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Monday, March 16, 2015

Reclaiming Words: I Am A Queer Dyke

            If you ask about my gender and sexuality, you might get a few answers depending on how well I know you. If I don’t know you well, I’d probably just say a bisexual (Or pansexual if you actually know the terminology) transgender woman. If I know you decently well, I’ll probably say a Queer transgender woman, or possibly Queer Trans* person that’s sometimes female sometimes gender neutral if I feel like explaining more in depth. And if you’re a good friend or generally good company, I might tell you I’m some kinda Queer Faggot Genderfucked Dyke.

            That being said, if some cis straight dude I didn’t know called me a queer, a faggot, or a dyke, I’d probably punch him in the face. Seem like a double-standard? Well, look at a different situation. There’s definitely a difference between calling your friends an asshole and calling a stranger an asshole. A girl calling herself a bitch is different than some dude at the bar calling her a bitch. Words are nothing without context.

            And the words I used, faggot, queer, dyke, bitch, are words that have a history of oppression. And this is even without getting into other words such as the n-word. Which is why it is important for gender and sexual minorities to be able to “reclaim” words. And this means reclaiming them separate from cis straight people, even if they’re allies, and there is a reason for that.

            Words need context, which also means words have power in those contexts. And the context of those words coming from cis straight people is oppression. It’s of people playing “smear the queer” and calling people “faggots” for being different and making fun of the tomboy girl for being a “dyke.” The context is suicides and murders and homelessness and discrimination. The context of cis straight people saying the words is horrifying.

            So what is reclaiming? Why is a gender and/or sexual minority saying it any different? It takes away the power of the word. If you use the label “Dyke” for yourself as a joke or even as a proud label, where is the power now? After all, isn’t venom itself used to create anti-venom?

            Now, when I say it needs to be reclaimed separate of straight cis allies, that isn’t to say I feel they can never say the words ever. But there is a huge difference between a friend that openly calls themselves a “faggot” for being gay being called faggot by close friends in a friendly environment and between two straight dudes calling each other “faggots” to make fun of each other. In the first it’s saying “I’m proud of who I am and friends can call me that, because that’s who I am” but the second is saying “Haha, I’m calling you gay, which is bad, and therefore an insult!”

            We are the ones that have been oppressed by the words, and only we can take away their power. And we need to be sensitive to do so. If a friend is uncomfortable with the words faggot or dyke or queer, I won’t use them around that person. Because even reclaiming can only go so far so fast. It is a process, and it is socially determined.

            Some words are reclaimed. I will identify as a queer, a faggot, or a dyke. Yet I won’t identify as a “tranny” or a “trap.” So why some words and not others? Ultimately, the only answer is that it’s socially determined. Not only is it up to the oppressed groups to take away the power, it is the decision of the minorities which words to reclaim and when. Straight cis people can’t “reclaim” the words because it is not used to oppress them. Men don’t get to reclaim the word “bitch.” As a white person, I have no right to try to “reclaim” the n-word. It is the right of the oppressed to reclaim words, because it is our right to fight back against the social systems that seek to remove us. Even while straight cis allies are important, and they can help us, it is our job to lead, because it is our battle to fight.

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