Censorship or Solidarity? The Politics of the homophobic “F” Slur

By Casey Burgess

Photo for blog post

It’s the most wonderful time of year again. While Christmas Trees are being decorated, there is a very serious debate raging.

The centre of this debate is the song “Fairy-tale of New York” by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, released in 1988, which still holds its ground at the top of people’s favourite all time Christmas songs.

What could possibly be controversial about a Fairy-tale in New York? One of the lines, often the most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) is “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap, lousy faggot.”

Now, this is where the centre of our debate lies. Faggot is a reclaimed word by the LGBTQ+ community, with it being an incredibly vicious slur often hurled at queer people. Does the fact that it appears in a somewhat outdated song mean it’s OK for heterosexual people to say it?

The answer? No. The reasoning behind this is not the “snowflake” generation taking offence to every little thing that they don’t like. The reasoning is based in power dynamics, gender politics, sexuality and hateful murder.

There is absolutely no circumstance in which a person who does not identify as LGBTQ+ needs ever to utter the word. There is also no circumstance in which people are referring to “lazy Irish people” or “a bundle of sticks”.

The word did mean a bundle of sticks, but that meaning is obsolete. When it did mean that, however, the “faggots” would be placed under a suspected homosexual and set alight.

Bringing the point back to the song, the debate centres round two tenants. Whether it is OK to censor the word in the song and whether it is OK for straight people to sing that particular word.

The Pogues frontman and writer of the song, Shane McGowan, has said that it is OK to censor the word if it does make people uncomfortable. He adds that it was not intended in a homophobic way, but instead used to portray the character that Kirsty MacColl played as a deplorable person.

The reactionary right-wing media, and even some moderates and liberals, would have you believe that the censoring of this word is snowflake political correctness gone mad. It is anything but this. What this is, is compassion.

Queer people often have a tough time around Christmas due to family issues around their sexuality or gender identity, and the entire family gathered round with cans in hand singing a queer slur is hardly going to make it comfortable for them.

Similarly, the word faggot has been shouted at many queer men and trans women when being violently assaulted, raped and even murdered. Do their tragic stories, lost lives and broken bones mean nothing to heterosexual people?

This word is reclaimed. It is reclaimed by those who felt powerless, embracing a label to make sure it was defined on our terms and used in our community.

There are three hundred and one words in the song “Fairy-tale of New York.” Three hundred and one. Is it too much to ask, given queer blood has been spilled with that word being the last thing they ever hear, that you miss out one word? One. Single. Word.

That is one thing that the queer community asks you for this Christmas. Be a good ally. Don’t make excuses. Skip the slur.

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