When I first started writing a blog about name calling, insults, and respect, the very first comment that I received was from a guy who called himself Richard from Colorado.
“Even if you don’t think that your words hurt,” Richard wrote, “they can. I’m gay and struggling with it. I don’t want people to know yet, but it still hurts inside when someone says that’s so gay because it puts me down.”
Thanks for your comment. Yes, there are certain statements that we hear that are really hard to bear. I’m wondering if you have found a response to such comments that you feel works for you. And when you use that response, what kinds of reactions do you get? I think those of us following the blog would be interested in this and your experience.”
I never heard back from Richard, and so I put the gay issue aside believing it wasn’t necessary to take it on directly because it is only a small minority who could relate to this. According to a 2015 Gallop poll, less than 4 percent of the adult population identify themselves as gay. It seemed to me that my blog posts should focus on issues with which the vast majority of people could identify. Moreover, the many suggestions that I do provide in my posts to deal with insults in a general way could easily be applied by someone who is called gay in a disrespectful manner.
But last week I received an email that made me think a little more about this.
“Hello Dr. Rubin,
I recently enjoyed reading a few posts from your blog, and I have a question. I suspect other readers have had similar questions, so if you’ve addressed this in a post, please feel free to just send me a link, if so. Any response would be appreciated.
I was interested in your idea of ‘four levels of maturity’ in which the highest level of maturity is to listen thoughtfully to an insult or criticism, and to accept the criticism offered. I agree there are many situations in which this kind of response would indeed be best.
However, I was one of those young men who, especially when I was in school, was frequently verbally abused by other young men who would for instance call me a ‘fag.’
I don’t happen to be gay, but my daughter is, and she gets very upset when other kids taunt her with slurs she interprets as ‘homophobic.’ A ‘level four’ thoughtful acceptance of such a slur would obviously not be appropriate. What do you counsel young people to do in those situations?”
Why This Topic is Relevant to a Majority of People
The first time I gave any thought to this topic was way back in the early 1960s. I was about twelve years old, watching TV with my mom. A pianist, Liberace, played a pretty impressive number, and then, as he was being interviewed by the show’s host, my mom turned to me and said, “He’s a faygala, but I like him anyway.”
Faygala is a Yiddish word that literally means “little bird,” but in the Brooklyn neighborhood that I grew up in it typically referred to a gay man. I didn’t know that at the time, so I asked my mom, “Liberace’s a faygala? What’s a faygala?”
“Oh, it means a guy that likes other guys like most guys like women. They prefer to sleep with a man and have sex with a man, rather than with a woman.”
The fact that my mom still liked Liberace despite his being gay was not all that unusual. With his unique blend of piano prowess and over-the-top showmanship, Liberace was one of the most loved performers of the 20th century. For several years he had his own TV show, with an estimated 35 million mostly female viewers. He sold millions of records and was one of the highest paid performers in Las Vegas.
With this fresh, saucy news that there were guys called faygalas who like to have sex with other guys, the next morning in the school yard I revealed all that I had learned from my mom. One of the older guys, after listening to me, informed us that the type of guy I was talking about might be called a faygala in Yiddish, but the usual words for this, as far as he was concerned, was either a “faggot” or a “fag.”
I was surprised by this because I, and many of the guys in my neighborhood, were very familiar with these two words. We often used them ourselves when we wanted to throw an insult at someone, and others, likewise, had used them against us. At the time, my friends and I had just thought they were general insults that meant something similar to “stupid jerk!”
I’m a little embarrassed to say that even after I learned that the words faggot and fag were put downs to gay people, I continued to use them as general insults for a good few more years until one particular incident.
I happened to be talking to a friend of mine that we’ll call for today Nick. As we discussed some stuff, at one point he told me that a guy who was a mutual friend of ours was insulted by someone. As soon as I heard about it, I immediately called the insulter “a dirty faggot.”
Jeff,” said Nick, “I don’t like you using that word.”
I was puzzled by this, and after a moment thinking about this, I wondered if Nick was a guy that had sexual interests in guys. I doubted it because we had gone on some dates together and it seemed to me that he was mighty attractive to the young lady he was with. But I said, “Nick, you like guys in a sexual way?”
“That’s not it,” he replied. “It’s just that there’s a guy I work with who is interested in guys that way, and he spoke to me about how he feels when he hears someone using words like faggot. You’re Jewish, Jeff. If the guys in the neighborhood started using an insulting word for Jewish people as an insult for everyone they got angry with, how would you feel about that?”
“Hmmm,” I said. And then, after giving this some thought, I replied, “I see what you mean. I’ll try to stop using those types of words. It’s an old habit, so if you catch me slipping up some time, feel free to call me on it.”
Now let’s flash forward about twenty years. I happened to be having dinner with my family and one of my two sons suddenly used the phrase, “That’s so gay,” to indicate that he didn’t like something I had done. And so I launched into the type of conversation my friend Nick had with me so many years ago.
So, from what I have written, I hope you can see that even if most of us are not gay, this issue of people being called gay as a way to insult others probably enters into most of our lives. We may have a friend or family member that is gay. We might be using the terms that refer to gay people in very insulting ways. We may overhear others using these types of words as put downs, and then we are faced with whether or not to speak up and defend fellow human beings.
What do I Counsel Young People to do in These Types of Situations?
Fred: “You gay guys are disgusting.”Hank: Looking squarely into Fred’s eyes, “You don’t like anyone who is gay, Fred?”Fred: “No. They’re disgusting pigs.”Hank: “Well, Fred, I met some gay guys who weren’t too cool, but I met some that were pretty decent guys.”Fred: “They’re all disgusting pigs!”Hank: “I’m sorry you feel that way, Fred.”
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.