“Whether it is a calculated attempt by the utterer or not, both the person who uses the word faggot and the person it refers to are forced to engage in a never-ending battle to prove that both are worthy of being considered men.” – Keith, creator of The Pillow Talk Project
I remember first being called a faggot at the age of six. It was at a new babysitter’s house, and shortly after my mother had dropped me off. Scared to do anything or go anywhere too far, I immediately tried to wish my mom back by my side. Very much of a momma’s boy, I imagined she’d realized that she shouldn’t have left me in such an unfamiliar place with a strange woman, who looked like a grandma, but didn’t greet me with sweet potato pies or cookies like all the others.
The babysitter’s niece was like the girls from our last neighborhood in the projects. She had the face of a bad girl with a devilish grin, but the body of a good one–almost voluptuous, not quite a full woman, but with curves. I remember that when she stood up in her short shorts, the back of her knees stuck out more than her ass, which was covered with some letters from the shorts–one completely engulfed by the mounds of flesh that resembled a plump peach. She fascinated me. And so did her boyfriend, who may or may not have been allowed to be there.
They spoke in hushed whispers and touched like they were playing house. They were like the older boys and girls from the big park who could blow smoke from their nose and mouth like dragons and dance close enough to start their own fires. I pretended not to notice in case that fake grandma came across the corner and caught them-and me because I was looking.
I was playing with a younger boy who didn’t have a name and didn’t speak much. I don’t remember his face, which makes me think he was a regular kid, boring in comparison to the girl training to be a snake charmer as she reached down the front of the big boy’s pants. Her expression was of fear and confidence, afraid that she might get bit but at the same time hoping that she would. I must have picked up a toy and forgot to pretend I was playing because my eyes met the big boy’s and I was too intrigued to look away.
He was the kind of boy that made average girls want to be snake charmers and dragon tamers, reaching into the front of his pants as their hearts fluttered, grabbing something they never knew could be as big as their fists.
He smirked, and the girl smothered her nervous laughter into the side of his neck. He moved her hand and she relocated to the arm of the chair, still close enough for him to reach. I walked up to the Fisher Price kitchen set and pretended to wash dishes, unsuccessfully. And then he asked me to come over to him, slapping away the babysitter’s niece’s hand that dared to go for round two.
I walked over to him feeling both proud and terrified. I liked older kids, they were interesting–but they could also be dangerous. I hadn’t quite figured out which category he would fall into, mainly because of his smile that could put anyone at ease.
He didn’t look like the kind of boys that had good intentions, but the kind that made the nieces of grandmothers who watched kids for a living want to wear short shorts, poke their asses out while talking loudly on the phone about what they would never do. He was the kind of boy that made average girls want to be snake charmers and dragon tamers, reaching into the front of his pants as their hearts fluttered, grabbing something they never knew could be as big as their fists.
I made it to the couch and looked at him and her. He stared for a second and then spoke.
I’d never heard of the word faggot, but even though he grinned as the word dripped from his lips that were too big for his face, I knew it was probably something I shouldn’t be.
“Are you a faggot?” he asked as nonchalantly as if he were asking my age.
I scanned my mind for an answer I’d learned from school but couldn’t find one among my favorite color, home address, name, and favorite TV show, Thundercats.
“Huh? What’s that?” I replied.
“It’s a boy that likes other boys,” he began.
He stopped and pointed to the little boy with no name.
“Do you like him? Do you like boys, period?”
“Why would I like boys?” I asked earnestly.
He ignored my question, and instead, replied with another of his own.
“Well, why do you walk and talk like that?”
When my face didn’t have an answer he could read, he elaborated.
“Like a girl.”
I shrugged. He smiled, and she dragged him up the stairs where they could do things little kids weren’t supposed to see.
Up until that point, I didn’t know that boys and girls walked differently. Or that there were boys that liked boys. Or that girls liked it when boys let them reach down the front of their pants. I’d never heard of the word faggot, but even though he grinned as the word dripped from his lips that were too big for his face, I knew it was probably something I shouldn’t be.
So, I added it to the growing list of things I knew to never tell my mother. That wasn’t the last time I’d be called a faggot, but it implanted within me a fear of being considered less than what I was supposed to be. And like many other boys, I learned that words could not only hurt, but kill that little thing in your chest that made you feel warm and happy.
In my research and interviews thus far, words like faggot, sissy, punk, pussy, and many others are tools people and society at large use to “check” one’s masculinity. Whether it’s a calculated attempt by the utterer or not, both the person who uses the word and the person it refers to are forced to engage in a never-ending battle to prove that both are worthy of being considered men.
But asmany interviewswith men of all ages prove, it’s a cycle that only ends in violence and emotional scars. It’s time for us to not only rethink the claustrophobic and damaging definition of masculinity that has enslaved us all, but to question whether it’s even necessary to limit what we would consider to be a man altogether.
Tell me about a time this might have happened to you or your own thoughts on the matter either in the comments section or send a message to me.