking down a Chicago street in bitter cold, bundled (like everyone else) in hat, gloves, scarf, boots, etc. I was totally unidentifable, yet someone in a passing car rolled down the window and yelled, “DYKE!” My first thought was, “How could he tell?”

    The word “queer” is pretty empowering, but it still stings when I hear it in the regional accent of my youth: “qwee-uh.” I can see why some gays won’t claim it.

    As for Ann Coulter…she makes me want to engage in some name-calling of my own.

  5. lisa t. says:

    Dave, you tell us that it’s “no longer socially acceptable to use hurtful language against oppressed groups,” but, sadly, all that applause worked (at least in the moment) for Ms. Nazi-bitch, I mean, Coulter. Thank goddess that G-Lock reminds us that communties “galvanize” over such trash-talking-power-over language. Coulter would never have attempted such a risky statement with a different audience, and it’s interesting that she calls someone who’s not gay a faggot, but you’d think that she’d have more maturity in how she uses offensive strategy. I know she’s an extremist, but so is Farrakhan, and he’s not going for the same jugglers.

    I seriously pray (to buddah this time) that all this news works against her end of the party line; I’d be happy to see it die a little (painful) death, to see at least one portion of the castle crumble.

    Anyway, it’s false logic that “if you say the word ‘faggot,’ you go into rehab.” Isaiah Washington obviously had a problem with, at minimum, verbal abuse long before the Grey’s Anatomy comment was made. Take a lesson, Ann: people don’t just “all of the sudden” go into rehab for slander. Maybe rehab would do her good. Maybe her comment is a subconscious projection and she’s really asking for counseling. Intervention, anyone?

  6. G-Lock says:

    For those who’d like a piping hot cup of irony:

    http://www.towleroad.com/2007/03/conservatives_l.html

  7. W2 says:

    Some good news from the HRC website: “Already today, three major American corporations have spoken out and pulled their advertising from Coulter’s website. We must insist that the news media follow the lead of Verizon, Sallie Mae and Georgia-based NetBank and place Ann Coulter in the ‘off-limits’ category along with the “David Dukes” of the world — where she belongs.”

  8. AW says:

    I have been working so much I didn’t hear about the Ann Coulter craziness until my husband brought me up-to-date the other night. Stories like this always make me simultaneously sad and very angry. I suspect Coulter made a deal with the devil a long time ago, and that each episode of hate speech represents a playing out this deal: promulgating hate to gain money and personal notoriety. Comments like G-lock’s encourage me, though. I think eventually people prove themselves to be what they really are, and that over time Coulter’s evil-nature is revealing itself for exactly what it is.

    Because I believe in the power of words, I believe that hate speech can generate hate–or at least validate and verify hate that already exists. It sounds like this is what happened at Coulter’s speech. Still, because I believe in the power of words, I wonder if the answer is not so much to silence hate speech, but to turn up the volume on the quantity and quality of speech that represents the other perspective: not just calling hate speech for what it is, but generating lots of language in the other direction, in order to verify the goodness and validity of the very people and issues Coulter insults.

    The trick the “Right” is playing right now, is to call black, white and white, black. People like Coulter make a living out of redefining good and evil in ways that support their own agendas and that have nothing to do with reality. It might take a lot of language in the other direction to remind people that white is white and black is black, but I think–like G-lock suggests–that eventually people galvanize and that other people come to their senses. I also think places like TGW are an important part of that conversation. Individual voices join together and a community of resistance forms. As the community gets stronger, it also gets more articulate, attracts more people and grows in size.

    I have a framed quote from Margaret Mead on my kitchen wall. I look at it every morning on my way to work. It says something like “Never doubt that a small group of determined people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I want to be those people.

  9. W2 says:

    Bummer she’s such a bitch; she has such great hair.

  10. Mikey says:

    When the clip first played on CNN the other day, the commentator (I’m sad to say I don’t remember whom it was) said “Ann, why don’t you tell us what you think of Barack Obama now.” Yes. Go ahead. Cross THAT line.

    Having had a few days to think about it, I’m glad she said it. She said it, they laughed and cheered. I guess the world now knows that CPAC is just one sheet short of a Klan rally. Thanks for that clarification.

  11. Dave says:

    Rach, a similar thing happened to me once, being called a faggot and threatened with assault by guys driving by in a car when I was just walking down the street looking like everyone else. Random and weird.

    Calling someone a faggot wouldn’t be an insult if the word simply meant “gay.” But it carries such a complex of hatred with it that it makes you tense up in fear, like G-Lock said.

    As for Ann Coulter’s hair, it may be technically really great, but it just makes her seem more Nazi-like to me.

  12. Stephanie Wells says:

    Yeah, the “Dyke” thing has happened to me too, in my car, and the guy screaming it was also telling me to ‘watch it because I’m a cop!!” (For the record, I had honked at him briefly for cutting me off–that was what set him off.) The scariest part was that when I drove directly to the police station with his licence number to report him, instead of them looking concerned, the three cops there began speculating with each other about who it was: ”Oh, I bet it was _____.” ” No, it had to be ______,” like they could easily imagine whom among their colleagues–several possibilities, it seems–would likely say that.

  13. Stephanie Wells says:

    P.S. Mikey: I’m totally glad she said it too, for exactly the same reason. If only Bush would say it.

  14. Ruben Mancillas says:

    The only thing I’ll offer up is to point out the bizarre context of her “laugh line”

    She’s preaching (hate) to the converted (see apt Klan analogy above) but using an African-American male as the fellow aggrieved party.

    The idiot right delights in pointing out what they see as the abuses of politically correct speech but take a look at her choice of poster child for identification/sympathy.

    I mean, would Isaiah Washington have received a standing ovation just by walking in this room?

  15. PB says:

    Thank you as always Dave for keeping our “enemies” closer. I surround myself in a micro world where the Evil Ann’s are reduced to marginal static, the taped applause reminds me that the macro world is not always in line with the values that drive me/ us and I truly believe AW and Margaret Mead that we have to be vigilant and as loud as they are to change hate.

    I can relate to marlyfan’s comment about his youth of calling he and his friends names all the time. When my boys moved from Cambridge to the suburbs–at the time one was in late middle school, the other in late elementary–their language changed. All of a sudden my love-peace-joy children started coming home calling everything that they didn’t like “gay” or “queer.” This lasted about 2 months, we put on a vigligant campaign similar to Rachel’s friend’s son, “so you must love those pants then?” or “do they prefer the company of other male pants rather than female pants?” or “not acceptable descriptor, pick a new one.” What is interesting is that three years later, I heard the exact same thing come out of my high schooler’s mouth to one of his friends the other day. The kid gave him the usual “oh brother” look but stopped.

    Hate language and the subsequent behavior that it condones is pervasive and overwhelming, but I take small comfort in the fact that people like Dave are around to wake us up, and that we have our own response track, one every bit as strong.

  16. Tim Wager says:

    Matt Sanchez, the Marine reservist and Columbia student with the gay porn past who is pictured with Ann Coulter at CPAC on the end of the link in comment #6, has an article up on Salon today. He doesn’t deal adequately at all with Coulter’s use of “faggot,” but it’s still an interesting and well-written piece. He does a much better job of explaining away his porn past. He’s a smart guy and seems to be angling to be the new face of Northeast urban conservatism.